House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was program.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-338 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to specify that street racing must be deemed to be an aggravating factor when a court is sentencing an offender in relation to four offences. These offences are: criminal negligence causing death; criminal negligence causing bodily harm; dangerous driving causing death; and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Currently when performing the very difficult task of setting the appropriate and proper sentence, the courts must take into account the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the offence and the circumstances of the offender. This is the law. Where the Crown or the defence or both believe that the sentence is not appropriate, each may appeal from the sentence.

For the many offences in the Criminal Code, there will be widely varying circumstances under which each offence might be committed.

Mitigating and aggravating factual circumstances, including any street racing, are already placed before a sentencing judge. Unless there is some compelling reason to specify that certain circumstances are aggravating, it is better not to multiply the instances where the Criminal Code spells out that a particular way of committing the offence will be an aggravating factor. In my view, we are not seeing any such reason emerging from decisions of the trial courts and the appeal courts with regard to the four offences when street racing is a part of the circumstances of these offences.

Bill C-338 is not proposing to alter the periods of imprisonment available to the courts for the four offences. I am in agreement that the available periods of imprisonment for these offences are already very serious.

The Criminal Code makes it an offence to cause death by criminal negligence. This is a very serious offence, which could be committed, for example, when driving a motor vehicle in a street race.

The crown prosecutor is required to prove that the accused's behaviour showed a “wanton and careless disregard for the lives or safety of others”, and that this behaviour caused the death. The maximum penalty for causing death is a period of life imprisonment. This is equal to the maximum penalty for manslaughter and the maximum penalty for impaired driving causing death.

For dangerous driving that causes death, the crown prosecutor is required to prove that the driving which caused the death was dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle was being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time was or might have been expected to be at that place. It is easier for the crown prosecutor to prove the elements of the dangerous driving offence than the elements for the offence of criminal negligence causing death. The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years' imprisonment.

The maximum penalties for the offences of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous driving causing bodily harm are the same as the maximum penalty for impaired driving causing bodily harm. All are set at 10 years' imprisonment.

Without going into detail, I would simply observe that Bill C-338 would replace the discretion a court now has to impose a driving prohibition order, which would start after any period of imprisonment had been served with a mandatory order of driving prohibition.

I think there is logic to the present law, which gives the court discretion on whether to impose a driving prohibition order. If a court imposes a long period of imprisonment, the court may believe that there is no need to have the offender prohibited from driving at the point of release from imprisonment, which will be far in the future. In such cases, the offender will have been off the streets and away from the wheel for a very long time.

Also, I note that Bill C-338 proposes to put the street racing factor alongside the impaired driving provisions in section 255.1. Even if the bill were advisable, which I do not believe it is, the provision would more logically be placed within a new section 221.1, criminal negligence, and within a new section 249(5), dangerous driving.

In closing, I will say that unless we have a strong indication that the courts are not treating street racing as an aggravating factor for these four offences, restraint ought to be exercised in specifying that street racing become an aggravating factor.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that street racing is injuring and killing innocent people, besides those in the vehicles. I am honoured to rise to speak on Bill C-338 on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

This legislation treats street racing as an aggravating circumstance when sentencing anyone convicted of killing or seriously injuring someone with a motor vehicle if it is established that street racing was a factor at the time of the incident.

This legislative change will provide tougher sentencing. Bill C-338 also proposes a nationwide mandatory driving prohibition to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.

For many young thrill-seekers, street racing is a popular pastime that has taken its toll in lives lost. Statistics on street racing crashes vary by region. Some police forces and insurers keep track of numbers and some do not. Recently in Toronto, for example, 17 people have died in a one year period as a result of street racing.

Street racers put more than their own lives at risk. In many cases, passengers, pedestrians and other motorists are killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When things go wrong, the causes are common: driver inexperience, excessive speed, and variables such as traffic and road conditions.

Street races take a number of forms. Some are highly organized and can involve tens of thousands of people. Some are spur of the moment, based on two willing motorists in traffic. Penalties for street racers who kill range from a suspended sentence to life in prison. It is up to the judge, as we know.

Each province has its own motor vehicle act which deals with non-criminal street racers, those who neither harm nor kill anyone but are caught in the act. It is hard for police to catch racers in the act, since they race in brief spurts and can outdistance squad cars quickly. Instead, drivers are usually caught on equipment violations such as the relocation of the car's gas tank to the trunk or the addition of tanks containing nitrous oxide, which helps achieve higher speeds.

