Mr. Speaker, we are getting the job done and we are moving forward to action.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This bill would bring Canada's impaired driving laws into the 21st century and would greatly assist the police in their efforts to investigate impaired driving incidents and the Crown in its prosecution of alleged offenders.
I know that all members recognize that impaired driving remains the single criminal offence that is most likely to result in death or injury of Canadians. If passed, this legislation would make an immeasurable contribution to the safety of all Canadians. Therefore, I trust that all parties will support the legislation and that we can cooperate so that these needed changes can be considered by the standing committee. I can assure all members that the government is open to consideration of all improvements that the committee can suggest, after hearing from stakeholders, to make the bill even more effective in achieving its goals.
The bill has three main components. First, it would give the police the tools they need to investigate drug impaired driving. Second, it would make changes to reflect the great advances that have been made in breathalyzer technology since Parliament first introduced breath testing almost 40 years ago. Third, it would introduce new offences and increase penalties for existing offences.
Many members in this House are familiar with the drug impaired provisions of this bill. They are virtually identical to the provisions of Bill C-16, which was introduced in the last Parliament, reviewed and amended in committee and reported unanimously with amendments by the committee. However, it died on the order paper.
There is no question that police and prosecutors are eagerly awaiting the passage of those changes.
I will confine my remarks to the new provisions of Bill C-32 so that members will understand what motivated the government to bring these amendments forward.
Probably the most important change in the bill is the proposal to ensure that only scientifically valid defences can be used where a person is accused of driving with a concentration of alcohol exceeding 80 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood, driving 80 over, or .08, as the offence is commonly known.
Parliament first enacted an alcohol driving offence in 1921. Our current Criminal Code section 253(a) offence of driving impaired was enacted in 1951. It has been known for more than 50 years that a person with more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in his or her system is a danger to himself or herself and others on the road. A person with a blood alcohol content, BAC, of 90 milligrams is estimated by the U.S. Department of Transportation to be at least 11 times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident as a sober driver. Above that level, the risk increases exponentially. At a BAC of 125, the person is at least 29 times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
While recognizing the risk of collision with escalating blood alcohol concentrations, the problem has always been how to prove the concentration. Determining the BAC can be done by analyzing blood. However, obtaining a blood sample is intrusive and it can take a long time to complete the blood analysis, during which time the accused does not know whether the charge will be laid.
The problems with blood analysis were overcome in the 1950s with the invention of the Borkenstein breathalyzer, which converted alcohol in breath to alcohol in blood in a reliable, scientifically valid process.
Parliament recognized the risk of a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 when in 1969 it passed legislation making it an offence for a person to drive with that much alcohol in his or her system. It is a peculiarity of the law that it can only be proven by making a person provide the evidence that can be used against him or her in court. Accordingly, Parliament made it an offence to refuse to provide a breath sample on an approved instrument.
Advances in technology made it possible to measure BAC at roadside, so Parliament provided for the use of a roadside screening device in 1979. These screeners indicate that a person has failed, but do not give a precise BAC for use in court. They do provide the police with grounds to demand the approved instrument test and the results from the approved instrument are admissible in court. Again, it is an offence not to provide a breath sample on an approved screening device and it is an offence not to provide a breath sample on the approved instrument.
The courts have recognized the unique nature of this law. They have upheld its constitutionality as a reasonable limit on the charter right against unreasonable search and seizure that is justified by the horrendous toll caused by drunk drivers.
In 1979 Parliament had established a two step process for determining whether a driver was over 80 that appears simple: a reasonable suspicion of alcohol in the driver leads to a roadside approved device screening test which, if failed, leads to an approved instrument test which, if over 80, is proven by filing the certificate of the qualified technician in court.
However, impaired driving, and in particular, the over 80 cases, have become among the most complex cases to prove under the Criminal Code. It almost seems that every word and every comma in every section has been litigated.
Anyone who doubts how complicated the law has become only needs to pick up Martin's Annual Criminal Code. The 2007 edition has 12 pages of legislative text and annotations for the 13 sections dealing with murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Martin's has 62 pages of legislative text and annotations for the nine sections dealing with impaired driving.
Section 253(b) over 80 cases take up a grossly disproportionate amount of provincial court time. Often this is the sole charge as there is no evidence of erratic driving and few signs of impairment. If the defence can raise a reasonable doubt as to the blood alcohol content at the time of testing being equal to the BAC at the time of driving, the prosecution will virtually never have other evidence to prove the person was over 80 at the time of driving.
