Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-19, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
We are discussing very important legislation. It is an issue that is of importance in many communities across the country. It is important to many people in my riding of Burnaby—Douglas who have had direct experience with street racing, and in some cases have had family members and relatives die in incidents involving street racing.
There have been deaths in my riding on Barnett Highway and Hastings Street. They were directly linked to street racing. As I travel around my constituency I have all too often seen the roadside memorials that spring up after that kind of event. They remain on those two thoroughfares in my riding. These are reminders of the tragedies, losses and deaths of people who were loved in the community. The deaths have affected families, friends and co-workers.
There have also been many serious injuries that have resulted from these incidents. Sometimes the folks involved have been innocent bystanders, drivers and passengers in other vehicles. It is a terrible circle of tragedy that stems from this irresponsible activity of street racing.
There is no place for street racing in our communities. It endangers the participants in the activity and the public. We need to address it in all its forms. It is an important issue to address in order to make our communities safer and to help broaden the understanding of public responsibility, and the commitments and relationships that we have with each other that make our communities successful and safe places to live. Street racing is one of the violations of our agreements with each other about how we live in our communities.
We need to address the question of street racing in all its forms. That is one area where this bill has received some criticism in the last day or two in the House during debate. There is some question about whether it deals with the breadth of activities that are known in street racing. I will read the definition that appears in Bill C-19. The definition of “street racing” as it appears in the bill states:
“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;
There have been questions raised about what that actually includes. Does it have to be a side by side race of two or more vehicles? What about the other kinds of street racing that take place in our communities? I wish I had the appropriate popular expressions to describe them because I am sure there are more common ways of describing these other activities.
There are situations where people have timed races to see how long it takes to get to a certain location. There are other situations where people text message or email that they all converge to a certain place and the first to arrive is declared the winner. There are other variations as well. It is not just what we would all assume to be the side by side race of two or more vehicles.
Does the definition that is included in this legislation cover all the other circumstances, which are equally as dangerous and cause just as many problems in our communities as the more traditional race? How broad is this bill? Would it complicate things, for instance, for people who organize car rallies? Does it penalize people who might engage in a jackrabbit start at a stop sign with someone who drives up alongside?
Just what is the extent of the definition and how will it effect our understanding of this criminal activity? There are some problems with the definition that need to be addressed, worked on, and clarified before this is legislation that I could fully support.
It is not just youth who engage in street racing. In the last day and a half while we have been discussing this we have been quick to perhaps accuse youth of being the main problem.
As the previous speaker mentioned, the demographics include a broad range of people who engage in various forms of street racing and who may participate in this dangerous activity. It is people who may alter their cars to increase the power beyond what was originally contemplated for the weight of the vehicle that they have. There are people who soup-up vehicles, who develop muscle cars and hot rods, and those kinds of things.
There are people who drive very high powered vehicles for social status. We know that is often the case where some very expensive and high powered vehicles are seen as an indication that one is doing well in the community. Speed is sometimes associated with that status as well.
I think it is not just young people. Clearly, young people are not out buying the most expensive and fastest vehicles on the market. Often they are the ones who cannot afford to do that, so it is not just a youth problem. It is a problem of all sectors in society.
Sadly, it is not just a male problem either as some of the most recent incidents have shown. We need to be careful that we do not dismiss it as just the raging hormones of young men as we have often heard in this debate. It is a problem that crosses groups and demographics in our society.
I also want to address the idea that perhaps street racing is not already covered in our Criminal Code. I think it is very clearly covered there. In fact, the minister in his speech yesterday, when he spoke at the beginning of the debate on the legislation, made that very clear, that the Criminal Code does have options for dealing with street racing behaviour, and that they are available now and they include very stiff penalties.
I will list the charges the minister mentioned in his speech. The charges that are available in the Criminal Code now include criminal negligence causing death, which as the minister pointed out carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. That is no small charge. It is a very serious charge. It is a serious crime with a very serious possible penalty.
There is also the charge of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, which currently carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. It is no small charge and no small penalty for someone convicted of that crime. There is also criminal negligence causing bodily harm. It has a very serious penalty of a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. There is also dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm with, again, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. Finally, there is dangerous operation of a motor vehicle which has a 5 year maximum imprisonment on indictment and which can be applied to cases where no one was injured or killed.
