Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (proceedings under section 258).
The bill presents an important opportunity to strengthen the laws surrounding the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving and related offences. Too often individuals who choose to drive while drunk or otherwise impaired face no consequences. Even when they are caught, they can take advantage of technical loopholes to avoid justice.
My colleague's bill would eliminate some of these loopholes by giving the courts the ability to use blood or breath sample results as proof of the accused's blood alcohol content at the time of the alleged offences. The span of time during which a sample could be taken would also be increased to three hours from the current two.
These are positive changes that would correct earlier parliamentary oversights and make drunk drivers less likely to get away with their crimes. This is particularly important, because without intervention, impaired driving tends to be an oft-repeated crime with tremendous potential for tragic results. For example, impaired driving is the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. Approximately 1,350 people die each year in alcohol related motor vehicle crashes. That is a death rate two to three times higher than the national murder rate. Another 200 people are injured each day in impaired driving related incidents.
Over the last 20 years, alcohol has been a contributing factor in 30% to 50% of fatal crashes. The social and human costs are staggering. From an economic perspective, Transport Canada estimates the annual cost associated with health care, damaged property and lost wages resulting from crashes involving alcohol in Canada exceeds $5 billion.
The need to implement legislative changes that could reduce the number of impaired drivers on our roads is particularly important to the people in my home province of Saskatchewan, which has a higher rate of drunken driving than any other province in Canada.
Given the figures hon. members have just heard, it is clear that we have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that authorities have the resources and legislative backing needed to successfully identify, charge and prosecute impaired drivers.
The member for Lakeland's bill addresses some important steps in achieving the goal. As I mentioned earlier, Bill C-452 would extend the time allowed for the taking of breath or blood samples from an accused in the investigation of an alleged offence from two to three hours. This would allow authorities more time to collect samples and could reduce the number of cases thrown out because the Crown chooses not to expend the resources necessary to have a toxicological expert verify results of samples not taken within the two hour timeframe.
The bill would also allow a court to use the results of the analysis of the sample, 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. In cases where the accused challenged those results, he or she would face the eventual burden of establishing, on a balance of probabilities, factors that affect their reliability.
Finally, the bill would require a court to consider other evidence in deciding whether the accused had discharged the burden of proof. 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. Without the test results, the charges are usually dropped or the accused is acquitted.
Two of the main defences used by the accused are the Carter defence and the last drink defence. Hon. members may have heard these described in the House before, but they bear repeating.
The Carter defence is that the accused testifies that he or she had only a small amount to drink prior to the offence. The defence would call a toxicologist to confirm that the accused's blood alcohol content would definitely have been below the legal limit if such a small amount were consumed. If the court accepted the accused's evidence, the test results would be completely disregarded, even if they were administered properly, were consistent with the reading on the roadside screening device and were supported by the officer's evidence that the accused showed signs of intoxication.
The second is the last drink defence. The accused testifies that he or she consumed a large amount of alcohol immediately after driving. The contention is that this alcohol would not yet have been absorbed into the bloodstream when stopped by the police.
The accused argues that his or her blood alcohol content was below the legal limit when driving, and only rose above the limit in the interval between being stopped and being tested. Again, the breath results are rejected and the accused is acquitted.
What is the result? Despite an estimated 12.5 million impaired driving trips every year in Canada, the majority of offenders are not stopped by police and, even when they are stopped, officers do not press charges. Police officers do not believe their work will result in convictions because the laws are not strong enough.
A recent letter from MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice suggested that this group, who sadly know too well the potential consequences of impaired driving, supports the changes put forward by the member for Lakeland.
MADD National Executive Director Andrew Murie wrote: “It is now almost 20 years that the Carter defence has made a mockery of the Criminal Code's elaborate provisions designed to curtail the grave social problem posed by drinking drivers. Parliament's failure to respond meaningfully condones the undermining of the statutory provisions. Surely it stands as an indictment of the present government that amendments shown by experience to be necessary have been shirked to the extent that a private member must take it upon himself to fill the gap”.
This is an important bill that could save lives. By improving the odds that an impaired driver will face consequences for his or her actions, I believe we can reduce the number of drivers willing to take that chance. With impaired driving affecting so many Canadians each day, I encourage all members in the House to support this bill.