moved that Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (proceedings under section 258), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker,it is an honour for me to rise today to speak on my private member's bill, Bill C-452. I look forward to discussing the contents of my bill in the House today and as it moves through the House in the future. I think this bill is a true example of a non-partisan bill and I believe that it will be supported. I am looking forward to that.
Today I would like to explain to the House why I have decided to put this particular bill forward. I intend to outline the contents of my bill, both in specific and general terms, and then provide members with some information which will help them in their decision to support this proposed legislation.
First, my intent with regard to Bill C-452 is simple. I want to keep drunk drivers off our roads. I want to help stop the death and destruction caused by impaired driving. And I want to make sure that when people do make the decision to drive while drunk, they no longer will be protected by the current loopholes in the Criminal Code. I want to briefly outline how Bill C-452 will prevent impaired drivers from getting off on technicalities.
This bill would give the courts the ability to use sample test results as proof of the accused's blood alcohol content at the time of the alleged offences. If the accused were to dispute those results, this bill would then place the evidential burden on the accused to establish factors that affect the reliability of those results based on the balance of probabilities. Bill C-452 will increase the time allowed for the taking of breath or blood samples from an accused to three hours from the current two, and I will explain why that is necessary.
The legislation states that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of more than .08. We all know that. That is currently in the Criminal Code. In order to ensure that this law is enforced effectively, Parliament enacted two statutory presumptions. The first, the presumption of accuracy, is that the breath or blood tests accurately reflect the driver's BAC at the time of testing, that is, the blood alcohol concentration. The second, the presumption of identity, is that the driver's blood alcohol level at the time of testing is evidence of his or her BAC at the time of driving, provided the samples were taken within two hours of the alleged offence.
While Parliament extended the time limit for police to demand breath samples from suspects to three hours in 1999, we failed to make a corresponding change to the presumption of identity. This means that the Crown has to call a toxicological expert to testify in each case that samples are taken more than two hours after the alleged offence. This is time consuming and expensive, and often, sadly, prosecutors will simply choose to drop the charges rather than spend the time and money that would be required to make this case in court.
The timeframe for the presumption of identity, as it is called, should be extended to three hours. My bill would do that.
Once again, I want to be clear about the intention of my bill. The issue of drunk driving and the pain and destruction it causes has been a concern for me for some time. I want to make Canada's roads safer for all of us, for our families and for our loved ones. Last year, and this is what really prompted me to bring this bill forth, I met with representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD Canada. They reminded me that drunk driving is still the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. I want to emphasize that fact. Drunk driving is still the number one criminal cause of death in Canada.
On average, we lose four Canadians every day and another 200 are injured due to drunk driving. Those numbers represent hundreds of families who are left to deal with the grief and trauma of having their loved ones killed or hurt by drunk drivers. As legislators, we owe it to those Canadians to help reduce this devastation if at all possible, and MADD Canada told me that it is possible. It has outlined several areas where our laws are lacking.
When I met with its national president, Louise Knox, she told me that one major problem stemmed from the fact that the courts have interpreted the Criminal Code in such a manner that breath or blood tests are often thrown out, based solely on the accused's own testimony, which contradicts the science-based test results. Without the test results being accepted as accurate, the charges are usually dropped and the accused is acquitted. What kind of a system is this when the accused's testimony overrides the scientifically based test procedures? It is simply crazy.
I want to tell the House about the two main defences being used by those accused of drunk driving to avoid being punished. They are defences that are successfully used in many cases. These loopholes are the exact ones that my private member's bill, if passed, will close.
The first is called the “Carter” defence, whereby the accused testifies that he or she had only a small amount to drink prior to the offence. The defence calls a toxicologist to confirm that the accused's blood content would definitely have been below the .08 level if such a small amount were consumed.
If the court accepts the accused's evidence, the test results are completely disregarded even if they were administered properly, even if they were consistent with the reading on the roadside screening device, and even if they are supported by the officer's evidence that the accused showed signs of intoxication. It is incredible.
I want to put this defence into perspective so that what I am saying is crystal clear. Let us say that someone gets picked up due to erratic driving or after they have had an accident. The police suspect impaired driving and do an initial roadside test. It tests positive for BAC above the legal limit. The individual is then taken down to the local police station for the next test. The result is again positive. The police have done their job, right?
