Mr. Speaker, the committee took a very serious look at the issue of impaired driving. To echo the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, and I have been sitting on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights since 1993, this was the first time since I joined the committee that I really felt that all parties were working together on a common cause, which was to try to improve the legislation.
My own objective was to come up with a way to reduce, as much as possible, the trauma of accidents involving drunk driving, accidents that often culminate in injury or death. We had to find some way of reducing this trauma as much as possible.
I have concluded that there is no perfect legislation. No bill will prevent these sorts of tragedies, but we must continue to look for ways of attaining our objective to the extent possible.
I said earlier that I really felt that all members were working together and that politics had been set aside. I must say that this is probably the last time I will support tabling a unanimous report with the government and opposition parties on such an issue. I say that because of the wording of the report, particularly with respect to what members, such as the member for Témiscamingue and I, were supposed to have said. I think this is the last time I will be persuaded to support tabling a unanimous report. The next time I will be tabling a dissenting report, and that is that.
How can the legislation be improved? Not through repressive measures. It is not with tough sentences. It is not with life sentences for offenders that we will achieve our objective.
Perhaps members opposite find that funny, but I would invite them to read what commentators and experts in the field have written. There are not many people that agree with the government and the opposition parties that a life sentence should be imposed for such offences.
I have, for a long time, understood this approach in the field of criminal law. I am lawyer and I have studied this issue. We will not achieve our objective of public safety by handing out exaggerated sentences.
One man in my riding brought this home to me, and I take the opportunity to thank him for his sound advice. He is Dr. Clément Payette, a physician in Saint-Félix-de-Valois, who, last December, lost his wife, Diane Olivier, in an automobile accident in which the driver was drunk. I had a number of discussions with this man, who has looked at the issue. He is now vigorously lobbying the Government of Quebec to have it change some things, but he said that life sentences or coercion would not ensure public safety on the road. It would be through prevention and education. There are now a number of things under way, and I will come back to this later.
After looking into the matter, I asked myself this question: What is the real problem with impaired drivers? The real problem is the repeat offenders. The real problem is not somebody's uncle who takes to the road with a glass or two too many under his belt. True enough, this is not right, and measures should be taken to prevent him from driving off.
The real scourge is the repeat offenders. We have to find a way to change the habits of these repeat offenders. What in the bill applies to them? It contains a notion—a Bloc Quebecois gain—called ignition interlock. I believe it is a device that can cause a driver who drinks and drives to change his habits. I congratulate the government, which included this in Bill C-82 for an initial offence.
This is not enough, however. We would have liked the provinces to have had more leeway to impose it on repeat offenders. The battle is not over. We will naturally be keeping at it, and examining the matter more closely. Probably we will have a look at first offender statistics.
I am convinced that, in the long term, it will be beneficial for the federal government and the provinces to pay for ignition interlock devices to be installed on offenders' vehicles, since millions of dollars are being spent—in Quebec some $200 million, I believe—on the victims of impaired driving accidents. I believe that, in the long term, there will certainly be a financial benefit.
The Quebec MPs who have addressed this issue realized that there is another problem, that of hit and run drivers.
I remember that there was the Taschereau case in the riding of the hon. member for Témiscamingue. The first time the committee raised the issue of hit and runs, members on the other side looked at each other in amazement, as if there were no connection between the two. It is true that there is no obvious relationship right off. We saw, as the bottom line, however, that there was indeed too great a disparity between sentences for impaired driving and sentences for leaving the scene of an accident and that the legislator needed to do something about it. I will return to this point a little later on, as the Bloc Quebecois had some success in this area as well.
The last point is on information and the message to be sent to the population. Here again, I believe that a message will be sent to the public with Bill C-82, and with the comments we added to the report. That is a positive point.
The first point has to do with the ignition interlock devices. When the bill is passed, subsection 259(1.1) of the Criminal Code will provide a judge with the possibility of imposing such a device for a first offence. This is an extremely significant advance.
The key point I wish to make today concerns hit and runs. Right now, in the case of a hit and run accident causing death, if someone leaves the scene of the accident knowing that someone has been killed, the Criminal Code provides for a maximum five year sentence.
