Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Sadly, it is quite fitting for me to be discussing impaired driving today. Only a few days ago New Brunswick provincial court judge Sylvio Savoie gave a maximum five year sentence to a dangerous drunk driver who has been a threat in our community for some time. Judge Savoie sentenced this dangerous individual to a maximum punishment, despite the fact that the crown prosecutor asked for a four year sentence, which clearly shows, on this side of the House, that our view to leave discretion with judges often works to the benefit of the community.
Judge Savoie put it in his own words best when he said that it was his duty to see that those people on the highway are protected. That is what we on this side believe about our criminal justice system.
This particular individual could serve as the perfect example for us today in discussing Bill C-32 and criminal legislation in general, in justifying tougher sentences and harsher punishments to put a definite end to impaired driving of any sort.
In fact, this repeat offender served 21 days in 1990 for refusing the breathalyzer, 14 days in 1995 for refusal, 30 days in 1999 for a refusal and 18 months in 2002 for driving over the legal blood alcohol limit. If that was not bad enough, he was given 22 months for impaired driving and driving while prohibited. He returned to court a week later to deal with another outstanding impaired charge and was sentenced to three years.
Last week this five year sentence was added to that list of sentences and to the great benefit of the law-abiding citizens to whom this person represented a severe threat.
It is important to note that this sentence was handed out under existing Criminal Code provisions, the bulk of which have been enacted under Liberal governments. Let us face it, impaired driving is not acceptable. It is a dangerous criminal behaviour that sadly kills too many Canadian citizens every year, lives that could be easily spared.
Quite frankly, I hope one day that impaired driving will be a thing of the past and we simply will not have to deal with bills such as Bill C-32 because all Canadians will know it is not acceptable to drink and drive.
For now, though, we still have a lot of work to do in our society and as legislators in this Parliament to get there. Bill C-32 is a start. It proposes to help curb the problem of impaired driving.
This is not the first time, however, that the House has dealt with impaired driving legislation. In recent years the House of Commons has been in fact quite active. In 1999 a House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving” which recognized the need to develop better ways to detect impaired driving, especially impaired driving related to drugs.
A Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs also published a report called “Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy”. Once again, the committee noted that there is no reliable, non-intrusive roadside test for drugs.
In 2003, the Department of Justice also released a report entitled “Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document”. Again, conclusions mentioned how drivers do not routinely submit to drug tests and how few measures the police had at their disposal to test drivers for alleged influence of drugs.
This is why in 2004 the previous Liberal government introduced a bill to establish a new national strategy to deal with impaired driving. Unfortunately, this legislation died on the order paper when an election was called. As soon as Parliament was back at work after the 2004 election, the re-elected Liberal government reintroduced legislation to deal with impaired driving and that was known as Bill C-16. It is very unfortunate that this piece of legislation also died on the order paper when the 2006 election was called.
Here we are today with the current Bill C-32 legislation, highly inspired I suggest by the very progressive Liberal justice agenda of previous governments.
Let us look at the bill in its pith and substance. Bill C-32 does a number of things. It provides tools to detect drug-impaired drivers and creates the offence of driving while in possession of illicit drugs. This would be routinely known by those of us who have dabbled in law and know that with respect to alcohol-related offences, it is also, under many provincial statutes, illegal to have possession of alcohol in the vehicle, which is a precursor to preventing the improper imbibing of alcohol while driving or being under the influence of alcohol while driving. This is a mere extension of that with respect to drugs.
It would restrict the evidence to the contrary rule, which I will delve into subsequently. It will also create the offence of being over .08, causing death or bodily harm, which goes of course to the alcohol side of impairment. It would increase penalties for impaired drivers and for driving while disqualified under provincial statutes or otherwise. It would, finally, assist the police in investigating alcohol-related crashes.
Bill C-32 provides for several means of determining whether a driver is impaired by drugs including standard sobriety tests, training experts to recognize drivers impaired by drugs, taking samples of bodily fluids, and creating an offence for refusing to comply.
In addition, Bill C-32 will establish a new hybrid offence punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment and prohibition on driving.
The bill will also limit the use of “evidence to the contrary”, better known as the “two-beer” defence, while retaining valid defences.
The elimination of the two beer defence is an interesting point brought forward by this law. Forty years ago, breathalyzers and other machines used to calculate blood alcohol levels were prone to errors depending on operator experience, various circumstances and external factors. Frankly, technology has come a long way.
Therefore, it was possible in the past that individuals were wrongfully accused and sometimes wrongfully convicted after roadside tests and station-administered tests. They were wrongfully accused and convicted of offences relative to the .08 limitation.
However, today increasingly accurate technological advances have ensured that such malfunctions with detection devices are almost impossible. Each machine prints out internal checks before each test. Operators are better educated. In short, we have the science now.
There are very few cases where the calibration of the machine is in error or where the operator did not have specific knowledge of how to administer the impairment test. Consequently, there are very few cases, I am very confident in saying, where the accused are wrongfully accused or convicted of driving over the legal limit of .08 on the alcohol side.
We have made progress. Just as there are very few, if none I might say, wrongful accusations for convictions, I would also say on the other hand that there are more convictions, making our roads safer places. It is safe to say that in the mores of society, drug impaired driving has not caught up to and maintained the same level of vigilance in detection that alcohol impaired driving has.
Let me for a moment compare the technical aspects of evidence gathering with respect to crime. By doing so I hope to illustrate that we are a long way from being precise on drug impaired driving. We have made great achievements with respect to alcohol impaired driving, and on all other aspects of criminal justice we have made great progress because of science.