Now the individual arrives in court. The accused's defence is that he or she drank so little that the test simply must have been wrong. It is only the word of the accused that he or she drank so little that the tests have to be wrong. The way the Criminal Code is currently written, it allows judges to throw out the test results, which are scientifically based and which have proven to be very accurate in hundreds and hundreds of tests. If a person gets the right lawyer and the right judge, he or she is let off the hook for a very serious crime that has often led to death. More accurately for the public, if they get the wrong lawyer and the wrong judge, they are often let off the hook due to technicalities alone.
My bill would close that loophole. Those accused of impaired driving would have to prove on the balance of probabilities that the tests were wrong.
The second defence that is commonly used is the “last drink” defence. In this case, those who are accused testify that they consumed a large amount of alcohol immediately before driving but they say the alcohol could not possibly have been absorbed into the bloodstream when they were stopped by the police.
These accused argue that their blood alcohol content was below the legal limit when they were driving and only rose above the limit in that interval between the time they were caught driving and when the testing was done. Again, the breath results are rejected and the accused are acquitted, strictly on their word that they had taken a large amount to drink just before driving so therefore their alcohol content simply could not have been high enough at the time of driving.
These technicalities are simply not acceptable. They are not an acceptable way for people to get off the hook when they are in fact guilty of drunk driving. What I propose to do is help prevent some of the four deaths that occur every day and the 200 injuries that occur every day from people getting off the hook due to technicalities. If it did happen that someone drank too much booze and then drove but was not technically over the limit when driving, is it unreasonable to change the law to send a clear message, “Too bad, simply do not drink that amount and drive”?
People simply should not drink an amount which could bring their alcohol content level above that which would make them impaired when they drove. Or better yet, people simply should not drink and drive.
What has been the result of these two loopholes being allowed to remain? Despite an estimated 12.5 million impaired driving trips every year in Canada, the majority of offenders are not even stopped by police. We can understand why. The police cannot be everywhere; we understand that. However, even when people are stopped, officers often do not press charges. Police do not believe that their work and effort will result in convictions because the laws are simply not strong enough and most important, because those loopholes are there.
In other countries these things simply are not allowed to happen. For example, the impaired driving legislation in the United Kingdom takes into account in all cases the assumption that the accused's blood alcohol content at the time of driving was not less than that indicated in the blood test. The only exception arises when the accused proves that he or she consumed alcohol after driving, but before providing the breath and blood sample proves that, and also proves that as a result of this consumption his or her blood alcohol content would not have exceeded the limit at the time of driving. In the United Kingdom they have to prove those two things.
Obviously this places a much heavier onus on the accused who wishes to challenge the blood alcohol content results from scientifically based testing.
It is similar in the United States. The onus is placed on the offender to prove his evidence. I believe that Canada is the only western democratic country which allows these types of technicalities to interfere with convictions in this type of a situation. It is no longer acceptable and my bill would change that.
When I tabled the bill in the last session before Parliament prorogued, the then parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice said that he would like to do everything possible to deal with those who would drive impaired upon our roads. He criticized portions of my bill, specifically the provision allowing a court to consider evidence of the accused's driving and demeanour. The parliamentary secretary pointed out that such evidence is irrelevant to an over 80 charge. He is correct.
However, he did not understand the thrust of my proposed amendment. While not relevant to the proof of the offence itself, these factors are very relevant to the accused's contention that there is evidence to the contrary casting doubt on the BAC reading. He missed the point entirely. I do not think he was really listening to what I said.
For example, it would clearly enhance the accused's claim that the BAC results are in error if, with even a moderately high BAC, he or she did not show any of the usual indicators of alcohol consumption, odour, slurred speech or any sign of impaired driving.
Since only credible evidence is capable of constituting evidence to the contrary, the court should consider all available evidence in assessing whether the accused's claim is credible.
The parliamentary secretary went on to speculate that there may be some resulting challenges under the charter should the bill pass, a common argument that we hear from the other side. This legislation was drafted by lawyers, refined by lawyers, reviewed by a former attorney general, and analyzed yet again by lawyers after I presented it in the House last year. They have not raised this concern about a charter challenge, so it is bogus.
I encourage all members of the House to examine this bill carefully. I encourage them to support not only my bill, but to support Mothers Against Drunk Driving in their cause to cut down on the four deaths and 200 injuries that occur every single day across this country. They can do that by supporting this bill and eliminating those two loopholes which allow people who are guilty of drunk driving to avoid being successfully charged.