Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (alcohol ignition— interlock device programs).
The shortness of this bill belies its importance. As the Minister of Justice has indicated, it includes in the criminal code a program that some provinces have already put in place. Its effectiveness has been proven in the United States and in some provinces, including Alberta and Quebec, a fact that the minister has emphasized. Later on, I will explain why Quebec created its own alcohol ignition—interlock device program in 1997.
Before dealing any further with this bill, whose shortness, as I said, belies its importance, amending as it does the criminal code, I would like to put on the record a number of statistics and facts. If we are to debate and vote on this bill, it is important to have a good picture of the present situation.
Let us take the situation over 20 years. These are the figures currently available to us, for the period between 1977 and 1996. Let us keep in mind that, at the present time in Canada, 40% of accidents where the driver was at fault and was sentenced to anywhere from licence suspension to imprisonment involved a fatality, and 30% of them injuries. I repeat, among accidents in which the driver was at fault and was sentenced to anywhere from licence suspension to imprisonment, 40% involved a fatality and 30% involved injuries. All of these figures are for 1977-96.
In addition, let us keep in mind that, during that same period, 1977 to 1996, 35,000 people were killed or sustained severe injuries in collisions involving a driver found guilty of impaired driving. This is far from an insignificant number.
This number of 35,000 may seem modest, but if thought of in terms of days, it translates into 4.5 people daily who are killed in accidents involving impaired drivers.
There is a cost attached to this, the personal cost to the impaired driver who receives a sentence, as well as major social and economic costs. The economic costs up to 1996 are estimated at $52.1 billion. So, the costs are high: social, personal and economic.
In addition, the estimated number of injuries to people involved in impaired driving accidents is 1,505,000 in 20 years. This means more than one million people have sustained serious or less serious injuries. This is a significant number. Very often these automobile accidents involve people who have broken the law, have got behind the wheel when they are over the allowed limit, a limit they often are not aware of and are not in a position to assess, because they do not have a breathalyzer available to them.
So, 1.5 million people have been injured in 20 years in accidents involving impaired drivers and costs of $42 million. This is not insignificant.
It is an economic problem, as I have just said because of the costs arising from the collisions, which are sometimes fatal—the luckier ones escape with a few injuries—but significant social costs to our health care system are also involved.
So responsible action is needed both in penalizing and in helping impaired drivers. It is not just a matter of clamping down. History has shown, and I will cite other figures a little later, that simple sanctions—if I can call prison sentences and the suspension and revocation of drivers' licences sanctions—have not in the past prevented people from driving while impaired and even from repeating the offence several times.
Experience has also shown that repression is not always the best solution to the problem of drivers who take the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.
We must come up with, not an alternative, I would say, but with something complementary, between what we have now in terms of sanctions, which I described earlier, and a more humane and supportive approach for the drunk driver.
Not only is the ignition interlock system of help to the accident victim, but it is to the driver who is under the influence as well. It saves lives.
This is why, since 1997, Quebec, along with Alberta and other provinces, have considered the question—and similar programs exist in the States—in an effort to come up with some positive results and render service.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has also considered the matter of drunk driving since 1999. A number of committee sittings have focussed on this matter. A number of witnesses have appeared, including specialists on the matter and parents, who have decided to join together and form a group called MADD, which offers help to the victims.
I would also point out the eloquent figures and studies reported by a witness, who appeared on February 4, 1999 before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I will name him. He is Herb Simpson, a member of the board of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation.
Mr. Simpson's testimony was important and eloquent, but I will simply refer to one study that he mentioned. This was a fairly recent study, which concluded that 70% of offenders are often repeat offenders.
The moral of the story is that there is a hard core of drivers who, having driven once while drunk, are arrested and either have their licences suspended or receive some other penalty.
In 70% of cases, these are people who have already been charged once. These are the drivers the study described as hard core, those who, despite government sponsored awareness campaigns, despite promotion and awareness campaigns by citizens' groups, which are doing everything they can to inform the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, still continue to get behind the wheel drunk.
What is worse, these repeat offenders, these hard core, are responsible for 65% of serious accidents. That says a lot. Furthermore, 70% of those arrested for impaired driving have already been arrested once for the same offence. Road safety surveys done after driving accidents reveal that those responsible are often repeat offenders.
Some caution is in order, however. Do these figures mean that the majority of the population continues to repeat the offence and drive while impaired after an initial offence? The answer is no. According to the studies, this group of repeat offenders represents only 1% of the total population of Canada.
I think the three parameters that have been studied—the percentage of repeat offenders; the percentage of repeat offenders involved in serious accidents; and whether people in general are drinking and driving or are repeat offenders, which is not the case—must show to us the policy to be followed.
