Mr. Speaker, it is with some regret that I rise in this House to speak on this issue. As has been indicated by many members already, there are very few Canadians who are not touched in some way directly or indirectly by the issue of drunk driving. The laws that we as members of Parliament examine and the opportunity that we have in this House to affect and to address problems of a preventive nature is something that we have to take very seriously.
There have been many statistics quoted within this House, financial, economic, but the emotional impact I think is something that is very difficult to quantity. This very day we know as a result of a survey released last week by Mothers Against Drug Driving that between four and five people will die somewhere in Canada, and that more than 300 people will be injured as a result of alcohol related crashes, and again tomorrow and the day after. These are shocking statistics and ones that made an immediate impression on me and I am sure all Canadians when this was pointed out so poignantly at the press conference held by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
A further statistic to quantify this number is that there were over 1,700 Canadians killed last year, and between the years 1983 and 1991, 1.1 million. Impaired drivers caused over half of Canada's fatalities in 1995, that number being 3,300. In fact, it is very clear that alcohol significantly increases the risk of a motor vehicle crash any time a person gets behind the wheel regardless of the level of impairment. It certainly increases the severity of an accident when a person is impaired and operating a motor vehicle on the highway.
Canadians witness far too many tragedies in this country on a daily basis. This is one area where these tragedies can be prevented and can at least be lowered in terms of their numbers. It would be naive for me or any member of the House to suggest that this problem would ever be completely eradicated, unfortunately. However, it is certainly incumbent on members of the House, people in the law enforcement society and all Canadians to do everything in our power to address this most serious problem.
At the news conference which I mentioned earlier in my remarks, Mothers Against Drunk Driving indicated in its survey that 80% of Canadians support the toughening of the Criminal Code as it applies to this issue. Again, this is an issue that spans all partisan comment. It is clear, simply from the comments today in the House, that there is unanimous sentiment that we address this and do so quickly. I certainly hope that the government is sincere in its support of this issue. We will soon find out when the motion is put to a vote.
I want to indicate the support of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada for the motion that has been tabled. I have listened very carefully to the comments of my friends in the opposition as well as those of the government. It would appear that there is a unified front.
I want to refer again briefly to the results of the survey which indicated that 94% of Canadians believe that impaired driving is a problem that the government should address. Three of every four Canadians believe that the federal and provincial governments are not doing enough at the present time to address the problem.
In expressing that sentiment, Canadians have said that they have a very low tolerance for those who choose to drink and drive. With a clear majority of Canadians of that right mind, I would suggest that some of the proposals which have been put forward by Mothers Against Drunk Driving have to be embraced by the government. Since a clear majority of Canadians indicated that they support the lowering of the blood alcohol level as it applies to the Criminal Code, it is something the government should certainly take action on.
Eighty-four per cent of Canadians also support changes to the Criminal Code that would include a minimum jail sentence should a driver be convicted of an impaired driving offence that caused death. I would go further and include an offence that caused injury.
It is painfully clear that too many Canadians are losing their lives and too many Canadians are being seriously injured because the laws in this country, as they exist, have little teeth and do not go far enough to act as a deterrent. However, it goes further than that.
More can be done, as has been demonstrated by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups throughout the country that, without adequate resources, have gone forward and tried to educate the public. The younger generation will have the opportunity to see that these very frightening and staggering statistics are lowered. Attitudes are changing and that has to be encouraging to all present and to interest groups.
The impact of impaired driving touches us all in a very significant and real way. The time is here and now to do everything within our power to address the issue.
The Minister of Justice indicated that she is waiting for a report to be tabled from the transportation department, as well as for a meeting with provincial counterparts. I would reiterate that neither the Ministry of Transport nor the provincial counterparts have the ability to amend the Criminal Code.
It was 12 months ago that the Mothers Against Drunk Driving first met with the justice department. Since that time nothing has changed other than the fact that the statistics have increased and that more people have lost their lives or been seriously injured on Canadian highways. I indict the government. It bears responsibility for those numbers.
Suggestions have been made that by changing the Criminal Code and the justice system that an immediate impact would be felt. I concur with that. The suggestions that have been made will be given further discussion at the justice committee level.
With respect to the motion that has been tabled, keeping in mind my commentary on the fact that this is a non-partisan issue, I hope that the Reform Party and other members of the House would support any initiative that would see this issue addressed, whether it be at the committee level or a simultaneous attempt to bring legislation in through the Senate by either the government or the opposition party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. I would hope that the Reform Party in particular would support us in that effort.
There has been mention by my friend in the New Democratic Party that Canadian law is presently out of sync with progressive countries such as Australia, Belgium, France, Portugal, Finland and others. This is something that we have to keep in mind. We live in a global community and we must look to other countries to see how they address the problem. They have taken the initiative by lowering the blood alcohol concentration to less than 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
Other specific references to changes that could be made include a review of the code with respect to reasonable and probable grounds that police officers must follow in the investigation of crash sites involving death and serious bodily harm. Police officers on a daily basis encounter this situation and are charged with the important task of responding and holding people accountable for their actions. Giving them the ability to deal with this in a more effective way with respect to the law's interpretation of reasonable and probable grounds I suggest would go further.
With respect to attitudes as they apply to impaired driving, perhaps a change to the language used in the Criminal Code designating it as vehicular homicide would help to emphasize the seriousness of a charge. Creating standards that would enact a victim's bill of rights would certainly help to include participation of victims at the trial level and would give them more support and more input into what was happening in the aftermath and the task of trying to deal with the problem and putting their lives back together.
This is why we support a fundamental standard for a victim's bill of rights that would include not only impaired driving matters but all matters. It is high time we recognized the needs of victims within our justice system and I would support initiatives in that area as well.
I know my time is limited. I put my support forward on the floor. Members should come together without partisan politics and create new legislation that will contribute to the saving of lives. Introducing this issue at various levels will hopefully do that. We owe it to the memories of those killed on the highways as well as the safety of all Canadians to ensure that when Mothers Against Drunk Driving come to Parliament Hill next year, Parliament will have taken meaningful action.