Mr. Speaker, I am sure all members agreed that despite significant progress in the past two decades, impaired driving is still a complex criminal justice, health and traffic safety issue in the country. I want to believe that we all see impaired driving as a serious problem that requires the combined efforts of governments, police agencies, organizations, families and individuals.
Impaired drivers produce hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in economic damage each year. This is all the more tragic precisely because impaired driving is so avoidable. I am told that impaired drivers and their passengers make up about three-quarters of the deaths that are attributed to impaired driving. Of the impaired drivers who die in motor vehicle crashes on public roadways, some 70% die in single vehicle crashes.
A survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, which was conducted in 2003, indicated that some 3% of drivers do 86% of the impaired driving trips. Another 5% of drivers do the remaining 14% of impaired driving trips. That represents more than a million drivers who, combined, do millions of impaired driving trips every year. The overwhelming majority of the impaired driving trips in motor vehicles on public roadways are taken by persons who repeatedly do this behaviour. These are startling statistics.
What we are debating with Bill C-452 is not whether we are against drinking and driving. Nor are we debating whether it is a good idea to better process impaired driving incidents. In this House I take it as a given that we are all opposed to impaired driving and support improved processing of impaired driving incidents. That is most definitely my position. Rather what we are debating tonight is whether some very specific proposals should be placed within the criminal law.
While we all can agree on the problem, we do not always agree on the specific measures proposed to eliminate impaired driving. The Criminal Code makes it an offence to drive while impaired by alcohol or a drug. It is a separate and distinct offence to drive with a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 milligrams per cent. It is the latter offence that often is a subject of a criminal trial because there is no need to prove signs of impairment, as the status of driving with the offending concentration is the offence.
The summary to Bill C-452 tells us that the bill would extend from two to three hours the time allowed for the taking of a breath or blood sample from an accused in the investigation of an alleged offence. This leaves the impression that the police currently have only two hours to obtain a breath or blood sample, which is not the case.
Currently, a peace officer may demand a breath sample or, in certain cases a blood sample, from a person the officer reasonably believes committed the offence in the previous three hours. Where the driver is unconscious, the police have four hours to obtain a blood sample under a warrant, if they reasonably believe that the driver was committing an impaired driving offence and was involved in a collision resulting in injury or death.
The Criminal Code creates a presumption that, absent of any evidence to the contrary, the blood alcohol concentration at the time of breath testing equals the concentration at the time of the alleged offence. The prosecution obtains the presumption if the first breath sample was taken within two hours of the alleged offence. Without the presumption, the prosecution would have to call an expert to relate the blood alcohol concentration at the time of testing back to what it would have been at the time of the alleged offence. Bill C-452 would change the prerequisite for the presumption in respect of a breath sample from two hours to three hours, which matches the time the police have to make the breath sample demand.
The Criminal Code also creates the presumption that, absent of any evidence to the contrary, the blood alcohol concentration at the time of blood testing equals the concentration at the time of the alleged offence. The prosecution obtains the presumption if the first breath sample was taken within two hours of the alleged offence. Quite surprisingly, Bill C-452 would not increase the prerequisite for the presumption in respect of the blood sample from two hours to three hours, as it proposes to do for a breath sample.
Alcohol has a stable rate of absorption and elimination. After one hour and certainly after two hours from the time of consumption, alcohol will have been absorbed, and at that point in time the blood alcohol concentration level will be on a downward slope because the body by then has absorbed the alcohol and is eliminating alcohol.
Before the first hour, the proposed presumption that the blood alcohol concentration is not less than the blood alcohol concentration at the time of the alleged offence might be scientifically inaccurate, if the alcohol is still being absorbed into the blood. This could also be said of the existing wording in the presumption that the concentration at the time of testing is equal to the concentration at the time of the alleged offence. Not a lot turns on the different wording proposed by Bill C-452 because the Criminal Code already makes it clear that any evidence to rebut the presumption must tend to show that the concentration was not simply different at the time of driving, but that it was lower than the legal limit. The important feature of the presumption aspect of Bill C-452 is the proposal to change the prerequisite for the presumption in respect of breath samples from two hours to three hours.
In practical terms, the vast majority of impaired driving investigations by police will see the police obtaining the breath or blood sample within the two hour period that is the prerequisite for obtaining the presumption. In a trial the blood alcohol concentration would be entered without the need for an expert to relate the concentration at the time of testing back to what it would have been at the time of driving. Extending to three hours the prerequisite for obtaining the presumption in order to match the period in which the police may demand a breath sample would mean that the prosecution would not have to call the expert in some cases where it now must call an expert. However, as already mentioned, Bill C-452 only addresses the breath sample presumption and not the blood sample presumption.
I compliment the hon. member for his concerns on the state of impaired driving in the country, and I share those concerns. MADD also shares those concerns. However, for the reasons stated, I feel that the bill has some very serious shortcomings, some very serious reservations and some very serious implications.