moved that Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to address the House of Commons this evening to debate Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I table this bill on behalf of my constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country to try to address a problem that concerns them and concerns me as a member of Parliament and, not least, as a father of three daughters, two of them still teenagers and thus part of a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to the tragic results of drinking and driving.
On February 6, my colleagues and I had the honour to rise and debate this bill. Here today we do so again, this time with the benefit of discussing the points of debate that were raised previously.
In that first hour of debate, it was clear that all members agree in principle that drinking and driving is dangerous and that too many innocent people have paid too high a price. About 1,350 Canadians die each year in alcohol related motor vehicle crashes. Many thousands more sustain serious injuries. It is estimated that the annual costs associated with health care, damaged property and lost wages resulting from crashes involving alcohol exceed $5 billion.
Other statistics are equally serious.
Drinking and driving is responsible for about 40% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes. More than four million Canadians admit to driving after drinking. About 12.5 million car trips were made by people who thought they had too much to drink but failed to take the right steps to protect themselves.
Clearly we as legislators have a responsibility to find a way to reduce the risks of drinking and driving on Canadian highways. Let us be clear. This is not an easy task. This particular bill does not work for everyone.
There is disagreement among the provinces, among members of Parliament and even among police enforcement agencies on how to best achieve our goal of reducing the fatal and injurious incidents caused by drinking and driving, on how to have a consistent law across the country, and on how to best help law enforcement carry out the law.
I am well aware of this and I am willing to work with my colleagues to find the best way to reach the goal. We may disagree with the “how“, but we can all agree that we need to do something.
As the bill currently stands, Bill C-376 will create a new .05 blood alcohol concentration, otherwise known as the BAC allowance. This offence is in addition to the current .08 BAC that already exists in the Criminal Code.
Within this legislation that is being proposed, the new .05 limit will be an exclusively summary conviction offence with relatively moderate fines and driving prohibitions, will give peace officers the right to issue a ticket to the accused, who can choose to plead guilty without having to appear in a court, and will make changes to the Criminal Records Act so that if a person convicted of the new .05 offence has no additional drinking- and driving-related convictions for two years, the record of the conviction will be destroyed.
My colleagues have raised concerns that .05% could target the wrong drivers. These concerns are echoed by some in the alcoholic beverage industry. Their concern is that people who enjoy alcohol responsibly, rather than hard-core drinkers, would be targeted by the .05% BAC. These concerns are shared by some of my own constituents. I empathize with them. I understand. We are working together.
An example of this is a letter that appeared in the local paper in my riding, the Kelowna Capital News. A constituent wrote that lowering the blood alcohol content to .05% would succeed only in stopping people from going out to dinner and enjoying a drink with a meal and would fail to curb heavy drinkers, who he believed caused the majority of accidents and could not be deterred.
In fact, these are common misconceptions. Research supports the fact that a lower blood alcohol content does not impede one from enjoying a drink with dinner or going out with a few friends after work and having a few beverages. In fact, few people understand the amount one can drink and still come under the .08 limit.
At the current level of .08, the average male of 200 pounds can drink six bottles of beer on an empty stomach over a two hour period, get behind the wheel of a car and likely not be charged for impaired driving. That is half a dozen beer. I do not know if a lot of people realize that this is the situation today under .08.
In contrast, a blood alcohol content of .05 requires that a person cut those drinks back to four or have a few less glasses of a beverage of choice, which I think we can all agree has no impact on the enjoyment of going out for dinner and enjoying a drink. This has nothing to do with drinking. It has to do with the fact that with drinking and driving there is no safe level. We need to be responsible Canadians. With rights come responsibilities.
Second, the assertion that the drunks causing the accidents are the ones who exceed the current .08% is not accurate. As a deterrent effect, a blood alcohol concentration of .05 reduces impaired driving at all BAC levels. In countries such as Germany and Sweden, which have legislated at .05 and .02 respectively, the sharpest declines were seen among those drinkers and drivers at the highest blood alcohol concentration levels.
The .05 BAC, then, is not a prohibitionist measure and it is effective in reaching the so-called heavy drinkers. In fact, countries that have instituted a .05 or lower BAC have seen significant reductions in the number of deaths due to impaired driving and have witnessed a deterrent effect on those who drink and drive.
