Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion moved by the official opposition, a motion which, all in all, needs a very serious analysis, given its implications for a society like Canada, and Quebec as well.
To situate the debate properly, the purpose of this motion is to require the government to bring forward a motion, pursuant to a Standing Order, to strike a legislative committee. We have seen the government bring in an amendment to this, in order to have the words “legislative committee” replaced by “the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights”. This, I believe, is an amendment that makes sense, since the committee already exists. Since the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is there precisely in order to study motions of this sort, it is obvious to me that this amendment needs to be made. We in the Bloc Quebecois approve of this amendment.
In addition, in order to limit the time period allowed the committee to consider the question, the government is making an amendment giving the committee until May 15, 1998 to submit its report to the House.
At first glance, the government appears to be paying careful attention to the motion tabled by the opposition in this House today for us to study this topical issue carefully.
Why are we now concerned with this issue, among others? Last week, a lobby group—and I use the word “lobby” not in its negative sense, quite the contrary, some lobbies in Canada do good work—known as MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, came to the House to meet members of Parliament. They submitted a report, which, in short, is very well done. However, as with any lobby, we must examine their report with a critical eye, but in a constructive manner.
When a lobby group of this sort submits a public survey, the results must be considered and statements in the report have to be acknowledged, but we must look at it with a critical eye. We must find out how and why the questions were asked, who paid for the survey, and so on.
What catches my attention about this survey is that it points out the same things already confirmed by the police, by groups who have studied the situation, among others, in the report about the national scourge of drinking and driving. I can immediately tell this lobby group and all those listening that the Bloc Quebecois also considers drinking and driving to be a scourge both for Canada and for Quebec. As legislators and elected officials, we must give very serious thought to this issue.
The main figures pointed out in this document, and it is important to recall them so that we have a fairly good idea of the situation, are that 94.3% of those surveyed think that driving while impaired is a problem that the government must eliminate. I am not surprised that the percentage is so high, given the seriousness of the problem, as I said earlier.
In addition, 74.7% of those surveyed think that the provincial and federal governments are not doing enough to reduce impaired driving. This may or may not be true, but one thing is certain—it depends on the question asked, I was not surveyed, you know it is sometimes easy to get people to say things over the phone, if the questions asked lead the person answering in one direction rather than other—there is no doubt that this is a high percentage of people who think that governments are not doing enough.
The committee that will be created, if the motion is passed by the House, will, I think, have to take a very serious look at this finding. Are the federal and provincial governments, which are responsible for the administration of justice, making a serious effort to stamp out impaired driving, or are they not? This is the question we will have to answer.
I will know more when we examine the issue, but it is interesting that 94.4% feel that Criminal Code amendments must be implemented and anyone involved in an accident causing death or serious injury obliged to provide a blood sample when requested to do so by the officer, as required by law.
Of those surveyed, 73% support a reduction in the level of alcohol from 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres, a reduction of 30 milligrams. This is sizeable. It seems, however, that over two-thirds of the population support this measure.
Another important point, one I am also anxious to be able to verify, is that 85% of those surveyed are in favour of amending the Criminal Code to stiffen the minimum prison sentence for any person who has caused death or bodily harm. In other words, a person who has an accident in which another person sustains physical injury or death would automatically receive a minimum sentence.
At the moment, we know that the Criminal Code stipulates a prison sentence, but it is a maximum of five years and judges are given some discretion. I will come back to the judges a little later.
There is one element which raises a big question mark for me, because I have read some of the survey questions and am a bit puzzled by them. It may be true, but it would need to be checked in committee. It is said that 90.2% of respondents support adoption of a declaration of victims' rights. What I would like to know is, what percentage of those surveyed knew what a declaration of victims' rights was, and what it included.
One thing is certain, the public is currently questioning the extremely important issue of drunk driving. Every week we read newspaper reports about accidents resulting in injuries and deaths. One need only check with the automobile associations in Quebec, Ontario or the other provinces, to see that the statistics are damning.
Does the reality really dictate that the legislator must be pushed into changing the legislative provisions on impaired driving? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is something other than the legislation that needs changing. The committee that will be struck can cast some light on this and report to the House.
One of the questions I have asked myself, particularly when I meet with the people from MADD, is what goes on in other countries, how do other countries deal with impaired driving. The maximum blood alcohol level allowed in the legislation when I was practicing law was .08. That is what it still is today. But I realy wondered about the proposal to reduce it to .05. I learned, however, when I looked into it, when I examined more closely the information submitted to us today, that .05 was the level already in Australia, Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, even France. So, this is perhaps not as extreme as it appears. Perhaps it is not such an exaggeration to consider a lower blood alcohol level in Canada and in Quebec, if that is what people want.
I have in fact noted a difference in the application of the rule of 80 mg per 100 ml in the blood, in Quebec and in other Canadian provinces.
However, nothing is ever all black or all white. Those who have followed the issue of drinking and driving, lawyers primarily, those involved in enforcing the law, know that, since 1985, a series of amendments have been made to the Criminal Code in an effort to solve the problem, to further discourage people, to focus on the target group, those most affected by drinking and driving. Since 1985, an attempt has been made to dissuade them in all sorts of ways, including through stiffer penalties and simplification of the job of the police.
