Mr. Speaker, first let me say that I am in support of the objectives of the bill and the purpose that has been put forward. It is similar but not identical to a previous bill that was adopted in the House, as we all know, at second reading.
The term of “street racing” and criminalizing street racing is a legislative attempt to criminalize an area of activity that had fallen below, no pun intended, the radar screen in the Criminal Code. Provincial highway traffic acts quasi-criminalize reckless driving and careless driving, but in the Criminal Code the mischievous conduct, the criminal conduct, usually begins at the low threshold that is called dangerous driving. Some forms of that may actually work their way up into criminal negligence or what used to be called motor manslaughter.
So in order to apply the Criminal Code now, we actually have to get some kind of incident, some kind of damage, some kind of bad thing happening as a result of the reckless, careless, dangerous or criminally negligent driving.
Speeding, of course, is a crime. One could ask, do our speeding laws not cover road racing? They do, but the problem with simple speeding, if I can put it that way, where there is no injury, damage or death, is that those circumstances usually require a police officer or a radar trap to be there in order to get the evidence to convict for speeding.
In a road racing scenario, generally speaking, we probably would not need radar. We might need to have a policeman or some other evidence of the race, but we would not have the need to record the actual speed. We would not need to have a police car chasing the racers. A visual observance of a street race would probably be sufficient to get us into an offence territory and into at least the laying of a charge.
I will leave the evidentiary stuff, but it is clear that police across the country have been frustrated with this kind of problem. To now push the Criminal Code down into that territory is probably going to help them enforce a bit more order on the streets where racing has been a problem. It is not necessarily a problem across the country, but it seems to pop up in regions. There have been some very serious implications as a result of the racing that does go on.
I want to move into some technical areas, having said very clearly that I support the initiative. I want to direct my attention and remarks to some technical aspects of the bill, because I think most bills, like this one, need a bit of a tweak, a bit of an adjustment, as they go through committee and the House. I am going to suggest a few areas in which the bill may be inadequate or may have a problem.
The first one has to do with the definition of “street racing”. As I read it, I note that it is really quite simple. The bill states that “street racing means operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place”.
That is okay as it stands, but as I read it, it seems to include what we would call road-rallying. There are organized sport road rallies around the country. People do this quite legally. They do not usually do this in the city, but sometimes they do. This is usually done in a rural area. These drivers use public roads and highways for the road rally. It is essentially a race. The rally drivers are released once every couple of minutes or five minutes. There is a race. It is clocked.
It seems to me that the definition we are using in the bill may criminalize an area of conduct that we just call road-rallying. There are probably hundreds or thousands of road rally enthusiasts out there across the country who may have a concern about this. The bill as it is written now does not exempt this type of organized sport rally activity and seems to criminalize it.
The second area I will call the Formula One road racing, the very highly organized sport racing that happens with professional drivers. Sometimes it happens on a track, but other times it happens on portions of streets and roads in a city or a location where streets and roads have been blocked off, closed or otherwise.
One could argue that if one blocks off the city street that is being used for the Formula One race, it is no longer a public street. It is not really a street any more as it has been blocked off and closed. I suppose I could accept that, but the definition also uses the term “or other public place”. It seems to me that the middle of a city with blocked off streets may still be a “public place”, although there may not be a street.
I think the House and the committee are going to have to look at that to make sure that very justifiable routine Canadian participation in these motor sport events is protected, be it the professional speed driving that happens on tracks or in Formula One racing or similar type sports or road rallying.
The second thing I want to discuss has already been mentioned. There is probably not a solution to this. The definition does not deal with a solo race against the clock. I do not know how often that happens. A solo race against the clock is certainly speeding, but we are back into the evidentiary issues that I referred to earlier. If there is not a race with another car or with more than two cars, this bill would not criminalize it.
The third thing I want to mention is that the bill quite properly sets out penalties for different levels of damage or harm done as a result of the road racing. It also creates motor vehicle licence suspension periods that escalate upward depending on the seriousness. It seems to me as I read it that it is not clear when a second offence occurs.
When someone is convicted a second or third time of this type of offence, there is an escalating penalty, but because the road racing offence is broken down into four or five different parts, it is not clear whether, if someone is convicted of one part and subsequently charged and convicted of a second part of the bill, it constitutes a second road racing offence. It is the way the offences are described in the bill. If it is our intention to have a second or third component of the same Criminal Code prohibition constitute a second offence, then I believe we are going to have to say it much more clearly.
The last thing I want to say is again fairly technical. As I mentioned earlier, the bill criminalizes simple road racing. I would describe that as being on the lower end of anti-social conduct. At times it can produce horrendous results. Speeding is simply bad. I am not saying it is ever good, but speeding recklessly, carelessly, dangerously and criminally negligently is a serious problem.
The bill begins by addressing street racing where it has not reached the threshold of criminal negligence or dangerous driving. It is conceptually not clear to me what our intent is when the road racing activity crosses into this other threshold. It is not clear to me which offence is intended to apply.
If in fact a clear dangerous driving scenario evolved out of a road racing scenario, then it is not clear to me which statute should apply when the police lay charges. In my head, I think it creates some potential double jeopardy scenarios. It might not, but I would like to be able to canvass that further.
On the assumption the bill is adopted at second reading here, I would like to address with more precision the actual legislative intent for road racing which at the same time would constitute criminally negligent driving or dangerous driving under Criminal Code offences.
Those are my remarks on the technical side.
I will close by reiterating that I do recognize, as I think all colleagues in the House do, that street racing is a very serious and potentially dangerous form of activity from place to place. It is quite appropriate for the Criminal Code to reach out, proscribe it and allow our police to do their job in reducing the instances of this right across the country.