Let me compare our state of affairs with respect to impaired driving with the introduction of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. With all the technology police and law enforcement officials have at their disposition today, would we ever consider debating a DNA match in court by presenting a few friends who could testify in favour of an accused who was faced with a positive DNA match? I doubt very much that any judge in this country would find the testimony of a few friends of the accused as a valid basis for rejecting accurate, scientifically precise DNA matches.
Oddly enough, on the impaired driving side, if a few drinking buddies are willing to testify that the accused only had a beer or two, a court can today reject the results of highly reliable, technologically advanced, precise instruments that otherwise perhaps would have not been available in the past.
This is how this amendment, building on Liberal traditions, is keeping up with technological advances. It is important to support our police officers, those on the front line who administer such tests, and give them the faith that we should have in the laws as they administer the tests and bring about proper convictions.
In December 2005 the Supreme Court of Canada considered the evidence to the contrary, the two beer defence, and found that the results of a breath test can be disregarded, could be disregarded, without any evidence of machine malfunction if the accused meets the test of raising a doubt, raising evidence to the contrary.
Bill C-32 establishes new offences, namely impaired driving causing bodily harm, punishable by imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years, or causing death, punishable by life imprisonment. A new offence for refusing to provide a breath sample, in cases of bodily injury or death, will carry the same sentences.
In addition, penalties for impaired driving will be higher. For a first offence, the fine increases from $600 to $1,000; for a second offence, sentencing increases from 14 days to 30 days; for a third offence, sentencing increases from 90 days to 120 days and a maximum of 18 months on summary conviction. Naturally, individuals found guilty of impaired driving will also lose their licence.
Bill C-32 also provides tools to assist the police by enabling them to test drivers within three hours of a collision. It also allows them to reduce the current time between breath tests to three minutes and also to extend the driver's seat presumption for refusal cases.
Let us be clear. As parliamentarians representing all regions of this country, as legislators, we have a special task, but we are all also somebody's son, husband or wife, somebody's father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, and we see, as law-abiding citizens, aside from our role as parliamentarians, the carnage of impaired driving in our society. We react not just as parliamentarians, but as parents, as children, as friends of people who have been hurt by the ravages of impaired driving, whether alcohol or drug. In short, drunk drivers are dangerous not only to themselves but to the whole of society.
That is why Bill C-32, while a good attempt, must be a good law. It must be efficacious. In its current form, it does not address many of the points raised in the multitude of committee and justice department reports that I referred to in the first part of my address.
It is crucial that this law be built on a solid foundation and take the findings of the reports, the commissioned studies and the justice department opinions and effect a very solid law, as we have seen with technological advances on the alcohol side, a law, as administered, that results in convictions, will provide deterrents and also does not lead to wrongful accusations or convictions. But primarily, the law must work.
Bill C-32 raises a number of questions which I as a member of the justice committee will be most eager to delve into so that we can perfect it and hopefully bring it back to the House as a efficacious law. These questions, and they must be raised, are as follows. They relate to how to test drivers on roadsides for drug impaired driving.
The amendments with respect to the alcohol side are terrific amendments and will act as further deterrents and better help on detection with respect to alcohol impaired driving. With respect to drug impaired driving, there are currently no reliable tests. I would quote the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada when he said in the House last week that “we do not have the equipment in place that can provide a roadside test for all drugs in the same way that we have with roadside breathalyzer tests” for alcohol detection.
And never a truer word was spoken by a member of the Conservative Party, a Conservative parliamentarian and member of the cabinet by virtue of being a parliamentary secretary. I want to give compliments where are compliments are due. I am certainly open to complimenting my friends on the Conservative side when they speak the truth and are 100% accurate, but 100% accuracy is really the standard which we are trying to achieve, with respect, as parliamentarians in Bill C-32, and the law as drafted cannot be said to achieve that on the drug impaired aspect.
There is another question related to the proposed legislation. I will be happy to study this and help this through committee. What drugs would the police be testing for? All drugs? Certain drugs? This certainly raises many questions. It has been scientifically demonstrated that cannabis can leave traces in the body for weeks after the physical and mental impairment effects have dissipated. How would the new drug recognition experts panel react to this?
How are we going to deal with the multitude of drugs, perhaps not even listed in the Criminal Code, if they cause impairment? What about prescription drugs? Although acquired legally through a doctor's prescription, many medications have warnings on them. Many people are irresponsible in taking one or several medications without reading the warnings. They put themselves in a position to harm others. They put themselves in a position to be impaired and not capable of driving safely. How does this bill deal with that aspect? How would the new drug recognition experts deal with this?
We live in a country where winter, certainly just lately but before that perhaps not, is very harsh and is synonymous with cold and flu season. That can last up to five or six months. What about the millions of Canadians who take flu and cold medications? For many of those medications, we are told not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking them. This is a problem that Bill C-32 does not specifically address. I do not think we can leave it to the regulations to detect. This certainly must be canvassed through the best of expert testimony at the committee level.
The standardized field sobriety tests and the pooling together of the experts is an excellent idea, but we have to ask where they would be. Would they be available to every region of Canada? It is a high level of expertise. Will it apply in rural parts of Canada, like the riding of Tobique—Mactaquac, for instance? Certainly in the grand city of Moncton we would get those experts.
Furthermore, the only reliable test for drug impaired driving is a blood sample or a urine or saliva test and many of these might not stand a charter challenge, unfortunately.
In short and in conclusion, Liberals support this bill. We support it going to committee. We support the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We support local operations such as Opération Nez rouge. We want our streets and roadways to be safe. In doing so, we support the bill. We have many questions and we hope those questions will be answered at committee. We hope the House will support the questions and give the committee enough resources and time to proffer the proper evidence and come back with a bill that will protect Canadians.