When Parliament first adopted breath testing legislation in 1969, the operator had to perform a series of tests to ensure the approved instrument was calibrated properly and had to read a needle to obtain a reading which was recorded manually. Clearly, there were opportunities for operator error and even an erroneous transcription of the BAC. Therefore, Parliament provided that the BAC reading is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, deemed to be the BAC at time of driving.
Unfortunately, even for a new generation of approved instruments that give digital readings, have automated internal checks and give a printout of the internal process, the courts have interpreted “evidence to the contrary” to include evidence given by the accused that he only had a small quantity of alcohol to drink, typically the two beer defence. The defence then calls a toxicologist to estimate the defendant's BAC based on the accused's testimony regarding the consumption of alcohol, time elapsed, food consumption, et cetera.
Essentially the accused is saying that regardless of the BAC at the time of testing, his or her BAC while driving could not have been over 80, given the small amount of alcohol consumed. The accused does not have to account for the BAC reading on the approved instrument at the police station. The courts, unless they reject totally the accused's evidence, hold that the presumption that the BAC at testing equals the BAC at the time of driving is defeated. Without this presumption, the prosecution does not have evidence to prove the over 80 offence. The defendant is acquitted for a lack of evidence showing the legal BAC at the time of driving.
The Supreme Court considered evidence to the contrary in Regina v. Boucher in December 2005, where the accused who had blown .092 testified that he only had drunk two large beers. Although the conviction was restored five to four, the decision turned solely on the credibility of the accused and whether the judge had properly considered the evidence as a whole.
The majority found at paragraph 43, “The judge also erred when she stated that the credibility of the accused and his witnesses could be assessed in light of the results of the breathalyzer test before applying the presumption”.
Consequently, the Supreme Court has effectively found that the results of a breath test can be disregarded by a trial judge and an accused found not guilty without any evidence whatsoever that the machine has malfunctioned, at least for the presumption of accuracy for the qualified technician's certificate.
Even if the court is suspicious of the accused's evidence, the presumption is lost because the accused only needs to meet the test of raising any evidence to the contrary. Frankly, I believe the courts have misunderstood what evidence to the contrary is meant to be.
Parliament passed the breathalyzer law in 1969 so that the calculation of the BAC could be done by the approved instrument, which takes the guesswork out of the equation provided the approved instrument is functioning properly, the operator uses it properly and the results are properly recorded.
The court's interpretation may have been justified when the technology was such that operator error could affect it and there would be no direct evidence of this. Therefore, it is very much a defence that reflects the weakness of the technology in use 40 years ago. I do not believe it is Parliament's intention that evidence to the contrary should be simply speculation about what an accused BAC might have been.
Given today's state of technology, evidence to the contrary must be direct evidence that the machine either did not operate properly or was not properly operated. If there is no such evidence, then the BAC produced by the machine must be accepted. The accused may still be acquitted if he or she can show that he or she was under 80 at the time of driving without contradicting the BAC results on the approved instrument at the police station. This could happen, for example, if the person downed several beers and was arrested before the alcohol was absorbed. It could occur that after driving but before being tested the person consumed alcohol and then it was absorbed by the time the approved instrument test was taken.
The fundamental question for Parliament is whether it can trust BAC readings produced by the approved instruments. Fortunately, advances in technology ensure that the accused receives full disclosure of modern approved instrument tests through the printout of the internal operations of the equipment.
In March of last year, the department commissioned a report from Brian Hodgson, a forensic toxicologist and chair of the alcohol test committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science on the validity of breath testing. I would be happy to provide a copy of this report to any member who wishes it. I trust that Mr. Hodgson will be called as a witness on the standing committee if we send the bill for review after second reading.
I would like to summarize his paper in this way. He wrote, “The Breathalyzer is entirely manually operated and therefore the reliability is vulnerable to human error. The test results are handwritten by the operator and vulnerable to transcription error. The advanced instruments have pre-programmed functions that minimize human error. For example, when electrical power is first turned on, all instruments must reach a specified operating temperature and the operator can then proceed with the testing of the subject. With the Breathalyzer, this function is the responsibility of the operator. The advanced instruments will not operate until the specified temperature is reached and have pre-programmed safety checks that will signal problems by means of air messages and will abort the testing procedures.
