That this House call on the government to bring forward a motion, pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)(a), to instruct a legislative committee to prepare and bring in a bill to amend those sections of the Criminal Code which deal with impaired driving in order to (a) enhance deterrence; and (b) ensure that the penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence.
Mr. Speaker, I am of course pleased to lead off this debate today during which we will be discussing something that can rightly be considered a national tragedy and also can be considered an epidemic in our country. I am talking about the crime of impaired driving, the senseless act of impaired driving and the consequences and shattered lives that follow when people, after drinking, choose to get in their automobiles and drive.
Today I am going to talk about the senseless and tragic crime that impaired driving really is. There is a state of mind within governments that tends to regard impaired driving as simply another social ill. We have to stop thinking about impaired driving in these terms. It is a crime. It is a 100% preventable crime. If only the government would recognize it as such and take leadership to prevent it.
I am also going to talk about how impaired driving has in fact reached epidemic proportions and how it has not been addressed in the way that it deserves by government at the federal level. Although changes and progress are being made at the provincial level, there is a still a long way to go in fighting this crime.
Through this motion we are going to call on the current federal government to take a real leadership role on the issue of impaired driving by instructing a committee to bring in a bill recommending changes in the Criminal Code. This will first serve to enhance deterrence against people who drink and then drive and second will ensure that the penalties for impaired driving truly reflect the seriousness of this crime.
Let me start out by clearly showing to this House the level that impaired driving has reached in this country because nothing substantive has been done to address it.
Did you know that statistically four and a half Canadians are killed by impaired drivers every day, seven days a week? As we debate this today, statistically two Canadians will be killed by impaired drivers and hundreds will be injured. Over 1,700 are people killed by impaired drivers in Canada every year.
As a matter of fact, the chances of being killed by an impaired driver are over three times greater than being murdered. As well, every day over 300 Canadians are injured in alcohol related crashes. This works out to 13 Canadians being injured every hour or about one every five minutes. In the time of my speech more than four Canadians will be injured in an alcohol related car crash. Well over 100,000 Canadians are injured every year because people drink and then choose to drive.
The tragedy of impaired driving extends far beyond the direct impact on its victims. It extends to all society. Let me quote some direct costs to our health care.
According to 1992 data, alcohol related costs accounted for more than 40% of Canada's nearly $19 billion annual substance abuse funding. This includes $4.1 billion in lost productivity, $1.3 billion in law enforcement costs and over $1.3 billion in direct health care costs simply because of alcohol related incidents.
Our courts are already backed up yet they deal with more impaired driving cases than any other kind of cases they handle. There is an incredible backlog in our courts caused by impaired drivers. There does not need to be. People do not have to get in their cars after they drink. It is a choice they make to break the law.
Unless the government does something about it, those choices will continue to be made. People will continue to drive and be convicted of impaired driving. People will continue to injure innocent victims while in that state behind the wheel. People will continue to kill innocent victims while in that state behind the wheel. That does not have to happen. We have to address it starting today.
The impact on the families and friends of victims killed by drunk drivers never stops. These people have to live the rest of their lives knowing their loved ones have been senselessly killed by a drunk driver. While it may be a private choice among individuals to consume alcohol, once that person gets behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle it now becomes a very public matter affecting all of us.
It becomes a very personal matter to the family and friends of the victims who have to relive the tragedy that results every day of their lives when their loved ones have been killed or injured by a drunk driver.
Impaired driving must cross every party line. There can be no partisanship when we are talking about the impact of impaired driving. I hope the members of the House recognize this today as we debate it.
Impaired driving is not a political issue but an issue of crime, the most severe of all crimes when it involves the loss of human life. Unfortunately, looking at the past records of previous governments, it is clear that while they have attempted to make some small changes to try and address the problem of impaired driving, the problem remains and whatever changes that have been made are not enough.
For example, the Tories introduced Criminal Code amendments in 1985 to include charges of impaired driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing death. But in the subsequent nine years of Tory rule the problem of impaired driving continued to escalate, so those changes were not enough. More needed to be done. But it was not done and the toll climbs still today.
Another one of the tragedies that the government has not addressed is how the new Criminal Code amendment on conditional sentencing applies to impaired driving. With conditional sentences if a person drinks and drives and kills someone and can afford a sharp lawyer, that person can walk out of the court without serving one single day for that deed, for the choice that was made to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol and choosing to drive.
Let me give an example. Last month in Victoria, B.C., an impaired driver left a single mother a paraplegic. She will stay that way for the rest of her life. The impaired driver was given a conditional sentence because it was his first offence. This impaired driver may well have been driving impaired before. He just did not happen to get caught and did not happen to get into an accident.
However, the judge determined that because it was a first time offence that he would walk free with no penalty, just some community service. While it may have been a first time offence for the driver, the fact is that a young mother's life has been shattered by this incident. While the drunk driver who hit her gets a second chance, the woman will be paralysed for her entire life. She gets no second chance, and we should remember that and judges should remember that.
I want to talk now about three areas where past governments could have made some positive change to reduce impaired driving, but unfortunately they did not.