Recently, it became possible to obtain a blood sample under certain circumstances, guidelines were given, the goal being to help police officers gather evidence to build cases and to discourage the public from drinking and driving. All this has taken place since 1985.
In the 35th Parliament, I remember the government members opposite presenting amendments to increase the maximum sentence in the case of people who had had an accident while impaired and who had injured or killed somebody in that accident.
The result is that today we must also take into consideration the provisions of the Criminal Code, and I think it useful to point these out so as to give people an overview of the situation. As it now stands, section 255 of the Criminal Code provides for the following sentences:
(1) Every one who commits an offence under section 253 or 254—driving while impaired—is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction—
In legal jargon, a “summary offence” is less serious than an “indictable offence”. When someone is charged by way of indictment, the offence is much more serious, the person must be represented by a lawyer, and so forth, while someone tried by summary conviction is not required to be present at the hearing. It is a less serious offence.
It therefore reads:
(a) whether the offence is prosecuted by indictment or punishable on summary conviction, to the following minimum punishment, namely,
(i) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than three hundred dollars,
(ii) for a second offence, to imprisonment for not less than fourteen days, and
(iii) for each subsequent offence, to imprisonment for not less than ninety days.
A progression can be seen that no longer exists since these rules were passed. These are amendments made by the legislator over the years in the wake of certain rulings, certain developments in this issue, in order to increase the sentence and try to discourage the public.
(b) where the offence is prosecuted by indictment—
—to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
(c) where the offence is punishable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
(2) Every one who commits an offence under paragraph 253 ( a ) and thereby causes bodily harm to any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
(3) Every one who commits an offence under paragraph 253 ( a ) and thereby causes the death of any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
As you can see, the sentence is increased if it is a repeat offence, if the damage is greater, if the other party's injuries are more serious, or if someone dies as a result of an accident caused by an impaired driver.
What is being called for, and what we would like to see in the Criminal Code, I think, is a minimum. In other words, an impaired driver who has an accident gets, for example, a minimum of one year or two years in prison.
I see this as dangerous, though perhaps it is necessary, and I am not saying that it is not. Personally, I am telling you today that it may be dangerous because all discretion is being taken away from the court. We are taking away any way, any manner in which a properly informed judge, a judge who hears the evidence, a judge who sees the accused, a judge who is familiar with all the facts of the accident, could assess the case, as he could not do so if a minimum is set. Perhaps we will have to come to that, but only a very wise man could know the answer to that question today.
The opposition's motion, if passed by the House, will enable us to check whether setting a minimum for such an offence is really the right thing to do. That is one example. There may be other things that need examination. I heard one of my colleagues on the government side talking about the appointment of judges just now. Yes, there is that aspect, perhaps, but there may be something else, perhaps in terms of heightening the judges' awareness.
These days, I hear all sorts of things about remarks judges have made following a decision, remarks that have not always been so nice. I am not noising around the fact that I am in the same league, because I am not too proud of the remarks these people may have made.
Perhaps enhanced awareness is needed. Stiffer penalties in the Criminal Code are not necessarily the solution. All of this can be studied in committee. We can look at what exactly should be considered.
That said, we in the Bloc Quebecois have three points to make with respect to this motion. First, we acknowledge the importance of the problem raised by the motion presented by the official opposition. The motion deserves our support and very serious consideration in committee.
Second, the Bloc Quebecois supports the motion as amended by the government, which asks to present a motion to set up a standing committee to discuss the measures provided in the Criminal Code in order to correct and improve where possible the provisions pertaining to offences involving the consumption of alcohol and impaired driving.
Third, the Bloc Quebecois aware of the problem created by drunk driving considers that legislative study will concern the matter as a whole and not just the establishment of harsher penalties. We say “What's worth doing is worth doing right”. We will do it with assurance, and anyone looking at it afterward will have no cause for complaint. This is what I want to bring to the committee. If a committee is going to look at this, we must look not only at increasing the penalty, but at the whole issue from A to Z.
I would, however, caution this House, because we will be dealing with the administration of justice, which is not a federal matter but a provincial matter. We must be very careful in our review of these provisions to do a thorough, serious and detailed analysis in the area of federal jurisdiction. We will not stick our big mitts in the administration of justice. It is none of our business. The Bloc will be there to dot the i 's and cross the t 's, should the government decided to go a bit further.
I will conclude by saying that, in committee, I will have a series of questions to put to the people who will come to present their briefs, make comments on such violations and the changes that need to be made to the Criminal Code. I think we should also hear from police officers. We should seek their opinion on this question and on what they would like to see in terms of legislation, to get a feel for what their priorities are.
Finally, because I can see you signalling that I am running out of time, we indeed support this motion, as amended by the government. We support it because it will allow an informed debate on this question. We will then report to this House to enact the most useful legislation possible, legislation that may stop this scourge, which is—again, we agree on the terminology—a very terrible national scourge.