Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-16. I will start by saying that our position is clear; the Bloc Quebecois supports the bill, but with a reservation which I will explain later in my speech.
I will take the time to read the summary to Bill C-16. It says:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to clarify that the reference to impairment by alcohol or a drug in paragraph 253(1)(a) of that Act includes impairment by a combination of alcohol and a drug. It authorizes specially trained peace officers to conduct tests to determine whether a person is impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug and also authorizes the taking of samples of bodily fluids to test for the presence of a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug in a person’s body.
The enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.
You will have understood how important this bill is. Of course, to those who are listening to us, it is clear that clause 253 makes driving while impaired by alcohol illegal. Everybody knows that. Too often we see in the media horrific reports about the serious accidents caused by repeat offenders.
We now have a bill to deal with the issue, even though no matter how powerful our legislative assembly is, we cannot prevent the havoc caused all too often by impaired drivers. However we cannot stop there. The bill goes a little further.
We do have rather important statistics. A study by the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec reveals that over 30% of deadly car accidents in Quebec were caused by drivers impaired either by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Of course, even though the current act deters or punishes drivers impaired by alcohol, a whole category of impaired drivers is not covered--those who drive under the influence of drugs. Bill C-16 is aimed them.
We must analyze this bill. Impaired driving is already an offence under the Criminal Code. The maximum penalty is a life sentence. At the present time, the Criminal Code does not give police officers the right to require a driver to undergo physical sobriety testing or to submit bodily fluids as part of an investigation under section 253a. That is what Bill C-16 is intended to cover.
This is why I was talking of vigilance. These analyses require police officers to be trained. At this time, it is estimated that it will take about $7 million to train police officers and to obtain the necessary equipment for testing.
Clearly, this will be a new way of doing things. Currently, a breathalyzer is used. The person blows into it to determine the alcohol level. Having never done this, and hoping never to have to, I do not really know how it works, but I do know that the same test cannot be used to determine whether someone is under the influence of drugs. More complicated testing, which may include taking samples of body fluids, is required.
So this is a change to a whole area of law, and we agree with that. Things must be done properly, so our police officers need to be trained and the money and resources must be available to achieve our goal and avoid any challenges.
I am going to go into this in greater detail. There is a reference to standard field sobriety tests. When there are reasonable grounds to suspect the presence of a drug in a driver's body, these tests are to test divided attention, ie assessing the ability to do several things at the same time. These are done at the roadside.
So, once trained, the police officer could check whether the person is really impaired. Too often, they test people if they have alcohol on their breath. With this bill, however, if they feel the driver is not in a fit state, they can use these standard field sobriety tests.
There are also the evaluations done by the drug recognition experts. When a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a drug-impaired driving offence has been committed, particularly when a driver has failed the standardized field sobriety test, these evaluations are done at the police station.
Here is how it works: the standardized field sobriety test is done at the roadside to check the driver's condition. Then, if the police officer is of the opinion that the test indicates that the driver is not fit to drive a vehicle, this person will be taken to the station where drug recognition experts, or DRE, will take over. The federal government describes the DRE evaluations as being effective enough to exclude drug-related impairment due to medical treatment and to help the authorities direct the drivers to the appropriate medical services.
Of course, it has to be understood that we do not want a person who has a non-drug-related medical problem to face the criminal consequences of impaired driving. The government is thus telling us that the drug recognition experts will be able to distinguish between a sick person and a person who is driving while impaired.
The third step would be to obtain samples of saliva, urine or blood when the peace officer determines, after the first two steps, that the impairment is caused by a specific type of drug. Obviously, one understands that the first test is the standardized field sobriety test which takes places at the roadside. Actually it is an aptitude test. In the event of failure, the peace officer takes the person to the police station where drug recognition experts will evaluate if the person is sick.
Obviously, if there is a medical condition, it is not a question of impaired driving. Conversely, if drug-impaired driving is established, then, samples of saliva, urine and blood would be taken to determine the level of drug contamination or level of impairment, in order to assess the person's ability to operate a vehicle.
As far as addressing the criminal offence, of course, in the event of impaired driving, the minimum fine would be $600 for the first offence and, for all subsequent impaired driving offences, the fine would be calculated accordingly.
As members will realize, this is where we now stand. When a study by the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec tells us that 30% of drivers involved in accidents were under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, we can see that this is a serious problem in our society. The time has come to amend the Criminal Code. That is why the Bloc Québécois, my colleagues from Champlain, Trois-Rivières and Abitibi-Témiscamingue, join with me in stating that the Bloc Québécois agrees fully with this bill. We will never stop using our influence in this Parliament to promote progress in our society.
As I am being told that I only have one minute left, I will conclude this way. One of the key ways to foster the evolution of our society is by enacting laws. I only wish that the young women and men listening to us would understand that we do not enact laws for the mere purpose of being tough or to target a certain class or a certain category of society. We are not attacking young people. We are attacking drug users who, again, are responsible for 30% of the accidents on the roads and for which they are not charged, because they are not considered to be people whose driving is impaired by alcohol.
Hence, the best way for these young people of Quebec not to run up against this legislation is not to use drugs or alcohol when they drive.