First, the Criminal Code set a two hour time limit on obtaining a blood or breath sample from an impaired driving suspect. This short time span has resulted in thousands of legitimate impaired driving charges being dropped because breath samples or blood samples were taken only minutes after the two hour time period ran out. Imagine that. Because the time period was missed, a person cannot be found guilty whether that person was guilty or not. This is not only a stupid law, but greatly impedes the job of police officers in obtaining evidence that would make a charge stick.
We should be more concerned about the victims of crime than we are about the people who commit those crimes. I would think that would be a logical conclusion. But the two hour time limit on breath and blood samples does not allow that.
A second area of impaired driving concerns some changes regarding the blood alcohol concentration level. Currently the Criminal Code sets that level at .08%, which means that the percentage of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood must exceed .08%. However, extensive research, and I can back this up, in the past 30 years has found out that this limit is too high. In fact, studies show that most drivers with BAC levels at .05% are impaired. These statistics come from scientific studies that have been conducted all over the world.
By lowering the BAC limit the government will be sending a clear message to the public that there is a zero tolerance policy toward people who choose to drive after they have been drinking. It has to do this. The government has an obligation to take leadership in this matter.
The third area in which changes can be made concerns the sentencing for drunk drivers. This is where that mindset of a social ill comes into play. The government does not have it yet and the judges do not have it yet.
Currently, the sentencing latitude for impaired driving causing death is anywhere from zero to fourteen years. Historically, the sentences have been in the zero to three and a half year range usually. That is a fact.
There have been some sentences in the six, seven, eight year range, but they make up less than 1% of the total sentences over the last 10 years. We are not really making some big leaps and bounds in that sentencing area. These slap on the wrist sentences are simply not acceptable.
As an example, and this is where it gets personal, in my hometown of Prince George, British Columbia, less than a block away from my house, a drunk driver killed three members of the Ciccone family in 1995. The impaired driver had had numerous impaired convictions prior to that, and had been in numerous accidents. The judge gave him a sentence of three and a half years for taking the lives of a father and two young children. Three and a half years for a person who, in a drunken state, in an instant, took three lives, after this person had a record of alcohol problems and related charges. No one can agree that the sentence reflected the severity of the crime.
Currently the average sentences for impaired driving are equivalent to sentences for defamatory libel, possessing a forged passport or dealing in counterfeit money. How in earth can we begin to justify the sentences given out for those offences with the offence of impaired driving causing death? It is beyond comprehension.
I introduced Bill C-201 in the last Parliament. That bill would have set a seven-year minimum sentence and up to a maximum of 14 years for impaired driving causing death. The bill was voted down by the Liberal government, most of the Bloc members, along with the help of the NDP. Somehow they could justify these slap on the wrist sentences for drunk drivers who kill. I do not know how, but they do.
The huge majority of Canadians are in favour of those recommendations, but the Liberal government, the Bloc and the NDP said: “No. We cannot justify that. Slap them on the wrist and turn them loose.”
A national organization with more than 2.5 million supporters, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD Canada, has just released a survey on Canadians' attitudes toward impaired driving. What is more important, the philosophy of some Liberal government members who cannot comprehend the seriousness of this crime, or the attitude of some Bloc members, or the attitude of the NDP members? What is more important, their philosophy toward this or the profound feeling of the Canadian people? The people come first.
More than 85% of Canadians surveyed by MADD Canada would either strongly support or support changes to the Criminal Code which would include minimum sentences for drunk drivers. That did not matter when Bill C-201 was voted down by the Liberal government. I want to thank the backbench Liberals who had the courage to support that bill. I also want to thank the two Bloc members who had the courage to support that bill. The government could not support it.
Let me mention some other MADD Canada survey results. Nearly 95% of Canadians believe anyone involved in a crash resulting in death or serious injury should be obligated by law to provide a blood sample at the request of a police officer. 95% of Canadians believe that, but the former justice minister did not believe that. This shows the average Canadian wants the two hour time limit extended or eliminated. We should tell that to the former justice minister.
As well, three out of four Canadians support lowering the blood alcohol content level to .05%, as has been done in other countries with huge success. Of those surveyed, 93.4% feel that lowering the BAC to this amount will make our roads safer.
Considering the survey results we can clearly see how the government is in a position to take some real leadership today. Everything is there for the government to do it. It could introduce changes which have been recommended by MADD Canada and by the Reform Party. Today is the day we can take that first step.
We support lowering the BAC to .05%. We support tougher sentences for those convicted of impaired driving. We are in favour of establishing minimum sentences and longer driving prohibitions for those convicted of impaired driving offences where injury or death result.
Reform also supports that hard core drinkers charged with offences be obligated by law to undergo mandatory rehabilitation treatment. If there is a jail sentence involved, any consideration of parole should be absolutely dependent on the convicted person successfully being rehabilitated through treatment. That is not too much to ask when we are considering the safety of our families.
Clearly it is time to stop talking about the tragic consequences of impaired driving. Clearly it is time to take action. The government can do it today. It is time to put aside all partisanship in the House and unite in one common fight against the crime of impaired driving.
Is an NDP member laughing?