Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to sending Bill C-32 to committee. I am delighted to hear all the other parties supporting it although I was a bit astounded by the Bloc's suggestion about rudderlessness. As we know, the government has a lot of bills on the list today. We are going to a fisheries bill next. We have had many bills related to self-government and first nations financial institutions and a huge agenda in the budget and the throne speech.
When reporters review question period since Christmas, they will find out that it is the Bloc members that are rudderless. What proposals have they provided to us for the betterment of Canada, for the betterment of and better programs for Canadians? If we were to look through the Bloc's questions in question period, we would see that there really are no proposals there. There are no questions on the very dramatic program we have in the throne speech and the budget for rebuilding the social foundations and reinvigorating Canada's educational system, to be prepared for the modern economy and to reinvigorate Canada's place in the world. There is nothing to that effect in the Bloc's agenda or the questions during question period. I do not think that Bloc members should suggest that others are rudderless.
Bill C-32, related to driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug, is a complex health, road safety and justice problem. Addressing it requires combined efforts of governments, police, schools, public and private organizations, families and individuals. Where legislation, whether provincial, territorial or federal, can contribute to fighting impaired driving, it should contribute.
Is there a gap in the impaired driving offences provided for in the Criminal Code? The answer is no. In fact, the Criminal Code has had an offence for driving under the effects of alcohol since 1921. The code also has an offence relating to drugs and driving since 1925. Driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug is already a serious Criminal Code offence with serious penalties, including a maximum of life imprisonment for impaired driving that causes death.
The offence of driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug includes driving while impaired by a combination of alcohol and drugs. The offence covers all kinds of drugs: illicit, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs. In order to prove the offence of driving while impaired by a drug, there is no requirement to show what the drug concentration level was while impaired by that drug. This is not as easy as it sounds, because it may be difficult for the untrained officer to recognize the physical effects of each drug found within the vast range of drugs other than alcohol.
Is there a difficulty in investigating drug-impaired driving incidents? The answer is clearly yes. Currently, where police officers do have training to administer roadside physical sobriety tests, or the more involved tests at the station, they can only seek the voluntary participation of a driver in these tests when conducting an investigation of a drug-impaired driving offence under the Criminal Code. If the driver refuses, there is no criminal law sanction.
Bill C-32 will give the police the authority they need to better investigate drug-impaired driving offences. It provides that a peace officer may demand physical sobriety tests at the roadside, more involved tests at the station, and a sample of urine, saliva or blood in order to test for the presence of drugs. Refusal of the demands would be a Criminal Code offence.
Since 1995, British Columbia has trained many police officers in standardized field sobriety tests that are used at the roadside and in drug recognition expert evaluations that are used at the police station. Several other provinces now have trained officers.
Some might ask what the federal government is doing. Some of the opposition members were asking questions about the money. Already to date, the government has committed more than $5 million toward drug recognition expert training. Training in standardized field sobriety tests and drug recognition expertise is already being rolled out nationally through a national coordinator who is an RCMP officer.
The national drug recognition expert coordinator works with instructors from the RCMP and provincial, regional and municipal forces in an approach that will “train the trainers” in order to build the capacity to develop standardized field sobriety tests and drug recognition expert officers across the country. A mid-term evaluation that incorporates a national needs assessment for training is to be undertaken in the 2005-06 fiscal year.
Scientists are much more familiar with the effects of alcohol on driving than they are in relation to other drugs. Similarly, researchers are more familiar with alcohol in relation to driver fatality data because they have been at it far longer and coroners have a higher rate for alcohol testing of fatally injured drivers. What is interesting is that even without complete testing of fatally injured drivers for drugs in all provinces and territories and even without vast numbers of studies on the effects of each of many drugs upon the skills used for driving, there is broad agreement that drug-impaired driving presents a serious problem and that drug-impaired driving is appropriately among offences within the Criminal Code.
Over the coming years, I am sure that we will see more research that will help us to broaden our understanding of the problem of drug-related impaired driving. That understanding could help to focus other parts of the prevention puzzle, such as education and public information, along with rehabilitative measures.
Over the past two decades there has been an increasing awareness of the dangers of driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs. There is far less tolerance today for such alcohol-impaired driving than there was in the past. Undoubtedly this progress also has an effect on the twin problems of drug-impaired driving and driving while impaired by a drug-alcohol cocktail. Canadians are not willing to put up with the dangers posed by drug-impaired driving.
I am aware some would argue that we should have legal limits for each of the many drugs, just as we have a legal limit in the Criminal Code for alcohol. Alcohol has a steady rate of absorption and elimination. Scientists are readily agreed that a significant increase of crash risk occurs above .08 for drivers, regardless of age. For the vast majority of other drugs, it is not so easy to find agreement on the threshold at which crash risk assessment is significantly increased. That is why the support from the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science has come for drug recognition expert programs rather than for drug legal limits.
Bill C-32 has benefited from feedback provided on a public consultation paper on drug-impaired driving, released last fall. Several provinces have provided comments. Some individual Canadians have commented, as have many organizations, including the Canadian Bar Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canada Safety Council, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, the Canadian Association of Police Boards, the Canadian Professional Police Association, and the Canadian Medical Association. Bill C-32 incorporates a number of their suggestions.
I am aware that the legislation may be tested in the courts. In several ways it parallels the breath-testing legislation, which has withstood scrutiny. For example, reasonable suspicion is required prior to demands for roadside sobriety tests just as it is prior to demanding breath tests on an approved screening device. Police must have reasonable grounds to believe an offence is being committed before demanding DRE tests at the police station, just as they must have reasonable grounds before demanding a breath test on an approved instrument. I am confident that the bill is solid and that the limits it imposes are justifiable.
Bill C-32 will aid police in the investigation of drug-impaired driving offences. By itself it is not a panacea for the problem of drug-impaired driving. It is, however, a very important piece in the solution. I am asking all members to support the motion to send Bill C-32 to committee for review.