Mr. Speaker, the motion before us today, which was tabled by the Reform Party, calls on the government to bring forward a motion to instruct a legislative committee to prepare a bill to amend those sections of the Criminal Code which deal with impaired driving in order to enhance deterrence and ensure that the penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence.
The Bloc Quebecois, like all Quebeckers, recognizes the seriousness of the issue raised in the motion put forward by my colleague from the Reform Party. Driving while under the influence is a terrible scourge which must be fought efficiently. However, we must be careful not to go for sensationalism.
The Bloc Quebecois supports the Reform Party's motion. We are asking that the motion be referred to a legislative committee, which would conduct a more in-depth review of the issue and the offences relating to alcohol consumption and impaired driving.
The Bloc Quebecois, which is always aware of the serious problems caused by this situation, feels such legislative review should be comprehensive and not limited to stiffer sentencing. We must not look only at the issue of sentencing, but at the whole picture.
A few questions should be raised at the committee level. First and foremost, we have to ask: Is stricter enforcement of the penalties provided for in the Criminal Code absolutely necessary to ensure better deterrence among the public? This is one question we must ask ourselves.
The second question is the following: Would improving the judicial process, which, let us not forget, is a provincial jurisdiction, not be a solution? We are talking about the administration of justice here. Again, it extends far beyond a simple matter of stiffer penalties.
Another question: Is drunk driving a high enough priority with the police? We know that top officials in the police consider cracking down on impaired driving a priority. But is it also a high priority for the police officer who has to deal with impaired driving on the street?
Police officers receive more calls than they can respond to. Is it a priority for the police officer in his or her car to fight drunk driving? As I said, for some of them, traffic law enforcement is a boring and somewhat cumbersome routine, when they would prefer to see some action. In that context, this is a valid question.
We must bear in mind in dealing with this issue that those involved in law enforcement, which, I repeat, is a provincial jurisdiction, should have a say. We should also find out how they feel the fight against impaired driving could be improved. I am not convinced that merely stiffening penalties is what the police want.
As well, the following question must be asked: What are the reasons fewer people have been charged with impaired driving since 1986? To give you some figures, in 1996, police reported 161,805 cases relating to driving offences under the Criminal Code, which represents a decrease of 6.9% compared to 1995. As well, there were 78,894 impaired driving charges, a 6.2% drop from 1995.
What are the reasons for that decrease? One may well wonder, but an examination of the circumstances may offer some suggestions for solutions.
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, we should ask ourselves another question: Are the programs for raising public awareness and education adequate? Is there not some better way to make people more aware of the dangers of driving while impaired? Are the advertising techniques being used the right ones? Should a better program be developed for schools, youth centres and so on? This must be looked into.
In conclusion, the Bloc is in favour of this motion because it will open up debate on the question, which is very important, and the debate must go far beyond the matter of penalties. The conclusions drawn must be based on more than just some high-profile cases. Parliamentarians have a duty to examine this matter coolly and calmly.