Mr. Speaker, I compliment all House leaders for having arrived at a decision to expedite through the House as quickly as possible a very important piece of legislation.
A unanimous report was presented to the House by a committee. This is the first time, in my experience as a parliamentarian, a committee had the opportunity to draft a piece of legislation.
I know I am the parliamentary secretary to the minister, but I compliment the minister and the government for having had the vision to make this bill drafted by parliamentarians of all political parties in the justice committee into government legislation.
I also congratulate all members of the justice committee. I am one of the members, but I want to say that the level of co-operation and collaboration was of very high calibre. I thank all members for their collaboration and co-operation. We worked together to do something which all Canadians wanted us to do. They want us to stop the carnage that is taking place from coast to coast in Canada and to stop what we believe is a scourge on society.
Bill C-82 implements the spirit and the intent of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as expressed in the draft bill appended to its 21st report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving”. The report was tabled on May 25, 1999 in the House of Commons.
The Minister of Justice tabled Bill C-82 on June 7. Taken as a whole, the bill confirms for the vast majority of Canadians who never drive while impaired the wisdom of their choice. It also sends a very important message that impaired driving is an avoidable criminal act which carries unacceptable risks of injury and death.
If one is convicted of an impaired driving offence, the criminal law consequences will be onerous. When we also consider legal costs, insurance costs and provincial measures, no one should entertain the thought of drinking and driving. For anyone who has not yet figured this out, the introduction of Bill C-82 signals that the time has come for major attitude adjustments.
Since 1981, the year in which impaired driving charges peaked, very significant progress on drinking and driving has occurred through the combined efforts of governments and public and private organizations. I especially single out the hard work of MADD in Canada and congratulate it on the educational role it has played in informing all of us. Families have also had important roles to play as have individuals who have lived this tragedy. This needs to continue and the report of the justice committee reflects that.
Criminal law is an important tool with which a combination of efforts is needed to make further progress on impaired driving. Where the criminal law can be improved, it must be. The measures found in Bill C-82 will assist in the battle against impaired driving. However, it is important to stress that only through a combination of criminal and non-criminal measures will we eradicate impaired driving in Canada.
Canadian Centre for Justice statistics indicate that impaired driving offences have the highest conviction rate of any Criminal Code offence at about 80%. However, as recent surveys by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation have indicated, it takes 200 impaired driving trips to result in one impaired driving charge. Obviously much impaired driving crime goes unreported and undetected.
While the general public believes that the risk of apprehension for impaired driving is relatively high, the hard core impaired drivers by comparison do not share this belief.
Experts in the field warn that impaired driving legislation must be accompanied by other efforts such as public information and increased visibility for police enforcement of impaired driving laws in order for legislative change to have its maximum impact.
While estimates vary, it appears that there were some 1,300 deaths due to impaired driving in 1997. Information from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation study in Ontario suggested impaired drivers comprised 55% of the fatalities from impaired driving.
The Canadian Centre for Justice statistics note that 90% of impaired drivers are male, which is similar to the gender representation in crime generally. Not surprisingly the vast majority of fatally injured impaired drivers are males.
The 1999 report by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia indicated that in each of the years 1995, 1996 and 1997 more than 80% of the impaired driving deaths in British Columbia were comprised of impaired drivers and their passengers. The remaining fatalities were other road users in motorized vehicles, on bicycles, or on foot.
Across Canada impaired drivers are playing Russian roulette, and they are killing themselves, their passengers and other road users. That is unacceptable to the government and to all members of parliament.
The message in the standing committee's report and in Bill C-82 is that Canadian society will not tolerate impaired driving.
Like the bill drafted by the committee, Bill C-82 comprises eight amendments relating to sentences contained in the Criminal Code and one amendment on investigations relating to impaired driving charges.
Together, the changes to sentences strengthen the message that impaired driving will not be tolerated. Bill C-82 increases the dissuasive powers of penalties, ensuring that impaired driving penalties reflect the serious nature of the offence.
Among its penalty changes Bill C-82 includes changes for two crimes which are sometimes directly related to impaired driving. The first is the offence of leaving the scene of an accident to escape civil or criminal liability. Bill C-82 would amend this provision to add the elements of bodily harm and death, which would increase the gravity of the offence. That in turn should signal to the courts that more severe sentences are required.
The bill that was appended to the standing committee's report on impaired driving had the unfortunate effect of requiring the crown to prove that the offence of leaving the scene caused bodily harm or death. As we now recognize, it is not the leaving that causes the injury or death. It is rather the collision or the crash itself.
The new formulation in Bill C-82 preserves the intent of the committee. Three levels of leaving the scene are created. Each contains different essential elements. Under subsection 252(1.1) a person who leaves the scene of an accident where the damage does not amount to bodily harm or death will be liable where the crown proceeds by indictment to five years imprisonment or to an offence punishable upon summary conviction.
Under subsection (1.2), where the person knows that bodily harm has been caused to another person involved in the accident the offence is indictable and punishable by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
Subsection (1.3) in part reads:
(a) the person knows that another person involved in the accident is dead; or
(b) the person knows that bodily harm has been caused to another person involved in the accident and is reckless as to whether the death of that other person results from that bodily harm, and the death of that other person so results.
The maximum penalty under Bill C-82 is life imprisonment. To the extent that penalties can discourage those who might leave an accident in order to evade getting caught for impaired driving, the changes to the offence of leaving the scene will send the message that running away from a collision where someone is injured or killed is egregious behaviour that carries a serious penalty.
Driving while disqualified is the other offence that is sometimes related to impaired driving. The original disqualification could be in relation to an impaired driving offence and sometimes the person driving while disqualified is also driving while impaired.