These approved instruments are highly sophisticated and must pass a rigorous evaluation process before the alcohol test committee recommends that they be listed as approved instruments under the Criminal Code for use in the courts. These instruments cannot be bought off the shelf at Wal-Mart. Perhaps the standing committee can arrange to have a demonstration of the older instruments and the new instruments so they can appreciate the differences.
In light of this science and the developments with the approved instruments, it is unfortunate that our courts have failed to reflect, in their jurisprudence, the evolution of the technology. Ignoring the BAC produced by one of the modern approved instruments and substituting for its accurate, scientific analysis of breath alcohol a calculation based on the testimony of the accused is deeply discouraging to the police and the prosecutors who have done everything that Parliament has prescribed.
As far back as 1968, the alcohol test committee expressed concern over the courts accepting testimony that effectively contradicted the approved instrument. In 1999, evidence to the contrary was discussed during the special hearings on the standing committee regarding impaired driving. The committee wrote:
The Committee understands the frustration expressed by justice system personnel over time-consuming defenses that, at least on the surface, may appear frivolous. However, given that the accused would have no effective means of checking the accuracy of a breath analysis machine, the Committee agrees that limiting the interpretation of “evidence to the contrary” in such a manner as recommended could effectively amount to the creation of an absolute liability criminal offence. Such a result would run the risk of interfering with an accused person's rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In present circumstances, therefore, the Committee does not support amendments to the Criminal Code that would limit the interpretation of “evidence to the contrary”.
Circumstances have changed. We now have modern technology that not only is designed to eliminate operator error but also prints out the results of the internal diagnostic checks that ensure that it is operating accurately. The accused receives a copy of that printout and can make a full answer and defence.
It is just as unacceptable to ignore the approved instrument BAC reading in favour of the testimony of the defendant and his or her friends as it would be for a court to ignore DNA found on the victim which analysis showed came from the accused because he or she and some friends testified that the accused was not at the scene of the crime, with no explanation of how the DNA happened to get there.
As MADD Canada's CEO, Andrew Murie, said in a press release calling for a rapid passage of the bill. He said:
Canada appears to be the only country that throws out the results of the evidentiary breath and blood samples based on the unsubstantiated, self-serving testimony of an accused impaired driver. We are very pleased to see the government limit these challenges.
I believe members will agree that a person who has been drinking is unlikely to have an exact recollection of the amount of alcohol that he or she consumed and it is appropriate that the blood alcohol content of the driver be established by a scientifically validated instrument that gives an exact reading rather than by a calculation based on a shaky foundation.
The amendments that we are proposing abolish the loose, undefined concept of “evidence to the contrary” and lists the actual scientifically valid defences that an accused can bring forward.
We are also reflecting in Bill C-32 the advances in technology by reducing from 15 minutes to 3 minutes the time required between the two required breath tests. The old breathalyzers required at least 10 minutes between tests for the operator to set the instrument back up so it was ready for another test. The new instruments are ready in a matter of minutes and they signal to the operator that they are ready to proceed.
Although there are other technical changes in the bill, I wish to conclude my remarks by discussing the changes in the offences and the new punishments.
The Criminal Code currently provides for higher maximum penalties for impaired driving causing death and impaired driving causing bodily harm. These higher penalties do not apply to refusal and over-80 offences, so unless there is also a conviction for causing bodily harm or death arising from the accident, a lower maximum penalty applies.
While evidence of BAC is not a prerequisite in order to prove the charge of impaired driving causing death or bodily harm, it is admissible in court. There is, therefore, an incentive for the accused to refuse to provide a sample in a case involving injury or death because the maximum penalty for refusal is five years.
Even if it is admitted, the BAC reading is not necessarily sufficient to prove the offender was impaired. The Crown must call a toxicologist to establish what has been known for more than 50 years, namely, that the person who is over 80 is impaired. Virtually all toxicologists agree that at 100 milligrams each person's ability to operate a vehicle is impaired.
We propose to eliminate the incentive to refuse by making a person who is over 80, and is the cause of a collision resulting in death or bodily injury, or who refuses to provide a breath sample knowing of the death or bodily harm, subject to the same penalties as a driver who, while impaired by alcohol or drug, causes death or bodily harm.
As for the penalties of impaired driving where there is no death or injury, the government believes that they do not adequately reflect the seriousness of this offence. We are proposing to raise the minimum fine for the first offence to $1,000. When combined with the prohibitions on driving, provincial licence suspensions and higher insurance costs, this should be enough to convince the people not to commit this offence again.