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.