Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill C-275, and acknowledge the wonderful hard work that we have seen from the members for Abbotsford and for Cariboo—Prince George.
Every driver's worst fear is to accidentally hit a child who runs between parked cars and chases a ball out into the road or on a dark rainy night hitting someone who darts across the road instead of crossing at a crosswalk. These scenarios could happen to anyone. No one would like to go to jail after experiencing such a horrific event. These drivers are not the ones that Carley's law is targeting.
Carley's law targets the driver who hits someone and then makes a conscious decision to leave, possibly leaving the victim to die. Carley's law would protect Canadians from the driver who makes a choice to flee in the hopes that no one saw the licence plate. Carley's law would protect Canadians from the driver who has an accident and also had a few drinks that day and is more afraid of the penalties of the drunk driving conviction than they are for a hit and run and they choose to flee the scene. Carley's law would protect us from the dangerous drivers who already have a number of convictions and they are afraid of one more and they choose to run. That is who Carley's law will target.
On January 6, 2003, Carley Regan, a 13 year old Langley girl, lost her life when she was struck from behind by a hit and run driver. Carley was rollerblading. Her sister and her friend were bicycling right beside her when all three were hit. The two younger girls were knocked into the ditch, but thankfully were not injured. Carley died on the road.
At the time of the fatal hit and run, driver Paul Wettlaufer was under a driving suspension. On the night of the accident, Wettlaufer maintains he was not drinking or speeding and did not see anyone on the rural road. He said he did not realize what he had struck. When he did realize what had happened, he panicked and fled, leaving the dying girl on the road. Despite him leaving the scene and removing the licence plates from his vehicle, Wettlaufer said he was not trying to cover up the incident. Wettlaufer had 11 previous driving prohibitions and citations in six years.
Carley's law is close to my heart. Carley Regan lived and died in my riding of Langley, B.C. January 6, 2003, is a day that I, too will never forget. Before I was elected as a member of Parliament for Langley, I was the road safety loss prevention coordinator for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. I wrote the report on all Langley traffic fatalities. All fatalities are tragic, but I remember this one vividly because it involved such a young life, such a beautiful girl and a cowardly act.
As anyone who became involved in this case, I became emotionally involved and grieved the loss of that young life.
I had been to the roadside memorial in Carley's honour. In fact, after the accident, I drove that road regularly for a month at different times during the day and evening trying to figure out what had happened. Carley's death was a tragedy that affected many people, and it should not have happened.
To keep our sanity, police officers, health workers and others like myself who work on cases like, we try to keep an emotional detachment. With Carley Regan it was impossible to detach oneself. I would think about what if it was my child, what if it was one of my loved ones? The tragedy was that she lost her life. The tragedy was that the driver should not have been on the road that night. The tragedy was that Paul Wettlaufer had a choice to stop but he did not. He left Carley there dying.
Bill C-275, Carley's law would require a minimum of seven years to life for a hit and run causing death; a punishment less than murder sentences but greater than manslaughter. It would also equate hit and run causing bodily harm with attempted murder, a punishment of four years to life. Carley's law would prohibit plea bargaining cases of hit and run.
Wettlaufer was committed to trial to face charges of dangerous driving causing death. Crown counsel however plea bargained the case with Wettlaufer subsequently pleading guilty to three counts of hit and run and one count of driving while prohibited. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, three years of probation and 10 years driving suspension. He served 12 months in prison and was released.
Carley's law, if passed, will prevent for the first time in Canada crown counsel from plea bargaining the charge of hit and run so that those who hit and run must face the charge. A message needs to be sent that it is unacceptable to evade responsibility by fleeing the accident site.
Bill C-275 is name for Carley Regan, but she is by far not the only victim. We have heard of others from members who previously spoke. In my riding of Langley right after Carley's death there was another Langley hit and run.
A Langley father of two, David Slack, was left to die on the shoulder of the Fraser highway. The person who hit him left him to die. He should have stopped. Right after that in Vancouver there was an elderly gentleman hit and left to die on the side of the road. This happens all too often and they flee with the plan that they will get away and not be caught, and often they are not.
Carley's law would make Canadians aware that if a person hits someone with his or her vehicle, the person must stay at the scene. Carley's law will save lives.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving are asking us for sentencing reform. MADD says that current practices are making a mockery of the Canadian judicial system. MADD Canada wants conditional sentences eliminated for the crimes of impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. Canadian courts have been frequently handing out conditional sentences for violent crimes, which were never intended by Parliament.
In an impaired driving crash where a person has been killed or seriously injured, there needs to be appropriate sentences handed down that reflect both the seriousness of the crime and our value of life.
Every driver in Canada is aware of the punishment drunk driving. As we have heard, fear of a drunk driving conviction can be an impetus for a person to commit a hit and run, which is just as serious a crime, if not more so. Therefore, if we establish penalties for one crime, we must keep them in line with others. We need Carley's law to keep drunk drivers from simply leaving the scene of an accident to avoid an impaired driving conviction.
MADD Canada wants an active commitment from all members of Parliament to initiate a comprehensive plan that will answer for the loss of lives and the social cost of these crimes.
I am one MP who will do that very thing. I believe legislation like Carley's law needs to be part of a plan. For a justice system to promote public safety and generate public safety confidence, it must place a premium on truth.
Canada's current sentencing system does not promote truth in sentencing. In section 245 of the Criminal Code, 25 years can mean only 15 years and 15 years does not really mean 15 years when we consider parole eligibility: clock running from the point of arrest, not the point of sentencing.
Federal law now permits conditional sentencing, intermittent sentencing, suspended sentencing, merged sentencing and sentence administration. Truth in sentencing means when a judge issues a sentence that is what one will serve.
Carley's law shows the need for complete sentencing reform in Canada. Carley's law highlights the need for truth in sentencing.
The official opposition has been calling for a complete overhaul of our sentencing legislation for many years. Opponents of mandatory minimum sentencing say that it gives unwanted direction to judges who, some fear, have too much flexibility in sentencing. In reality judges are so hemmed in by the current restrictions on sentencing that they have no room to impose the higher sentences that the public demands. We never see maximum sentencing.
Canadians want sentencing reform. We need to bring forward sentencing reform. We need to follow guidelines and principles of minimum sentencing. We can start that right now with Carley's law. We have heard the tragic stories. It is not adequate. My riding of Langley demands better and Canadians demand better. It is our responsibility, each of us in the House, to provide that.
Let us allow Carley's law, Bill C-275, to proceed to committee. If amendments have to be made, the drafters of the bill are open to that, but it will be a good start to providing accountability and eliminating the ability of people to flee from their responsibilities.