These are all very serious options which contemplate a very serious crime. They are there already to be used in our Criminal Code. If there is a problem with enforcement, then we need to get the reasons as to why these options are not being fully utilized in our communities. Why do the police not use these charges?
If they are using these charges and convictions are not happening, why is that the case? However, I do not think that there is any evidence that that is going on. Certainly, there is no evidence that I am aware of that these charges have not led to convictions in the very serious cases.
There is also all of the sets of driving prohibitions in the current Criminal Code which are a part of the options that are available to the courts. Under the current Criminal Code, if one is convicted of any of the five offences I mentioned above, the court can order a period of driving prohibition of up to 3 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, up to 10 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In the case of criminal negligence causing death, the court may order up to a lifetime driving prohibition. That is what the Minister of Justice said in his speech yesterday on the current provisions of the Criminal Code.
Even in the case of driving prohibitions, the court has very serious options available to it when it comes to driving prohibitions. A 3 year prohibition, 10 year prohibition, and lifetime prohibition are no small penalties for people who have been found guilty on any of the five charges.
I do not think that there is a problem currently with the Criminal Code. Clearly, the Criminal Code contemplates the dangerous operation of a vehicle and the dangerous operation of a vehicle that leads to death or injury as a very serious matter and worthy of a very serious punishment. I think that right now we have in the law good possibilities on that.
This brings me to wonder why we are considering these changes to the act. I think it is part of the Conservative Party's interest in mandatory minimum sentences and trying to tie the hands of the courts in very specific ways around very specific crimes. I know that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They do not deter people from committing crime. They do not prevent crime in that sense. People often do not consider the consequences of criminal activity before they do it. It is just not in the works when that sort of thing is happening.
All that it might do is add greater numbers of people who are being held in prisons in Canada. I am concerned about the government's plans in that area. We have already seen that the government plans to expand the number of places available in prisons in Canada. I do not know that this would serve our society well in the long run.
We know that often putting people in prison does not in the long run solve the problems of crime faced by our society. It does not help them become rehabilitated and learn to take their place in a positive way in our communities. I am not sure that is a solution and that this bill is the solution in proposing tougher sentences around this crime.
I should mention that tonight at St. Paul's University members of the religious community in Ottawa and others are gathering to talk about conditional and mandatory sentencing. That is at seven o'clock tonight at St. Paul's. I wish I could be there. I am going to be here for the debate on Darfur. I think they raise very important issues that need to be part of the debate we are having here on this legislation as well.
I also have to say that I do not believe that judges do not take the crimes of dangerous driving and street racing seriously. I believe they take them very seriously. I do not think that there is a judge in this country who acts leniently when it comes to this kind of crime, especially in the case where it has led to injury or death. I just do not think that is the case.
Sure judges make mistakes and sure the system is not perfect. I think to characterize the system as broken and to say that people are being dealt with leniently is completely wrong. I think the judges in Canada do an excellent job considering what they are up against and what they have to work with.
I think we have to consider all the facts of the case. We have to consider circumstances and the penalties imposed have to be appropriate and proportional. Judges must have the ability to make those kinds of decisions and act in their best judgment in light of all the circumstances that have come to light during a trial. I do believe that judges do that.
I do not want to do anything that would undermine the authority of judges in our system. They have a tough job and I believe they do it well. I think that right now judges do have the resources to do the job that we ask of them.
There are other issues around how we actually prevent the crime of street racing. There are preventive measures that we should be taking. I think we heard yesterday and today about some of those measures.
We have heard that police forces need more resources and more officers. They need more equipment to be able to put the effort that they want to put into dealing with this particular crime. We have certainly heard how the RCMP in the city of Richmond found a way of diverting resources into dealing with the issue of street crime which had been a particular issue in that community. The police had found a way to deal with crime. It was not without cost. It meant that the police had to make difficult decisions about where to divert other resources from, but they did find a way.
We have to make that kind of decision making easier for our police forces and ensure they have the resources. Unfortunately, Bill C-19 does not address that issue.