The driving while disqualified offence is found in subsection 259(4) of the Criminal Code. At present the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment.
Bill C-82 follows the committee's recommendation in raising the maximum penalty to five years imprisonment. This will allow judges to deal more severely with the worst offenders and the worst circumstances. It will be an incentive to persons who are disqualified from driving to abide by that disqualification, including those who were originally disqualified for an impaired driving offence.
The remaining six penalty changes in Bill C-82 would amend the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code. Prior to 1985 in a drinking and driving case where there was a death the crown had to prosecute under the criminal negligence causing death or the manslaughter provisions of the code. In both cases the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
In 1985 parliament added the offences of impaired driving causing bodily harm and impaired driving causing death to the Criminal Code, with maximum penalties of 14 years imprisonment where the result is death and 10 years imprisonment where bodily harm is caused.
Bill C-82 would raise the maximum penalty in subsection 255(3) for impaired driving causing death from 14 years imprisonment to life imprisonment. This provision has become quite controversial. It is the government's intention to deal immediately with those parts of Bill C-82 that did not arouse controversy and to place this controversial provision in a future bill. There has been all party agreement to that effect.
The minimum fine for a first impaired driving offence, that is, for driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of 80 mg, or refusing to provide a sample, would increase from $300 to $600. The minimum fine was raised from $50 to $300 back in 1985. It is therefore quite acceptable for this bill to increase it. There was a consensus on this by all members of the committee.
Bill C-82 will add a new provision after section 255 to specify that a judge must consider evidence of a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 milligrams as an aggravating factor when sentencing for criminal offences dealing with impaired driving.
This provision will codify what many sentencing judges already do in practice, but it will bring uniformity in setting the point at which a sentencing judge looks at a BAC as an aggravating factor. This is a key aspect of the message that impaired driving will not be tolerated.
Another strong message is being sent by Bill C-82 to impaired drivers. If convicted of an impaired driving offence, whether it be driving while impaired, driving with a BAC that exceeds 80 milligrams, or refusing to provide a breath or blood sample, the person will be prohibited from driving anywhere in Canada.
The bill raised the present minimum driving prohibition on the first conviction from three months and makes it a one year minimum. The maximum prohibition on the first offence will remain three years.
On the first conviction only there will be a possibility to replace part of the driving prohibition, where a provincial program for an ignition interlock device exists, with the use of an ignition interlock device by the offender, something that does exist in the province I represent, Quebec. The device would render a vehicle inoperable unless the breath sample on the vehicle mounted testing device gave a pass reading.
On a second conviction Bill C-82 raises the minimum driving prohibition from six months to two years, with the maximum being raised from three years to five years. On a subsequent offence the minimum driving prohibition goes up from one year to three years. As for the maximum driving prohibition for those subsequent offenders, it would rise from three years to a lifetime ban.
These driving prohibition provisions are sanctions that will make an impression—and all members of the justice committee were in agreement—on every person found guilty of impaired driving. Experts in the field have indicated that driving privilege consequences, along with the treatment for harmful involvement with alcohol, are very important in reducing the incidence of impaired driving.
The standing committee has recognized the importance of the driving prohibition and has recommended these very significant increases. Bill C-82 implements the recommendations of the standing committee.
The standing committee also recognized that the sanction for driving while prohibited needs to be sufficient to deter prohibited drivers from ignoring the prohibition from driving. Where an offender has a driving prohibition order and breaches that order the maximum period of imprisonment under subsection 259(4) of the Criminal Code for driving while disqualified will be raised from two to five years by Bill C-82.
The Traffic Injury Research Foundation indicates that a small percentage of drivers is responsible for the large majority of impaired driving in Canada. The hard core drinking drivers operate their vehicles with a very high blood alcohol concentration or BAC level, or they repeatedly commit impaired driving offences. These individuals are very difficult to reach. We heard a lot of testimony before committee to that effect.
A defence lawyer appearing as a witness before the standing committee pointed out that the public is only protected from certain of these hard core impaired drivers by a period of lengthy incarceration. Others may respond to treatment and driving consequences.
Bill C-82 further specifies that a judge may make a probation order requiring a person convicted of impaired driving to attend a program for assessment and curative treatment related to alcohol or drugs. Experts who testified before the standing committee stated that the literature shows that curative treatment may be more important than penalties in altering the behaviour of hard core impaired drivers. We have highly recommended that in our report.
The bill also specifies that a judge may make a probation order requiring a person convicted of an impaired driving offence to use an ignition interlock device, something that is done routinely in the province of Quebec. This type of order may be made in a province where the provincial government has established, as has Quebec, a program for the use of ignition interlock devices.
A Traffic Injury Research Foundation study of the Alberta experience indicated that ignition interlock use significantly reduced reoffending and increased the survivability of those who were enrolled in the ignition interlock program over the study period when compared with convicted impaired drivers who did not use this device.
Canadians agree that impaired driving should be condemned. The standing committee has presented with its report a draft bill that clearly says impaired driving will not be tolerated in Canada. Bill C-82 delivers this message. The criminal law is society's strongest sanction against behaviour that society is unwilling and unable to accept.
I wish to thank all members of the justice committee for having worked very hard to arrive at a unanimous report and to come before the House to present draft legislation. I applaud the Minister of Justice and the government for having decided to adopt it as government legislation under Government Orders.
I wish to thank MADD and the other organizations which came before our committee for their testimony and their hard work. I want them to know that we all listened and we all acted on what we were asked to do as parliamentarians.
I want to tell all Canadians that this government would like to see zero tolerance on our streets, that there be no Canadians who choose to drink and drive and end up killing other Canadians. That is the message this bill wants to reflect. We also want to reflect Canadians' condemnation of a very serious crime in this country.