As the Criminal Code now stands, an impaired driver who hits and kills someone can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison. That is why the Bloc Quebecois members raised this point in committee. We said that there was a disparity between the two that had to be corrected.
We won out in the report, which contains the following: “Given that greater harm gives rise to greater penalties for impaired driving, the committee suggests that section 252 be amended to provide for similar penalties in those circumstances where the collision leads to injury or death”.
This is a direct reference to a hit and run. The report calls for similar penalties. What does this mean? It means that impaired driving causing death should carry the same sentence as a hit and run accident causing death. I am not making this up. It is in the report. The committee wanted similar sentences.
Following the Bloc Quebecois' comments, we won on one point. The minister decided—or she will later in the evening—to withdraw the section of the bill providing for life imprisonment for impaired driving causing death. It will stand at 14 years.
However, this does not change the thrust of the report, which still seeks similar penalties. The opposition parties, the wind from the right—sometimes it comes from the west, sometimes from the maritimes, but a wind from the right always blows in from somewhere—refuse to include the similar penalties sought in the report.
In committee of the whole I will move an amendment. What we are looking for is equivalence, nothing more and nothing less than what the report says. It is a unanimous report of the committee, which I signed.
Today it is being interpreted in such a way that I am being told, “No, the bill provides for a life sentence. You will have to live with that, hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm”. But that is wrong. We fought for equivalence. We settled the issue of equivalence.
I am very happy the minister finally understood from the comments I made and from the pressures that came from the Bloc Quebecois, and decided to withdraw the section on life sentences, to which crown attorneys are opposed. The great majority of litigators and those who follow court cases are against a life sentence for such an offence.
They applaud the fact that the minister is withdrawing the life sentence and leaving the 14 year sentence, but the principle of equivalence must be applied, otherwise the opposite will occur. The maximum sentence will be 14 years for impaired driving causing death. However, with Bill C-82, a person leaving the scene after hitting someone with their car will be liable to imprisonment for life. It does not make sense.
I hope members of this House will wake up when I move my amendments and will adopt them, even if it means reviewing all sentences together in September. If the House decides that it is prison for life that is required in the case of impaired driving causing death, and if voters in all ridings in Canada and Quebec agree with that, it will mean equivalence with a hit and run accident causing death.
I had a professor who used to say that the Criminal Code read like a story, that it held together from beginning to end. It is true. However, with the bill before us there would be different sentences for two similar offences. That does not hold together.
As a lawyer, I cannot agree with that. Members might think that I am not in a good mood this evening, but I have done a lot of work in this area. I understand that everyone wants this bill passed. I also know that there were negotiations among the House leaders, but each party is represented by a House leader. Perhaps the elements of sentence concordance and equivalence in the sentences were not put on the table.
I hope there are people of goodwill who understand the importance of having this equivalence between the sentences for impairment and hit and run accident so that the amendments I will be making may be accepted.
I am pleased with the work done by members, including the member for Temiscamingue, who gave me a hand on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
I am pleased to have pushed the government to do its homework on some points of law. I am happy to have succeeded in convincing the minister to remove from clause 3 of Bill C-82, for the time being, a life sentence with respect to impaired driving resulting in death.
I am also pleased to have sold the government on the idea of including the new concept of ignition interlock devices in the Criminal Code. It was not easy to get the idea across to the government or to the other parties, but it was finally included in the committee report.
As I said earlier, I am pleased to have been a kind of deflector to the wind of the right, which blows in sometimes from the west, and sometimes from the maritimes, and to have cautioned members against going overboard. The Criminal Code needs to be looked at as a whole, and sentences must be appropriate to the offence.
I feel I was successful in several areas of the mandate given to me. It is not over, however. The debate will continue. I hope that all those listening to us in debate now, or who will follow part of the debate in the House this evening, the lawyers and other specialists, will make their demands known and clearly indicate to members of this House if they feel they are on the wrong track in some areas.
When we address this issue again, I trust that all hon. members will be well informed and will have some understanding of the common sense that lies behind the Criminal Code.