This policy must be balanced. For example, should we install an ignition interlock device in all motor vehicles? Would this be socially acceptable and economically effective? Should this be the norm? The answer is no. I think there must be a fair balance between sanctions and the ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device must never be considered as an alternative to sanctions, but we must add this provision to the criminal code to provide the judge with the possibility of ordering that this device be installed in motor vehicles.
Our examination of the issue leads us to say yes to an ignition antilock device, especially a device such as this one, for repeat offenders, and not for all Quebecers and Canadians. If this were done, it would not constitute an appropriate, justifiable and balanced response to the sociological reality and the actual facts I mentioned earlier with regard to the three parameters.
Another point that I would like to address deals with criminal law that applies in the case of drinking and driving. One must remember that, in Quebec, it is the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec that has this management responsibility.
We have to remember that if drivers with probationary licences or learners' licences cannot drink any alcohol and drive, which is tolerance zero, nothing prevents drivers with regular licences to drink alcohol before driving. However, the limit of alcohol consumption remains at 0.08%, which means that anyone respecting that limit does not commit an offence.
Another issue deals with sanctions. Are the sanctions provided in the criminal code, and I may quote them later, the true answer to the serious current situation?
Let us not forget that the Bloc Quebecois initiated the fight for the use of an ignition interlock device. This campaign was spearheaded by the Bloc. Through the member for Témiscamingue and chief whip of the Bloc Quebecois, and also my colleague from Berthier--Montcalm, the Bloc Quebecois led the battle in committee. Why? Because the voters in our ridings who came to see us had relatives or children who became the victims of impaired drivers. Several organizations also contacted us.
The first question one should ask is the following: do the sanctions provided in the criminal code appropriately reflect how serious the situation is, especially in the case of repeat offenders? Again, I stress that a difference should be made for impaired driving, not so much in terms of sanctions but in terms of support and proposed solutions, between a first time offender and a repeat offender. The solution cannot be the same in both cases, because numbers, studies and cases have shown that 70% of individuals found with a blood alcohol content higher than 0.08% are often second time offenders. Therefore the solution cannot be the same for everyone.
In this respect, there are two major studies to take into consideration. The first one was conducted in Toronto and involved 27,390 offenders who had committed all kinds of offences. We are not only talking about people who had their driver's licence suspended or revoked. This sampling of 27,000 offenders included people who had received all sorts of sentences, including fines, jail terms, probation periods, driver's licence suspensions and so on. It was found that, in the case of first time offenders, suspending their driver's licence was probably the greatest deterrent, even more so than a jail term. This is quite the paradox. Telling a person that he was under greater risk of losing his driver's licence than going to jail was the most convincing argument to deter him from driving under the influence.
The hard line, which is imposing a life sentence, is not always the best solution. The threat of going to jail does not always deter people from driving under the influence.
Therefore, our approach must take into account not only the facts, but also the attitude, the behaviour and the way a person reacts to awareness campaigns by the government and other groups or lobbies. The situation is very different when the individual is taken into consideration.
Another study conducted in 1991 showed that suspending drivers' licences reduced by 30% to 50% the number of offences related to driving under the influence.
Therefore, revoking a person's driver's licence is the greatest deterrent. A study done in California showed that suspending drivers' licences reduced by 30% to 50% the number of offences related to driving under the influence.
This illustrates the importance of using tools that ensure complementarity between the various sanctions. There is a new element that allows us and societies such as ours to apply modern solutions to complex issues, namely technology.
Twenty or 30 years ago, we could never have hoped to change behaviours and attitudes through effective technological means such as the ignition interlock device. Back then, we could only rely on criminal penalties. Today, technology allows us to use comprehensive and effective programs which, while they do not meet people's needs as such, allow them to behave responsibly by respecting a number of social standards.
This is why the ignition interlock device program is, in my opinion, a good solution that involves new technologies. However, as I said earlier, this program should not replace existing penalties and sanctions.
I would like to remind people of what an ignition interlock device is. It is a breath analyzer. It can be installed in a vehicle and can be connected to the ignition, the starter, the electrical circuits and all the other instrument panel systems.
Moreover, this device can be used to measure the driver's blood alcohol level and to prevent the engine from starting or the car from being used if the alcohol level exceeds a predetermined limit.
The driver has to submit to a breathalyzer test before starting the engine or using the car. Other tests are required on a random basis as long as the engine is running. If those tests are not complied with or the level exceeds the predetermined limit, an alarm goes off and it keeps ringing until the driver passes the test or the engine is turned off.
The new models also contain mechanisms that prevent improper use. This concerns the interlock device technology.
What is the ignition interlock device program set up in Quebec, in Alberta and in the United States used for? This program provides for the monitoring and supervision of all offenders accused of impaired driving. It is enforced by the court officials under a probation order or by the licensing authorities as a prerequisite for the restoration of the driving licence.
