Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part today in the debate on Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving), which is now before the House. This bill offers us an opportunity to look into a serious problem in society, one that is often in the headlines. We all know that drunk driving is an irresponsible act. A lot of preventive work is being done, in fact, to reduce the occurrence of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, there are still incidents in which an individual who is driving while impaired takes the lives of people on our roads, including, very sadly, young children.
Bill C-32 is therefore meant to respond to this situation by providing the police with tools to make their job easier when it comes to gathering evidence for laying a charge against an impaired driver. More specifically, it is aimed at people driving under the influence of drugs, such as marijuana.
The impaired driving problem goes back years, if not decades. A number of studies have considered the question and suggested ways in which the problem can be addressed. I would note that in 1999, the Standing Committee on Justice submitted the report entitled “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving”, in which it was recognized that drugs could be a cause of accidents and that we had to find better methods of detecting them. It also stated that we had to improve the process of gathering evidence to allow for people driving under the influence of drugs to be prosecuted.
At that time, the committee identified two major obstacles: first, the absence of a clear definition of what constitutes “reasonable grounds”, the basis on which a police officer administers a test to a driver to detect drugs; and second, the apparent lack of a single non-invasive test for detecting drugs. Given the relative difficulty of the tests that have to be done, the committee suggested that the Charter implications of testing be taken into account. One of the recommendations made in the report was that blood samples be taken if the police officer had “reasonable grounds” for doing so.
The obstacles identified by the committee were also recognized by the Senate committee, which proposed at the time that more studies be done of the driving habits of drivers under the influence of drugs, a reliable and rapid testing tool be developed, and the blood alcohol level be lowered.
Four years later, the Minister of Justice issued a study report that came out of the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Justice. The study, entitled “Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document”, suggested finding a legislative way of compelling drivers to take screening tests administered by police officers.
To that end, the document suggested setting a legal limit for drugs and legislating to allow police to administer a screening test. An expert on site could, with “reasonable grounds”, administer a test on the offending driver and then, if the test was positive, investigate further by taking a bodily fluid sample. The results would have been given by another expert to the closest police station. The tests and police testimony would be used as evidence to charge the driver.
However, the document stresses the importance of considering the Charter in legislating to amend the Criminal Code with regard to requests for bodily fluid samples and the offending driver's rights to consult a lawyer. Bill C-32, which the Liberals introduced on April 26, 2004, addressed these concerns, but died on the order paper in May 2004 when the election was called.
Reintroduced as C-16 in November 2004, the bill again died on the order paper a year later. The new Bill C-32, which happens to have the same number as the original and was introduced by the Conservative government, contains essentially the same provisions but, for ideological reasons, increases penalties for drivers found guilty of impaired driving.
I know that all the members of this House recognize that impaired driving remains one of the criminal offences most likely to cause death or injury to others. As I explained earlier, this is the third time this bill has been introduced in order to deal with the problem of impaired driving.
The Conservative bill is similar to the old Bill C-16 tabled in the previous Parliament. In short, it suggests the following three things. First, it would require people suspected of driving under the influence to take an alcohol or drug test ordered by police officers at the arrest site, that is to say, at the side of the road. Second, it authorizes experts to take samples of bodily fluids, something that is not in the current Criminal Code. Refusal to comply would constitute a criminal offence, just like refusal to take a breathalyser test. Third, the bill would limit the evidence that can be introduced in court to cast doubt on the way the breathalyser was used or the results of the blood alcohol tests.
This is often called the “two beer” defence, where the accused states that he or she had consumed only one or a particular number of drinks over a certain period of time and therefore could not possibly have had a blood alcohol reading as high as what the test said.
The government also wants to stiffen the sentences and introduce life imprisonment instead of five years for infractions causing the death of another person. To that are added the fines that are adjusted to reflect the number of repeat offences by the driver in question: $1,000 for a first offence instead of $600; 30 days in custody for a second offence instead of 14 days, and 120 days in custody for a third offence instead of 90 days.
I am deputy justice critic and, like our party, I think that this is a very important bill because it is intended to provide the tools that the police need to fight the impaired driving problem effectively. However, it is essential for us to review certain points in the bill because the proposed additions should be studied in order to determine whether they really will be effective.
In the course of the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I would like to meet with experts and groups to shed light on the following concerns about which I want to inform the House—