Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the motion. Surely this goes beyond politics. This is something that we all have to do something about.
We have been talking about how important it is for us to finally do something for generations. We have to make sure that action is taken. I am not here to criticize the government and say that it has not done anything over the years because there have been changes made. However, we are a long way from making sure that this problem is addressed.
My colleague from Cariboo—Chilcotin earlier said that there seems to be an acceptance of drinking and driving these days and sad to say that is probably quite true.
In fact, yesterday morning when I woke up here in Ottawa to early morning news on one of the stations, before, here is what the joke of the morning was. A bar emptied out and everyone came out to the parking lots. This guy staggered toward his car, tried half a dozen vehicles on his way over to his own vehicle. Of course the police car was sitting there watching all this. All the other cars left the parking lot at the bar.
The policeman went over to this fellow who was staggering around trying to get into his car. The police said to him “I'd like to give you a test right now. I'm pretty worried about you”. The guy laughed and said “No. I'm sober. I am the designated decoy tonight at the bar so everyone else could get home”.
This is not funny. These are the kinds of things that have been heard on radio programs within the last 48 hours. It is as if it is some kind of a big joke and all the other guys from the bar were allowed to drive home drunk.
That is absolutely unacceptable. Until there is a change and people do not think this kind of stuff is funny any more we will never accomplish anything. We can certainly set an example here in parliament, but when we hear that kind of stuff we wonder what is the use. We get discouraged, yet we need to be vigilant.
We are asking for changes to the Criminal Code that enhance deterrents and ensure that penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence. Surely we are all agreed in the House that this is a very serious offence. We must ensure something is done about it and we do not just ream off piles of statistics and say that we really are doing well. Frankly all of us should be ashamed. Maybe the problem is better than it was, but it is certainly not as good as it ought to be and should be very soon.
We need to realize that for the actions we commit there must be consequences. We teach that to our children when they are young. We teach in our classrooms that if one does something there will be consequences. It seems to me for drunk driving the consequences many times are just thrown out the window.
We need to realize that we are personally responsible for our behaviour and our actions. That is a basic tenet with which I believe all of us agree. As I said, we teach it. However when it comes to impaired driving we can be cute and get off in the courts or have someone who has a reputation as a hot-shot lawyer get the charges dropped. Do they think they are beating the system? I am not sure. To me it is pretty sad.
Many times drunk drivers have not had to live up to the principle of real life, the if-then causal effect: if I do something I had better be prepared to pay the price. I have seen all too many times when that simply does not happen.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, People Against Impaired Driving and other excellent groups have done tremendous work. What is the admission to groups like these? It is sad to say but many of them have been victimized. What a way to get into a particular group. What a tragedy. The pain is still fresh for these people. They have experienced the loss of a loved one because of drunk driving. What a way to earn one's way into a group. It is tragic.
We cannot kill people. The Criminal Code says we cannot go around killing people. Why is it that people are let off the hook or given a conditional sentence when they are behind the wheel of a car and in an impaired state? It seems like they have crossed a threshold which makes it okay. We cannot kill but there are times when we can kill with a car and the consequences are not quite so painful.
I speak from experience. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and People Against Impaired Driving are very important. Years ago when I was small I lived in a home that was afflicted with alcoholism. I could have started a group when I was six, seven or eight called KADD, kids against drunk drivers. That was before many of these groups were organized.
I know how painful it is to live with alcoholism, how terrified you are when in bed at night and the phone rings and you are not sure what the phone call will be about.
My father has been sober for over 20 years. I rejoice in that. It is exciting to have somebody back who was in the clutches or grips of alcoholism. My heart goes out to people who are suffering with their loved ones. I am grateful for every day that my father is sober. He drives sober and I am pretty excited about that.
I remember going for car rides when I was a kid with somebody who was impaired. I tried to get out of it but what can you say when you are six or seven years old. You go for the car ride because that is what kids are supposed to do. They are supposed to go with their parents when they are told.
I will never forget turning left in front of oncoming traffic and screaming “That was too close. Please don't do that”. He would turn around and say “Is that close enough for you? Let's do it again” and go back to the very same corner.
