Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kelowna—Lake Country for bringing this matter before the House of Commons.
All Canadians and all members of the House are concerned about the damage and the havoc that can be created with drinking and driving irresponsibly.
My own view is the bill does not really address the real core issues. It does not address the incidence of the types of accidents caused by chronic drinkers and drivers, those people who drink well in excess of .08. They put their lives and the lives of others in jeopardy by getting behind the wheel of a car. It creates havoc on our roads. These are the people, the repeat offenders, who we should address.
We already have some very good sanctions in place at the provincial and territory level. In nine out of ten provinces it is an offence to drive with a blood alcohol content level of .05 or over. The tenth province, the province of Quebec, announced its intention to introduce similar legislation this fall. The law allows for the immediate roadside suspension for anyone caught with a blood alcohol content level over .05. In Saskatchewan is .04.
The benefit of this approach is the sanctions can be handed out by police immediately without all the time and cost of a court proceeding. To criminalize these offences at the .08 or .05 level is unduly harsh. It will clog up our courts and prosecution. We already know about the dangers and the problems we have with Crown prosecutors plea bargaining because our courts are already filled with people who are committing particularly heinous crimes.
If it were justified, I would support it. However, in my view it is not supportable, given that the real problem is the chronic drinkers, those who reoffend, those who continuously take their lives and the lives of others in their hands.
How many times have we read in the paper about someone who has been charged with drinking and driving and may have been fined extensively. They get back on the road, drink and drive again and are given a slightly harsher penalty. Maybe their driver's licence is suspended. Then they drink and drive again, repeatedly. We need to deal with those people, not the casual drinker.
Every now and then people make a mistake. They might have two or three beers and suddenly find themselves with a criminal charge, which will be with them forever. This may impair their ability to advance in life and become a contributing member of society. I do not think that is warranted in this circumstance.
I am not arguing that drinking and driving irresponsibly is not a very serious matter; it is. That is why the provinces, rightly, have imposed pretty serious restrictions and sanctions at the provincial level.
I should also add that Bill C-2, which is currently before the House, also brings in tougher sanctions for repeat and chronic drinkers who drive. That is the way to deal with it. People who are chronic offenders could be put away for up to 10 years. Those who drink and drive while their licence is suspended should be treated particularly harshly, and Bill C-2 does that.
Bill C-2 also deals with the question of drug impaired driving. This is a reality we are facing as well. Many people today know police can pull people aside and do a breathalyzer test. They have the technology to detect if someone is over .05 or .08.
The reality is the technologies are not there to put in place a regime that recognizes people are taking drugs and driving. In fact, I think we are finding that people of all ages are saying they can beat the rap by having drugs or maybe a mixture of drugs and alcohol.
When the police pull them over, it is easy to tell what their alcohol content is through a breathalyzer, but it is very difficult to determine whether someone has ingested drugs. In fact, they might have had prescription drugs for some illness and given the technologies we have today, it is very difficult to determine whether someone has a prescribed drug or even an over the counter drug, or whether it is a mix of that plus marijuana, some cocaine, crack, heroin or whatever.
Bill C-2 attempts, and I think rightly, to put in a regime that deals with drug impaired drivers, but the reality is it is not a simple matter. We should also focus equal attention on drug impaired driving.
Some in this debate have said that by introducing the legislation before us, Bill C-376, we would be in line with other jurisdictions. With respect to those who said that, the facts say otherwise. A study was done of international drinking and driving laws in 77 comparable jurisdictions, sponsored by the Canada Safety Council, by an independent, respected organization. It found that only eight jurisdictions treat a .05 driving offence as a crime.
The study also has found that in most international jurisdictions a .05 driving is an administrative offence, not a criminal offence. I think the reason for that is for the reasons I outlined. We cannot slap people with criminal records for every crime that is committed otherwise we would be creating a lot havoc within our society.
The member who introduced the bill has the right intention and is motivated for the right reasons. However, I would draw him to the fact that the Canada Safety Council does not support the bill. It says that there is insufficient proof that the bill will have a positive impact on the number of serious accidents. This is a very serious negative evaluation of the bill from an organization that is well qualified and should know what would work and what would not.
While I think the intentions of the bill are good, and we are all concerned about this problem, Bill C-376 takes us in the wrong direction. What we need to focus on is the hard core drinkers, those who continually get in their cars, drink and drive or take drugs and drive. At the provincial level, we have seen a lot of activity with road checks, bringing people over and checking their blood level content. Now with this new regime for drug impaired driving there would be a similar approach.
The way I understand that would work, under Bill C-2, and I know we studied this at the Standing Committee on Justice, is there would be sort of a three-legged test. First, if people are driving in ways that looks like they are driving dangerously, police officers will pull them aside. They will ask them to do a simple test like walk a straight line. If they cannot do that, they will take a sample on-site of their breath or some other sample from their body and that will be checked by a technician. If that proves to be a problem, the sample will be put through a full laboratory test. If those three tests are there, if the person fails those three tests, they will be then charged with drug impaired driving.
That is a positive development in Bill C-2. It is the direction we should go. Our party supports that and also the tougher sanctions for chronic repeat offenders, those who drink and drive repeatedly. Those are the people we need to address.