Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in private member's business, Bill C-452.
Let me begin by congratulating the member for Lakeland for his bill. As we all know in the House, any time we can personally make a contribution to the country and to the safety of Canadians, it is certainly laudable. I know the intent of the member for Lakeland is to save lives. That is also the intent of his legislation, which would help to keep drunk drivers off our roads.
I also agree with the former speaker, the member from the Bloc, that the least we can do with the legislation is pass it, send it to committee, so the committee can do its work, do some research and debate it.
It is really unfair to private members' business. We have good ideas come into the House. The problem we had before we changed the rules for private members' business was we would have one hour of debate on a non-votable bill, then it would be squashed and that would be the end of it. All good ideas should have a clear hearing before the committee. That is my personal opinion. I will certainly say that it is supportable on the part of the Progressive Conservative Party.
I also want to congratulate MADD. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has led the charge in terms of keeping drunk drivers off our streets and highways. However, in spite of all the work Mothers Against Drunk Driving has done, very little change has occurred in terms of the rules and laws in dealing with drunk drivers.
We still lag far behind the world leaders in traffic safety in terms of the high percentage of alcohol related crash deaths and injuries, even though most of the leading countries have far higher per capita rates of alcohol consumption. These nations have succeeded to a far greater extent in inducing their populations to refrain from drinking and driving. Their laws are deterring impaired driving and protecting the public.
In contrast, our laws in this country are shielding impaired drivers from criminal sanctions and discouraging police and prosecutors from pursuing criminal charges. I believe that is the intent of Bill C-452. In fact the preface in the summary says:
This enactment strengthens the laws surrounding the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving and related offences by
I would like to read the summary for the viewing audience. It states:
(a) extending from two to three hours the time allowed for the taking of breath or blood samples from an accused in the investigation of an alleged offence;
(b) allowing a court to use the results of the analyses of the samples, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, as proof that the concentration of alcohol in the accused’s blood at the time of the alleged offence was not less than the concentration shown in the results;
(c) where the accused challenges those results, placing the evidential burden on the accused to establish, on a balance of probabilities, factors that affect their reliability; and
(d) requiring a court to consider other evidence in deciding whether the accused has discharged the burden of proof.
In other words, it tightens up the enforcement powers of the police, and that is where we need to go.
Other ideas for the government, in terms of keeping drunk drivers off the road, is to lower the current Criminal Code blood alcohol concentration to 0.05. That would contribute to reducing impaired driving and its tragic consequences. Moreover, MADD Canada believes that these traffic safety benefits could be greatly increased if Canadian police were given the powers they need to efficiently apprehend impaired drivers and gather the evidence necessary for laying criminal charges.
Although alcohol related traffic deaths have fallen from the record levels of the 1980s, impaired driving remains, by far, Canada's largest single criminal cause of death. Canada lags far behind the world leaders, as I indicated earlier, in traffic safety in terms of the high percentage of alcohol related deaths, even though most of the leading countries have much higher rates of per capita alcohol consumption, but their laws and their enforcement appear to be deterring drinking and driving.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said in Canada. Millions of Canadians continue to drive after drinking, many on a routine basis at levels of impairment that pose substantial risk. Although the estimates vary from year to year, it would appear that there are tens of thousands of drinking drivers on Canadian roads each night.
Relatively few of these drivers ever come to police attention and an even smaller fraction are detained and investigated. Even if the police conclude that a driver is legally impaired, criminal charges may not be laid. The federal impaired driving law has become so technical, time consuming and unrewarding to enforce that many officers are deterred from pursuing criminal charges.
In a recent national survey, 42% of Canadian police officers admitted that they sometimes or frequently released impaired driving suspects with a short term provincial suspension rather than proceed with criminal charges. One-third of the officers indicated that they sometimes or frequently released suspects without any sanction and merely arrange for safe transportation home.
This police reaction is not surprising. The officers who were surveyed indicated that it took an average of 2.6 hours to process a simple impaired driving case to the point of laying the charge. Moreover, the task of gathering evidence against impaired driving suspects had become exceedingly exacting and frustrating. Indeed, three-quarters of the officers stated that they were discouraged because impaired drivers routinely escaped convictions on legal technicalities.
This problem of under-enforcement appears to be getting worse. A government study published in 2000 found that almost half of the police in British Columbia simply refused to lay criminal charges, even if they concluded that the driver was legally impaired. Forty per cent of those who did not lay charges indicated that their reasons included concern that the driver was unlikely to be convicted.
Despite their rhetoric about the toughness of the federal impaired driving laws, the reality is police officers are increasingly reluctant to lay criminal charges. In effect, these barriers to enforcement are resulting in the ad hoc decriminalization of impaired driving. The police must be given the power they need to stop vehicles, detect drinking drivers, gather evidence of alcohol and drug impairment and streamline the process of impaired driving cases.
Just imagine what will happen if we decriminalize marijuana. The House has been busy talking about Bill C-38 this last week. We do not even know how to deal with alcohol. We are still having a problem with drunk drivers on highways. If it gets to the point where we do not deal with drunk drivers on the highways, imagine what the country will be like if we have people high on drugs driving on our highways.
The police should be authorized to stop any vehicle to determine if there is evidence of a violation of the Criminal Code's impaired driving provisions. The police should be authorized to use passive alcohol sensors. If a police officer reasonably suspects that a driver has alcohol or drugs in his or her body, the officer should be authorized to demand a standardized field sobriety test and to videotape it. It should be an offence to refuse to comply with the officer's demands.
If a police officer reasonably suspects that a driver is impaired by drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs, the officer should be authorized to demand that the driver participate in a test under the drug evaluation and classification program and videotape it. It should be an offence to refuse to comply with the officer's demands.
If a police officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired by a drug, drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs, the officer should be authorized to demand a saliva, blood or urine sample from the driver. It should be an offence to refuse to provide such a sample.
In closing, let me again praise the member for Lakeland for bringing forth this private member's bill. I know that if it makes it through the House, it will certainly keep drunk drivers off the highways.