Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to debate Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. I would like to praise my colleague, the member for Kelowna—Lake Country, for creating a dialogue on this very important subject and for putting this private member's bill forward.
As a volunteer and a past board member of Barrie's local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I am pleased to address this piece of legislation that will create a new .05% blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, offence. It is in addition to the current .08% BAC which already exists in the Criminal Code.
The new .05% will be an exclusively summary conviction offence with relatively moderate fines and driving prohibitions. It will give peace officers the right to issue a ticket to the accused who can choose to plead guilty without having to appear in court. It will make changes to the Criminal Records Act so that if a person convicted of the new over .05% offence has no additional drinking and driving related convictions for two years, the record of the conviction will be destroyed. Certainly these are reasonable proposals.
Introducing .05% into the Criminal Code would save lives. What many people do not know is that impaired driving remains the number one cause of criminal death in Canada, more than all other causes of homicide combined. In part this is because the current .08% BAC is not an accurate reflection of the true risks associated with drinking and driving.
Who is most at risk? Youth are particularly at risk. The risk of a fatal crash for males between the ages of 16 and 20 is five times more likely at BAC levels of .02% to .049%. At the current .08% to .99% the risk increases to 52%.
When parliamentarians set the .08% BAC level in 1970, they did so based on findings that we now know considerably underestimated the risks of fatal crashes associated with impaired driving. What we know today is driving related skills are significantly impaired at levels well below .08%.
Not only does the research show that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measures at BACs as low as .02%, it also has established that occasional drinkers have a higher risk of fatal crash than regular drinkers at the same BAC level.
The British Medical Association has maintained for decades that a .05% BAC is the highest level that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users.
Virtually all leading medical, accident prevention and traffic safety organizations around the world, including the Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization, support a BAC driving limit at or below .05%. As a result, many countries, including Germany, France, Australia and Sweden, have set their BAC limit at .05% or lower .
The fact is 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 issues of practicality, of the burden it places on the resources of all levels of government and our police, and the right of the individual to determine his or her own choice to act responsibly.
The .05% BAC will save lives. That is the reason so many public health groups, leading medical organizations across Canada and many victims groups are strong supporters of such a measure.
Studies on the potential impact of introducing a .05% Criminal Code offence in Canada conclude that it will have significant traffic safety benefits. Most important, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in a 1998 study estimated that a .05% BAC would reduce total traffic fatalities by 6% to 18%, a staggering statistic, thereby saving approximately 188 to 551 lives per year in Canada based on the 1998 statistics.
Will .05% adversely affect social drinking? No. An average 200 pound man could drink more than four bottles of beer in two hours on an empty stomach without reaching the real-world threshold for charges under the .05% law. An average 120 pound woman could drink two five ounce glasses of wine in two hours. The assertion that the individuals causing accidents are the ones that exceed the current .08% is not accurate either.
As a deterrent effect, lowering the BAC limit reduces impaired driving at all levels.
In countries such as Germany and Sweden where levels have been legislated at .05% and .02% respectively, the sharpest declines were seen among those drinkers and drivers at the highest BAC levels.
In fact, countries that have instituted a .05% or lower BAC level have seen significant reductions in the number of deaths due to impaired driving and have witnessed a deterrent effect on all those who drink and drive. Therefore, .05% is neither a prohibitionist measure nor is it ineffective in reaching the so-called heavy drinkers.
The current .08% BAC limit is simply not having a sufficient deterrent impact. Millions of Canadians continue to drive while impaired with predictably tragic results.
The current Criminal Code blood alcohol concentration limit of .08% allows individuals to drive after consuming a large quantity of alcohol. Given the margin of error accepted by our courts, most police will not lay criminal charges unless a driver's evidentiary BAC readings are .10% or higher.
When Canadians are informed of these facts and understand the amount of alcohol the current law allows drivers to consume, surveys show that support for a lower BAC limit increases. I believe there is a willingness on the part of Canadians to follow the lead of other countries and set a .05% limit.
The proposed .05% BAC offence is designed to deter impaired driving without being unduly punitive or creating unacceptable burdens on the police and the courts. The option of pleading guilty without having to go to court and the fact that a person can have a charge erased with two years of clean driving may discourage accused drivers from needlessly challenging the charges and consuming court time.
Bill C-376 will add significant weight to the provincial sanctions at .05%.
In all jurisdictions, with the exception of Quebec, there is 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 the roadside suspensions are not officially recorded and have no long term licensing consequences. For most drivers the suspension will merely result in having to park the vehicle or allow a sober licensed passenger to drive.
Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving prohibition. The proposed Criminal Code .05% offence would apply uniformly throughout Canada. The federal sanctions have the potential to have a far greater deterrent impact than the existing patchwork of provincial and territorial short term roadside suspensions.
Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving suspension, and it would apply uniformly throughout Canada.
The federal sanctions, I believe, would have the potential to have a far greater deterrent impact than any of the existing provincial and territorial ones.
I would like to recognize the board of directors of the MADD Barrie Simcoe chapter for their efforts in raising the education on this issue about the tragic consequences of driving impaired and their work to reduce the number of crashes from this most preventable violent crime. The board includes: president Jason Larkin; past president Kim Butler, who worked hard for years on this; treasurer Norma Scott; secretary Diane Camelino; director of victim services Brenda Wright; youth director Crystal Wiltshire; fundraising director Sari Garner; director at large Gerry Groves; and director at large Staff Sergeant Steve Wilson of South Simcoe Police Service. These volunteers work every month on educating the public on the consequences of impaired driving.
By supporting Bill C-376 we can have a significantly positive impact by reducing drinking and driving related deaths and injury in Canada.
On a closing note, I would like to read a quote given to me by my colleague from Kelowna—Lake Country from a businessman in his riding. Wayne Clements, president and CEO of Tree Brewing/Fireweed Brewing Corporation said:
I certainly agree that drinking and driving don't mix...
I want all Canadians and visitors to Canada to enjoy the great beer and other beverages Canadian companies make. It is up to the individual to police themselves as to how much they choose to drink.
However when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after they have drank and having impaired their ability to operate the vehicle and put themselves and others at risk we definitely need to give our police forces and judges more clout to send the message that drinking [and] driving never mixes, regardless of the amount.
That is a very appropriate quote from the president of Tree Brewing/Fireweed Brewing Corporation in the riding of my colleague. It speaks to the fact that all sides of this debate recognize that something needs to be done.