It was insanity. Although my father was not exactly sure of what he was doing at the time because of the state he was in, it was criminal behaviour. We need to recognize it as such. People in that condition need to pay the consequences.
I talked earlier about late night phone calls. The one I remember most clearly was a call that came in the middle of the night. The police said to my mother “Your husband was out drinking. He was going across the Burrard Street Bridge and a young woman on her bicycle has been hit”. I cannot remember exactly how old I was but we got that call when I was in grade 1 or grade 2. Thank God that somehow her bicycle got tangled in the railing of the bridge and she did not go over into False Creek. She lived, and I am grateful for that.
How many people do not live? One phone call in the middle of the night can change one's life forever. Obviously we have the most amount of sympathy for the victims but what about the kids of the drunk drivers? That affected my life forever.
I am 45 years old. I have never had a drink because somehow in my little six or seven year old mind I realized the potential for this was far too terrifying. I do not want to go on a rant about this. I know there is such a thing as responsible drinking, but I am here to talk about not just the economic costs of impaired driving but about the real human costs, the emotional costs referred to earlier, the incredible pain and the scars left with somebody forever. They do not just get over it, obviously.
Will lowering the blood alcohol content from .08 to .05 help? Sure, it will help, but is it not far better to say the deterrent possibility is far more important and maybe I better make the choice that I will not drive because I have had too much to drink? Why let ourselves get into the position where we have to go for a blood alcohol test? Is it not far wiser to make a difference in people's lives and say not to doing it?
We are encouraging young people to think ahead all the time. That is what we need to encourage them with more than anything else.
I believe in zero tolerance. If you want to call me intolerant, I guess you can, but the best and safest way to deal with drinking and driving is zero tolerance: if you blew over, if you did this, if you have been charged and if you have been convicted, we will not be tolerant.
Governments should say they believe in zero tolerance and will not let people beat the system. They should not let them try to get away with something or to brag to their friends at the bar or tell jokes on the radio station in the morning: “Ha, I beat that charge. Look at me”.
What about the victims? What about the mothers? What about the daughters? What about the sisters and brothers and all the people whose lives are affected? There is a huge pool of people's hearts and lives that are affected by these kinds of tragedies.
Some say if you get caught once maybe that will scare you into behaving straight. I am sad to say the statistics do not agree. This speech is not about rhyming off statistics, but let me just give one. Ontario is not a whole lot different than any other province in the country. It is bigger but I am sure the percentages are the same. Some 65% of all driving suspensions were given to drivers who had been suspended at least once.
What does that say about a deterrent? What is happening in the country right now? It means sweet nothing. If I know I can beat the system once, hey, I have a chance to do it again. We need to make sure that people are literally scared straight.
I spent some time on a tour at the Edmonton maximum institution a couple of springs ago as a member of Parliament. I will never forget the sound of that gate going across and going thunk and locking behind me. If I had any criminal tendencies in me, just the sound of that gate shutting behind me would have scared me straight. If I were a teenager or someone involved in petty crime that would be deterrent enough for me. I did not want to be in there without the nice guy beside me who had the key to let me back out.
There should be a deterrent for young people, because they fall into the category of those most affected, and for those who are older and say they have beat it for 27 years and there is no chance they will get caught now. Let us make sure the deterrent is strong enough so that we will not see repeat offenders time and time again. Let us make sure that when we talk about zero tolerance we act on zero tolerance and that people really will be scared straight. I think that is what it takes.
When people realize the terror of the victims, the little kid lying in bed at home wondering when the phone will ring and who will be on the other end of it, it will scare the whole nation straight. We had better do something about it and really make a difference.
I appeal to government and all opposition party members not to just talk about it, send it off to some little committee and say we have in effect passed this item today. Let us do it, do it, do it: participaction.
I am thrilled by what I think I am hearing from both sides of the House today. This might be the Parliament to really do something about saving lives.
Let us scare straight anybody who thinks about having another couple of drinks and trying to sneak home without getting caught by the police. It is our responsibility. We are obligated to do it.