This summer, the CBC spent a considerable amount of time covering street racing in the province of British Columbia. Vancouver and the surrounding areas had an active street racing scene, which has left a trail of death in its wake in recent years and certainly did this past summer. Police in Vancouver do not keep records on the number of street racing deaths, but a look at insurance records gives some indication.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia says that from 2000 to late 2002, 86 people between the ages of 18 and 21 were killed in car crashes in that province. Most of the crashes involved high speeds.

Amid growing public outcry and a mounting death toll, the B.C. government responded by enacting the toughest laws in Canada against street racing. In 2002, the province introduced legislation that gave police the authority to immediately impound any vehicle used in a street race. A vehicle can be impounded for 48 hours for a first offence and for up to 30 days if the driver is caught again within two years. It also allows police to suspend street racers' drivers' licences on the spot. As well, it sets a maximum fine for street racing: $2,000 plus demerit points.

Ontario's hot spot, as we know, is Toronto. It also is the deadliest area in the province. Between May 24, 2001 and May 24, 2002, according to police, there were 17 deaths in that city attributable to street racing.

In my own province of Manitoba, under section 189 of the province's motor vehicle act, no person shall race a motor vehicle. It carries a fine of up to $5,000 upon conviction, plus 8 demerit points, which also means that a driver's insurance goes up by $250 and a driver's licence can be suspended for 6 to 9 months. There are also prohibitions against inappropriate modifications to vehicles, although some exemptions are made for raising and lowering suspensions, mostly for heavy loads and mobility vehicles.

We know that the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom also have put in provisions to deter street racing, but as members know, a lot of youths do not understand at this point in their lives how dangerous street racing is. I think that every generation since the invention of the motor vehicle probably has had some kind of racing phenomenon or experience, but the problem is that the cars youths have today are not like the cars we used 40 or 50 years ago.

In closing, let me say that this party certainly supports the bill. We will certainly vote for Bill C-338 down the road.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my friend from Surrey North who lives in what I think is a very great part of the country as I used to live there myself.

Anyone who knows the hon. member for Surrey North, knows that he does not present private members' bills in a frivolous manner. We all know the hon. member for Surrey North does his homework and his research and for that he has to be commended. I think he is quite an articulate individual in the justice committee, as well as in the House of Commons. He stands up for what he believes in, and it comes from the heart.

What he and his supporters are attempting to accomplish with this bill, and I rank myself as one of those supporters, is preventing more people from being killed. He is trying to prevent the carnage on our highways and in our cities. He is trying to save lives. That is the entire essence of the bill.

If I may digress for just a few minutes, the entire Bill C-68 gun legislation was sold on a bill of goods. We were told that if this one billion dollar legislation, which is a one billion dollar boondoggle, saved one life, then it would be money well spent. If that is the thinking of the government, then why would the government not support the enactment of this legislation because it will save lives and prevent people being killed or seriously injured.

I know I am a member of the NDP Party in Nova Scotia. People may ask why I am singing the praises of this member. It is because I know this individual and he does not bring these things in frivolously. He does his homework.

I know that there will be cross-country support for this. We know Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports it. We know police associations, once they have had an opportunity to digest this information, will support it. We know attorneys general in various provinces support it. Political members of Parliament from other parties support it because it will save lives. Why not give the justice system another tool in its tool box to say to anyone in this regard that thou shalt not street race?

Allow me to read the executive summary of the legislation. It states:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide that “street racing” is to be considered an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing a person convicted of an offence committed by means of a motor vehicle under section 220 (causing death by criminal negligence) or 221 (causing bodily harm by criminal negligence) or subsection 249(3) (dangerous operation causing bodily harm) or 249(4) (dangerous operation causing death).

In addition, it provides that any person convicted of an offence under any of these provisions by means of a motor vehicle that was involved in street racing at the time the offence was committed be subject to a mandatory driving prohibition, which shall be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed in respect of that offence.

Just going through the summary of it should give qualified support, even if someone is hesitant at all. The reality is drunk driving laws in Canada have increased in severity as we have gone along, not enough for some folks. People like myself would like to see even harsher restrictions on drunk driving laws.

This bill is very similar to that. Why not use this tool to prevent street racing, to give these young people or anyone else who considers street racing something to think about by telling them that if they race and something goes wrong or they get caught, these will be the consequences. I think it is a very rational bill.

Let us look at the financial argument to this. We all know the cost of health care when someone is injured in a motor vehicle accident. If that accident can be prevented, right there we would save money. What about insurance costs? I am sure insurance companies would love to have this type of legislation knowing full well that if it reduces the number of incidents, it will reduce the number of claims they have to pay out.