The ignition interlock device records the breathalyzer tests results and all the other data pertaining to the program conditions.
These figures may then be studied by program administrators when the vehicle goes in for maintenance. The device must undergo regular maintenance checks every 30 to 60 days. The maintenance requirements must be adhered to strictly, if not, the device will prevent the vehicle from starting.
The purpose of the alcohol ignition interlock device program is not, I repeat, to replace the penalties for impaired driving. Instead, it provides an additional means to lower the number of repeat offences. Enrollment in the program could be in addition to the sentence, as a condition of probation, or a condition to be fulfilled for the reissuing of a driver's license.
I would like to take a moment to talk about the device and the program, because there are not very many provinces that have implemented this type of program. Today, by modifying the criminal code, we are acting at the level of federal legislation, but in the coming months, we will need to ensure that these legislative changes are adjusted to provincial programs in order to lower the rate of repeat offences. Programs such as those that I have just described—despite the fact that described them rather quickly—must be implemented.
Many people believe that this type of provision and measure would cost a great deal, that there are tremendous costs associated with it. I would like to remind the House that it would cost a mere $3 per day to install such a device on the vehicle of a driver accused of impaired driving.
Some people often refer to cost as a factor in the government's policy decisions. However, we must also consider the benefits. Costs must not always be seen as economic costs. They must also be viewed in terms of opportunity costs, and in terms of social costs too, because at the end of the day, as a number of studies have shown, the alcohol ignition interlock device program is very effective.
The arrest rate among offenders whose vehicles were equipped with ignition devices was up to 75% lower than that of offenders whose vehicle was not equipped with the device. This program has lead to some considerable improvements.
You will say we are short 25%. Of course, as is the case with all technology, there are always ways to get around it. I do not need to tell you the ways to get around this type of device, but they do exist. We have to recognize they are effective, if only in the case of drunken driving, because this is the aim of the amendments put forward by the government.
The offenders pay for the program. That is interesting. So, they are prepared to pay the sum, amortized of course, of $3 a day. The offenders are the ones who are prepared to assume the cost of this program.
So, in this regard, I think there is evidence that, even in the case of a repeat offender, the individual, if it is his second time, may determine his blood alcohol level at some point. Imprisonment is not always the best route, especially not life imprisonment.
So there are some people who accept to have a device installed in their vehicle at their own expense. As I have said, 38 states in the U.S., as well as the provinces of Alberta and Quebec, have such a program in place. More than 40,000 ignition interlock devices are in use in the world, 4,500 of those in Canada. I repeat, 40,000 in the world and only 4,500 in Canada. There certainly cannot be more than that number, when these programs are only in place in Alberta and Quebec.
It is clear that, if we were to pass these legislative amendments, and the provinces set up programs such as those already in place in Quebec and Alberta, we would, without a doubt, be in a position to state that Canada is playing a lead role in this novel solution, which places responsibility with the individual, initially, and also makes our roads safer.
Provided actions follow on the decisions we take now or in the days to come, we could see Quebec and Alberta —they having been the first—and Canada as a whole, becoming a world leader in this area. This is nothing to sneeze at.
I should also mention the position of an organization whose representatives I personally met in my riding, because they came to see me. MADD, which helps victims, led an exceptional public awareness campaign in Canada, in November 1999. The organization's representative, Ms. Swinson, appeared before the committee and clearly said that:
New federal acts passed in July allow judges to demand the use of an ignition interlock device as a conditional measure. Moreover, this device is very affordable.
Organizations, groups and boards told my colleagues from Témiscamingue and Berthier—Montcalm about the importance of adopting such legislative changes. I am thinking of the Fondation de la recherche sur les blessures de la route and of MADD.
Does this mean we should go faster and demand that such a device become standard in vehicles in Canada? The answer is no. Why? Because the rate of recidivism is only 1%. That being said, some measures are in order.
I should also mention the position expressed on February 16, 1999, by the Council on Drug Abuse. Mr. Bates appeared before the committee. He said that these ignition interlock devices should be installed in vehicles, subject to two conditions.
First, they should be installed if an individual is guilty and has a blood alcohol level over 0.165—as people know, the current level is 0.08—and, second, if the individual is a repeat offender, one of what I described earlier as hard core drinking drivers.
We must therefore, in my opinion, take responsible action, but only after careful consideration.
In conclusion, yes, we support these amendments to the criminal code; yes, we believe that the alcohol ignition interlock device must be incorporated into the criminal code; and, yes, provincial programs must be put in place. But this device must not become a standard feature of automobiles. And we also agree that these devices should be installed in the vehicles of repeat offenders.
We would thus be able to help Quebecers and Canadians, including those who abuse alcohol, live in a more balanced society as well as continue to be near their families, and to ensure that all of us have a very merry Christmas and a happy 2002.