When Canadians are informed of these facts and understand the amount of alcohol that the current law allows drivers to consume, surveys show that support increases for a lower blood alcohol concentration limit.
Certainly a key component in the debate is education and changing the public's attitude to what is acceptable. In Canada, one organization in particular has a profound impact on educating the public and raising awareness of the harm that is the result of drinking and driving. I am sure it is no stranger to our colleagues in the House and to Canadians in general. The organization is Mothers Against Drunk Driving, otherwise known as MADD Canada. It is a grassroots organization that is the driving force behind the .05 offence and having such a law practised consistently across the country.
At the heart of MADD Canada are the mothers, the fathers and the friends who have suffered great loss because of a drunk driver.
Earlier this year, I met with MADD's national president, Margaret Miller. On May 16, 2004, Margaret's life changed forever. Her son, Bruce, was killed in an impaired driving incident in Caledonia, P.E.I. Bruce was a police constable with the Springhill Police Service. Like so many of MADD's volunteers, within months of Bruce's death, Margaret was speaking in high schools and became a volunteer with MADD.
MADD Canada has long supported this cause through the very successful red ribbon campaign. Over four million of these red ribbons have been distributed. I encourage my colleagues in the House to lend their support for the official launch of the 2007 campaign which will take place Thursday, November 15, on Parliament Hill. I wish MADD all the best as it continues in its efforts to fight against impaired driving. In the words of MADD, we have a long way to go to stop impaired driving.
Canadians might believe we have some of the toughest laws anywhere, but in fact far fewer drunk drivers are charged here than in the United States. Canada's charge rate of impaired driver arrests is less than half that of the United States. Other countries give their police forces much broader enforcement powers, with the result that they have higher apprehension and detection rates than Canada. In Sweden, for example, 90% of drunk drivers who end up in a hospital are convicted. In Canada, that figure is only 11%.
We have to ask ourselves: is the current .08 blood alcohol concentration in the Criminal Code enough? Does it accurately reflect the true costs associated with drinking and driving? Does it send an adequate message to Canadians that no amount of drinking and driving is safe?
When parliamentarians set the .08% BAC in 1970, which is still today's legislation, they did so based on findings that we now know considerably underestimated the risk of fatal crashes associated with impaired driving. Not only does today's research show that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measure at as low as a .02% blood alcohol concentration, it has also established that occasional drinkers have a higher risk of fatal crash than regular drinkers at the same blood alcohol concentration.
The fact is that no amount of drinking and driving is completely safe, and although logically the only solution is to never drink and drive, as legislators we must balance such laws against the issues of practicality, of the burden it places on the resources of all levels of government and our police, and of the right of the individual to determine his or her choice to act responsibly.
The evidence shows that a blood alcohol concentration level below .05% is a responsible limit. However, it is only part of the solution. Setting lower limits makes sense, but how we enforce lower limits is also critical. If this debate is to achieve anything, it is that it will answer this question: how should we enforce the law effectively?
Concerns have been raised about how best to deter drivers from drinking and driving, and these concerns must be addressed, for experience tells us that without agreement on the way forward, we will not succeed in our goals.
I am aware that many of the provincial governments are concerned that by adding a .05% BAC to the Criminal Code the measure will unduly burden some of the provinces, the courts and our police. I do not think anyone can argue that it certainly will change what is now the current practice.
In closing, at the moment, all provinces with the exception of Quebec have provincial and territorial short term roadside licence suspension legislation. This legislation does not create any offence or carry any fine or other penalty. In most cases, it is a four-hour to twenty-four hour suspension. The car is parked. Someone has to drive the driver home or the driver can take a cab home.
Bill C-376 would add significant weight to the provincial sanctions at .05% blood alcohol concentration. More importantly, it would apply uniformly throughout Canada. We need to study this issue thoroughly and agree to find tools to achieve a reduction in drinking and driving.
I would like to honour my colleagues who also have brought this issue forward: the member for Cariboo—Prince George; the member for Langley, B.C.; Senator Marjory LeBreton; and of course the late Chuck Cadman, who was a strong advocate on this issue of drinking and driving.
I look forward to working with my hon. colleagues to find a way to reduce impaired driving in this country and to make our laws tougher to send the message that drinking and driving is unacceptable and, in doing so, reduce unnecessary deaths of Canadians.