In fact, this bill associates itself, rightly or wrongly, with a lot of young people who are involved in street racing. I too watched the CBC special about that. I think that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did a very good job in exposing what happens on our streets, especially late at night in the vacant areas of our towns, as was mentioned by my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River.

The reality is that we in Parliament are here to enact and bring forward this type of debate. That is exactly what the member for Surrey North is trying to do. He is trying to encourage debate and dialogue to see how we can fix the problems within the justice system.

This is one of the concerns he has brought forward. For that he should be congratulated, and we should let him know that we fully support this. If it saves one life, it is a good bill. I suspect that this would save many lives down the road. It would prevent many people from being injured and it would bring more sanity to our streets than is there now.

I can honestly tell the member for Surrey North that he has my full support. I will continue to work with him, in the House or anywhere else, to promote this very fine initiative.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-338 proposed by my colleague from Surrey North, which is an act to amend the Criminal Code with regard to street racing.

In addressing the bill I am both saddened and concerned. I am concerned about a problem that is a major killer of young Canadians right across the country and in my riding. I am saddened that the government has done absolutely nothing about it.

Bill C-338 was first read in the House on December 11, 2002. One would normally have expected that in the intervening 10 months someone on the Liberal benches would have seen the obvious merit in the bill and would have proposed the necessary changes to the Criminal Code.

Even if the Liberals had slept through the introduction of Bill C-338 on December 11, one might have expected them to wake up the very next day when the hon. Norm Sterling, then Ontario's minister of transport, tabled in the Ontario legislature Bill 241, an act to enhance safety and mobility on Ontario's roads, 2002.

Bill 241 proposed cracking down on street racing by removing aggressive and unsafe drivers from the road by adding vehicle impoundment and driver's licence suspension both for 48 hours to the current tools available to police. The Ontario government could not go further because amending the Criminal Code is not something that a provincial government can do. It requires someone in this House to act.

It is important to address the glacial pace of progress in the House under the Liberal government. Bill C-338 was written in reaction to a February 2002 decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court to sentence two street racers to two years less a day of virtual house arrest, three years probation and five year driving prohibitions despite the fact that they had been doing twice the legal speed limit and had killed a pedestrian, Irene Thorpe, on November 13, 2000.

In an earlier case another street racer had received a four year prison sentence when his car hit and killed pedestrian Jerry Kithithee in June 2000. The only real difference between the two cases was that the driver who killed Kithithee was going a little faster and had run a red light.

British Columbians and Canadians do not make such distinctions. If a person is doing twice the legal limit and is involved in a race with another car on a street, an act in itself that ought to be illegal, and kills someone, the person should face more than just house arrest. That in essence is what Bill C-338 demands.

If the Liberal government had its finger on the pulse of British Columbia, it would have quickly reacted to the outrage that resulted from the lenient sentence given to Irene Thorpe's killers by changing the Criminal Code just as Bill C-338 suggests.

If the Liberal government was not deaf to the concerns of British Columbia, it would have changed the Criminal Code on September 15, 2002. That is the day after RCMP Constable Jimmy Ng, who was 31, was killed when a street racer hit his RCMP cruiser. The Liberals should have made the change, if only to make sure that such a tragedy would not happen again.

If the Liberals had reacted to the death of either Irene Thorpe or Constable Jimmy Ng, Bill C-338 might not have been necessary to table.

It gets worse. Even when the bill got first reading in the House, the government decided to continue to sleep. Instead of recognizing the important issue raised by the member for Surrey North and the official opposition and adopting his very reasonable solution, the government chose to do nothing.

As Canadians are quickly learning, inaction by the government often has a cost. In this case Liberal arrogance and inaction has an astonishingly high price: the lives of young Canadians, mostly between the ages of 18 and 21.

In British Columbia alone in 2000-01, according to the Insurance Bureau of British Columbia, 86 young people between the ages of 18 and 21 were killed in car crashes, most involving high speed.

In Ontario in the past two years, more than 17 people have died in street racing related accidents. Police say that there are more than 20,000 street racers in the Toronto area.

Even in Saskatchewan four people have died since 1999 in street racing accidents.

In Manitoba no one has died yet but convictions for street racing doubled from 1997 to 2001.

While the Liberals have continued to ignore what is a growing problem, the provinces and municipalities of the country have acted.

In Saskatoon the police operate a program called Street Legal using Saskatchewan International Raceway as its official race venue.

