Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise you and the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga South.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. I do not think one of us in this House has not been touched by the tragedy of someone close to us being killed by a drunk driver.
Just to contemplate and hear about a dear friend, somebody who is working in the community, who is helping other people, who is a source of inspiration to her entire family and to everyone who knows her, suddenly vanishing from the face of this earth because a drunk driver came out of a side road and on to a main road and smashed right into her car. None of us has lived without experiencing receiving that kind of news and the senselessness of it, the helplessness of it, and the determination that we have to do something about it is our first reaction.
I want to congratulate MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its members have done an absolutely phenomenal job in this past week of meeting with members of Parliament, of informing us, of putting together what they believe needs to be done to diminish this scourge on our population, to diminish the number of people of all ages who fall victim to drunk driving.
They have done a tremendous job of educating the public. They have done a tremendous job of surveying public opinion and making it clear to members of Parliament that Canadians from coast to coast want serious to action be taken on this soon.
This is an issue that I have some history with. When I was president of the Ontario Association of Municipalities I had the privilege of working with the attorney general at the time, the hon. Roy McMurtry. We set up a program for municipalities across Ontario to develop community action programs on drinking and driving. I set up a program in the city of Ottawa.
Things have changed a lot since the early eighties. Attitudes have changed a lot. At that time my children were in their teens or their very early twenties. It was very encouraging for me to see young people coming to a party at my home, bringing their sleeping bags, just in case they had something to drink and did not want to drive home or just in case their friends felt they should not drive home.
I remember living through a period of time with a friend who was a drinking alcoholic. This friend was coming to visit us regularly. We were trying to provide him with support. I suddenly realized that every night he visited us he was driving down my street, endangering my children and other children. At one point I said to my husband “Ron, you drive him home. You disable his car and do not let him drive again”. I told him that I would not ever again have him coming to my home, endangering someone else's life.
His distributor cap sat on the top of our refrigerator for a long time. I am pleased to say that for the last 20 years he has not had a drink.
I tell that story because one of the lessons I learned when I was involved with the drinking and driving task force in this region was that what we are dealing with is the problem of alcoholism. Fifty per cent of first time driving offences are committed by alcoholics. The end result of their history is often tragedy. Lives are lost.
I believe it is important for us to deal with the front end. The first time someone is apprehended, the first time they are convicted, that is when we have to take serious action. We have to recognize that half the people we are dealing with in those first convictions are alcoholics. If we do not deal with alcoholism, there will be a second and third conviction and a tragedy.
To demonstrate how important this point is, by the time someone is convicted a second time of drinking and driving we know there is a 90% chance they are an alcoholic. Ninety per cent of second offenders are alcoholics. Therefore losing a licence or spending time in jail is not enough to ensure that person will not get behind of the wheel drunk again.
We have to deal with alcoholism. We have to deal with it seriously. We have to ensure that person, convicted the first time, does not drive again until the alcoholism is dealt with. That is a very important and crucial step in preventing these tragedies.
That does not mean that we do not have to look at the other end and at what we do when a tragedy occurs and take much stronger action. We do, but we will always be dealing with the situation after the fact, after the tragedy, after the death, unless we deal with the first offence.
We must deal with the problem before that offence. That comes with the kind of responsibility which my children and their friends started taking for each other.
We must ensure that we do not pass this off as something light, unimportant and socially acceptable. We must each take the responsibility of confronting a friend, however difficult that may be, to say “I am sorry, but I will not let you get in your car. I will not drive with you if you insist on getting in your car”. That is the kind of responsibility we all have to take. That is why the last discussion was very interesting. It is not something that can be solved simply by tougher laws. We all want to prevent these tragedies, not just to punish after they happen. We hope we never have to punish. That is why it takes a combination of effort at this level, through the Criminal Code, at the provincial level, effort in our own communities and our own families.
I do not think there is one of us who does not know someone in our family or a friend or someone we work with who is an alcoholic. Every time we turn our backs on that and do not take the responsibility of confronting that alcoholism we contribute to the tragedies we are talking about today. We also have to take responsibility.
We also have to get over a hurdle. Training judges is a part of it. We used to say we have to educate young people, that if we educate young people the problem will go away. Young people learn their drinking habits somewhere. Young people learn their driving habits somewhere. Educating young people to solve a problem we have created is a nice way of getting out of our responsibility.
One place that I think we have to change attitudes, and I am not sure the courts have caught up with public opinion on this yet, is maybe a person is not responsible for a decision made while drinking but is responsible for the decision to drink. In my view, if that decision is made then automatically the decision is made to take responsibility for everything that person does after that first drink is taken.
Whether it is a case such as we saw in the courts where drunkenness was an excuse for raping a 78-year old woman, or whether it is a case of saying “I was too drunk to know what I was doing when I got into my car and drove”, I am sorry, but that is no longer acceptable. You take that responsibility when you take that drink.
It is a personal responsibility for all of us. Yes, it is changes in the laws and a combined effort of all levels of government, continuing and increasing our actions on substance and alcohol abuse throughout society, which is the source of most of these tragedies.
I never thought I would say this, but I am grateful to the Reform Party for bringing forward the motion today. I am anxious to see it get into committee where at least the federal responsibility can be dealt with and we can also initiate some major activity with the provinces, communities and people across the country to diminish this tragedy. I do not think we can ever put an end to it.