There are other examples from other jurisdictions as well. The state of Victoria in Australia has instituted a number of measures which address the whole question of the high death rate on its highways. It has reduced it by almost a third in the last 15 to 20 years, which is a significant reduction in the death rate on Australian highways in the state of Victoria.
One of its measures is a three kilometres an hour guideline when it comes to the issuing of speeding tickets. Here in Canada we all assume that somehow the guideline we can get away with is about 10 kilometres over the speed limit before we are in danger of getting a ticket. In the state of Victoria in Australia the well-known edict is that it is three kilometres an hour. My experience there is that it has had an effect on the speed that people drive on the highways in the state of Victoria in Australia. That is another kind of measure that might be the kind of thing that we should be looking at and our provinces should be looking at.
On the whole question of photo radar, my experience in British Columbia was that when we were using photo radar in British Columbia people did slow down on highways. I often have the occasion to drive the Sea to Sky Highway in B.C., which is known as one of Canada's most dangerous highways. When photo radar was in operation, people did not drive as fast on that highway, plain and simple. When it was gone, they started speeding again. I think photo radar makes a significant contribution and I think it is one of the measures that we should be considering.
Education of our drivers is another measure. Compulsory driver education may be something that we should be looking at in all of our jurisdictions so that drivers are apprised of issues like street racing as part of their basic education.
I also think that we need to place some limits on vehicles that are altered for racing. We need to make sure they are not driven on roads and highways in our communities when they have been altered as vehicles for any kind of racing activity.
Generally I think we need to address that whole issue of the culture of speed in our society. I think some of these ideas are ways of getting serious about speeding on our highways, in which we all can play a part.
However, I think there are other issues that also need to be addressed in addressing the whole culture of speed. We have heard a number of times about advertisers and car manufacturers who sell cars by appealing to the fact that they go fast.
We all know of one particular commercial in which a young boy says “zoom, zoom, zoom” as a car speeds by on a highway. That is an example of how we are characterizing the impression that vehicles are made to be driven fast and should be driven fast and also of how we are appealing to young people in that context. I think that is a very dangerous thing. Advertisers should have pressure put on them about that kind of advertising appeal.
We have also seen advertisers' own concerns about legal liability when cars are driven very quickly in TV commercials. Flashed on the screen is the message that it is a closed circuit and there is liability. I think they have identified liability issues in that case. They are trying to say that this is something one can only do in a closed circuit, when we know that the general impression is something else.
Too, I think we have to put pressure on our vehicle and auto manufacturers. Why are cars capable of travelling at speeds of 180 to 200 kilometres an hour or more? Do any of us ever have occasion to drive that fast? Perhaps there is a need for emergency vehicles to travel at those kinds of speeds, but generally those of us who use vehicles to go shopping, take kids to school or go to an appointment have absolutely no need of a vehicle that is capable of doing that kind of speed. If we altered the kinds of vehicles we drive, and I think manufacturers should be perfectly capable of that, maybe could make a contribution on this whole issue.
There is also the question of popular culture. Car chases are a constant feature of movies. As well, video games show some very disturbing kinds of car chasing and street racing, where the whole object is to roll somebody off the road and put them in the ditch, for instance, or worse. I also think there is a whole culture of extreme sports now, which glorifies taking serious risks.
We need to address a lot of things that are part of that culture.
There is some thought that this might be a bill that helps educate the public, but I also think it does some other things that are less positive. I also think it is not my job to pretend that legislation will address this situation when I believe at some level that it will not. Since I think this is a very limited piece of legislation, I have a hard time seeing how it is really going to affect and prevent street racing in Canada.
I think that should be our goal: to prevent street racing before it happens. I believe that we already have in place serious penalties for people who are convicted of the kinds of dangerous driving of which street racing is a part. The Criminal Code provisions are there. I am very skeptical of the educative possibilities of this legislation. As well, I think we are missing the boat completely when it comes to prevention.
I am interested in this debate. I am glad to be able to participate in it. I have listened carefully to the submissions of others and look forward to continuing my participation as we continue our consideration of this legislation.