In Edmonton since September 9, 2002, the police have opened up Budweiser Motorsports Park to the public for racing. The public can even race the police. It is another effort to get racers off the street without using a tow truck and a heavy fine.

Montreal also allows street racers to race legally on designated tracks so that young drivers who really want to race can do so safely without risking their own lives or the lives of others.

In British Columbia three weeks ago, on October 3, solicitor general, Rich Coleman, introduced tough new modifications to B.C.'s graduated licensing program, in part, to combat street racing. In August 2003, his department unveiled its driver improvement program policies and procedures. It defines a street racer as “an individual who has engaged in high speed or unsafe racing in competition or on public highways”, and states that the police will impound any vehicles used in a street race.

Saskatchewan police have similar powers to impound vehicles under that province's highway traffic act. In Regina, during the weekend of August 15 to 17 this past summer, 12 vehicles were seized for street racing and 58 tickets were issued. In fact, a candidate in the Regina municipal election was recently quoted as saying that street racing was the number one issue in his ward.

The issue of street racing concerns Canadians from coast to coast and even though the provinces and municipalities are trying to address the problem, in many cases, through innovative new programs, the fact is that unless Ottawa acts all provinces can do is suspend licences and impound cars. Therefore it should come as no surprise that street racing continues to be a real problem.

This past Tuesday in Vancouver, two 2004 Subarus and a 1999 Mercedes SUV were racing neck and neck at speeds close to 140 kilometres an hour until one vehicle hit the guardrail at the Fir Street off-ramp. The drivers, two 18 year old Vancouver men, and a 21 year old Richmond man, were issued speeding tickets, 15 day driving suspensions on the spot and had their cars towed. Vancouver police have issued, this year, eight driving suspensions to street racers and speeders.

Unless Bill C-338 passes, races like the one we saw last Tuesday will continue because street racers are not seeing any action from the Liberal government. In fact, in the month of September the press reported three high profile cases of street racing, including two where people were killed.

On September 29 a man convicted of driving one of the cars involved in a deadly road race that killed 17 year old Payam Yaghoobi in February 2001 was sentenced to eight months in a youth facility and four months supervision in the community. The driver of the second car involved in the street race was earlier sentenced to three years probation and nine months house arrest after he was convicted of dangerous driving causing death.

On September 27 in Vernon, a 19 year old Kamloops man had his vehicle seized and his driver's licence suspended after a street racing incident in which speeds reached 120 kilometres an hour after two vehicles accelerated from a street light.

On September 4, Ariel Lipovetzky was charged with two counts of dangerous driving causing death. Daniel Kordis and Michael Mizun, both 16, were killed in a July 11 crash in Mississauga. The car they were in lost control, crossed two lanes and hit a tree.

Quite frankly, the way the Criminal Code works, unless Bill C-338 is passed, street racing is just a provincial traffic offence unless someone dies or is seriously injured. If we want to really address this problem we will encourage cities, like Edmonton, Saskatoon and Montreal, to give young drivers a safe place to race, and we will pass Bill C-338.

Bill C-338 would define street racing and treat it as an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing persons convicted of criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death, or convicted of a dangerous operation of a vehicle causing bodily harm or death, as per sections 220 and 221, and subsections 249(3) and 249(4) of the Criminal Code.

It would also require mandatory nationwide driving prohibitions to be served consecutive to any other sentence imposed. First offenders would lose their licences for one to three years, second offenders for two to five years, and subsequent offenders for three years to life.

The driving prohibitions in Bill C-338 are not always as tough as provincial standards but apply nationally, so that a street racer in one province cannot race again anywhere in Canada for the duration of the probation. Bill C-338 is balanced, well thought out and necessary to secure safety for Canadians.

The government did not react to the lenient sentence given to Irene Thorpe's killers in February 2002. It ignored the September 14, 2002 death of RCMP Constable Jimmy Ng who was killed by a street racer. It slept through the introduction of this bill on December 11, 2002, and remained sleeping when the Government of Ontario tabled legislation dealing with street racing the very next day on December 12, 2002.

While the government has slept, roughly 100 young Canadians aged 18 to 21 have killed themselves in street races in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario, terrorized Canadians and countless others have been injured as a result of these actions.

It is time the government woke up to the need to work with the provinces and cities to deal with the problem of street racing, to pass Bill C-338 and make our streets safe again for young drivers and for those who share the roads with them.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to the bill brought forward by my colleague and neighbour, Bill C-338, on street racing.

I will not duplicate what others before me have said but I will talk about what street racing is. I do not think it is a new phenomenon. It is not something that is just here now. Movies like Grease and others show that it has been around. What is really different about street racing today is the cars and the attitudes. In today's world we have young people who perhaps have a little bit too much money, a little bit too much time on their hands and very little regard for the people outside their own circle of friends.

The situation calls for much more than this legislation. However what I think my colleague is attempting to say is that where it is happening and where the courts and police are able to convict the perpetrators, the courts must deal with it in a more serious way.

We must send a message to our young people that if they want to race their cars they should go to an area that has been set aside for racing vehicles and which has safety measures in place in case something goes wrong. That would take them out of a situation where innocent people could be hurt or killed.

Vancouver has had more than its fair share of incidents where young people, usually in the evening, have prearranged locations where they race each other down city streets with regular traffic. Young people, generally, do not have the experience to handle the situations in which they find themselves and sometimes they lose control of their cars. These situations are dangerous, not only for themselves and their passengers, but also for people who happen to be crossing the street, walking down the sidewalk or who are driving their own vehicles and just happen to get in the way.

I am also a little concerned that in some situations, although the cars are being impounded and therefore there is a financial cost to street racing, what has not been said is that those impounded cars generally go back to the family, usually the parents because they own the car. Therefore the cars are not being taken away and impounded for long periods of time.

The actual penalty these young people are receiving is having to stay home for a couple of months or receiving probation and having to talk to a probation officer. From incidents that have been recited earlier, a lot of these young people, who have the attitude that causes the problem in the first place, totally disregard the fact that they do not have a driver's licence any more and are on probation, go out and are caught speeding again without a licence. There have to be tougher penalties for those who have a reckless attitude and who think they can flaunt the law and the court orders given to them.

A stronger message has to be sent to these young people but it cannot be done through the police. The police are doing all they can. They have increased the unmarked police vehicles which have video systems so that they can record the activity for evidence in court appearances. All the detachments in the area have new radar units, at least in British Columbia. They are getting more equipment like spiked belts so that speeding cars can be stopped. However unless the courts follow up on activities in which the police are involved, how on earth are we to send a lasting message to these young people?

I have read articles where places are being created for these races in Ontario. There is a place in Mission, B.C., where they can race in a safe environment. It is not that they cannot get it out of their system somewhere. It is that they have a reckless disregard for the safety not only of themselves, but of other people by racing on city streets. It will take a lot more effort than what the government has seemingly been willing to do.

My colleague from Surrey North gave a very logical reason of why he is doing it. He gave a dissertation of the support that he has received from all provinces across the country. Yet the response from the government was that because it was not a government bill and because it did not come up with the idea, it will find some reason not to support it.

Frankly, I am becoming tired with that kind of attitude from the Liberals across the way. Not all good ideas come from the Liberal Party and it is about time that it accepted that.

When Liberals deliberately take an issue such as this and find some small, irrelevant reason not to support the concept, then they should present a better form. If there are problems with the fact that they do not like the minimum sentences and that they do not like this or that, then why do they not come up with some amendments or some way that it can be advanced in a better form?

I think Canadians want minimum sentences. Canadians are tired of seeing the courts disregarding the feelings that Canadians have toward their laws and where their laws should be going. I do not think Canadians want to see young people who are caught racing convicted of reckless driving. Causing bodily harm or death is another thing.

With reckless driving, Canadians do not want young people locked away and the key thrown away. However, Canadians want to have a serious enough penalty that young people are not going to be reoffending. Canadians want them to see that this is not a fun and cool thing to be doing. This is a criminal act and there is a criminal price to pay.

I am sorry that the Liberals do not seem to think that Canadians have the right to care. However, Canadians do care. Canadians understand that the next time they are on a city street they may be the ones ending up in a wrecked vehicle with a loved one dead beside them at the side of a road caused by young people racing in cars with a total disregard for other people on the road.

Canadians are concerned about this issue and the Liberal government should also be concerned.

If the Liberals have some concerns about the way this legislation is put together they should not just defeat it for the sake of defeating it because it is not their idea. The government should help put it in a form that will be acceptable to all. I think I am right in assuming that the government would find that most of the opposition parties would support the bill. Instead of turning it down point blank, let us get it in a form that would be acceptable to the government.

Let us ensure that the reason that we are doing this is to protect Canadians. We are not only protecting Canadians but protecting the young people who are becoming involved in this reckless activity. Let us ensure that the message that is given to them is a very strong message in order to discourage that kind of behaviour.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)