Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume discussing Bill C-32.
First of all, I want to congratulate the Bloc Québécois justice critic, the member for Hochelaga, and the deputy critic, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, for their presentation. Both gave a very good summary of the Bloc Québécois' position on Bill C-32, which is a worthwhile initiative but which must be able to answer the questions that the public and Bloc Québécois members have about its implementation.
I will read the summary of Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The summary gives a good outline of the scope of the bill and the questions it will raise:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code:
(a) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled substance as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act;
(b) to authorize specially trained peace officers to conduct tests to determine whether a person is impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug;
(c) to authorize the taking of bodily fluids to test for the presence of alcohol or a drug;
(d) to create an offence of operating a motor vehicle with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood and causing bodily harm or death to another person;
(e) to clarify what evidence a person accused of driving with a concentration of alcohol in the blood that exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood can introduce to raise a doubt that they were not committing the offence;
(f) to create an offence of refusing to provide a breath sample when the accused knows or ought to know that the accused’s operation of a motor vehicle caused an accident resulting in bodily harm to another person or death;
(g) to increase the penalties for impaired driving.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this initiative. Nonetheless, we have to allow enough time for the standing committee to address the questions raised by this bill.
The possession or consumption of certain substances constitutes an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, we should not limit this to the drugs we read about in the newspaper and see on the news, we should also think about medication.
Many questions remain on the implications of using prescription medication. It is important for the standing committee to be able to ask experts all these questions.
I will remind hon. members later, because this is not the first time that Parliament or the standing committee is addressing this issue.
Since 1999, there have been many reports and questions. There is still no legislation because we have to take into account the fact that people use prescription medication and that the medication detected in their blood can resemble certain drugs. This could cause them some problems as far as criminal law is concerned.
The bill would also authorize peace officers to conduct tests at the site of the accident, incident or offence. Breathalyzer technology works and has proven its effectiveness in court. Nevertheless, it has weaknesses that make it possible to challenge the findings. We have the technology to conduct tests. Can we do the same to test for drugs? Are our equipment and tools good enough to bring adequate admissible evidence before the courts? Questions were raised during studies conducted by various committees in the 1990s, and the same is true today. I will summarize these questions later on.
The bill mentions authorizing the taking of bodily fluids to test for the presence of alcohol or a drug.
Since 1999, various committees have addressed this issue, especially with respect to admissible evidence of drug consumption, and have found that the best solution is a blood test. However, as we know, there are all sorts of constitutional challenges related to taking blood samples. Once again, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will have to answer a lot of questions when the time comes to study this bill.
The Bloc's position is simple. We support this bill, but we want to make sure all of the expert witnesses appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We would like to see new technology for admissible evidence that is easier to use than blood sampling, as we have seen with breathalyzer devices over the years.
When this bill comes up in committee, we hope the committee will take all the time it needs to call as many expert witnesses as possible to study it, just as other committees have done. The bill was never passed because of the conclusions they reached.
I will go over a bit of the history of this. In May 1999, Parliament studied driving under the influence of drugs. When the Standing Committee on Justice submitted its report on eliminating impaired driving, it emphasized that drugs play a part in some road accidents resulting in death and the incidence of driving under the influence of drugs is underestimated because the current legislation does not give the police any easy way to detect them. That was true in 1999 and it is still true today. We have a problem here, and we need to find a way of filling this gap in the legislation.
At the time, the committee emphasized the need to adopt better methods for detecting driving under the influence of drugs and getting the evidence needed to convict offenders. The same questions arose in 1999, therefore, as those the Bloc members are raising today. These questions are based on whether we have the ability to gather the evidence needed to get convictions. It is all very well to pass bills, but if the Constitution enables people who have committed crimes to evade punishment, the legislation does not do any good. It has to stand up in the courts.
Back in 1999, the committee pointed out a number of obstacles that existed. The Criminal Code requires police to have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person is impaired before they can administer tests. The committee emphasized that Parliament should clearly define what reasonable grounds are and whether refusal to take tests constitutes a criminal act. We are obviously talking here about reasonable grounds and criminal acts. These are the points we want to bring forward. There were questions around them in 1999, and those questions still exist today.
There is apparently no single non-invasive test to detect drugs that impair a person’s ability to drive. We are left, therefore, with the well-known invasive tests, such as the breathalyzer for people who consume alcohol. This question was asked in 1999 and the conclusion was that there was no single non-invasive test. Blood tests were considered invasive under the Constitution.
We need to pay close attention to all this and have all the necessary experts appear. This will enable us to determine whether the technology has progressed since 1999 and evidence can be gathered that can stand up in court.
In the end, it will probably be necessary to obtain a blood sample. That was the conclusion in 1999. The committee approved the assessment made by a expert in drug detection, from the DRE program, but the committee added that the provinces had the last word in terms of training in this field.
It should be clearly understood that we can go ahead and adopt laws but it is the provinces that are responsible for enforcing them, in spite of all the discussion in this House or whatever legislation we may adopt. We hope, therefore, that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will call representatives of the various provinces, in order to ensure that legislation adopted in the Parliament of Canada is consistent with, among other things, legislation that may be adopted by the Quebec Department of Justice.
In addition, in 1999, the committee insisted on the need to take into account the consequences of drug testing in the context of the Charter. That was an issue at that time because the proposed tests could be more invasive and require more time than the tests used to detect alcohol. That was an issue in 1999 and it is still an issue today. Is it possible to have a non-invasive test that would be as effective and as quick as the breathalyzer for detecting alcohol?
Once again, we are talking about drug testing and we are conscious that accidents are caused by drivers. The evidence makes that clear. A survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, conducted in 2002, concluded that 20% of Canadian drivers had driven a car within two hours of using a drug that could impair their faculties, either an over the counter medication, a prescription drug or an illegal drug. So, there are dangers because drivers are still taking to the road without being aware that their faculties have been impaired by drugs.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights deserves praise for discussing Bill C-32. However, we must be able to achieve a positive result so that those who are convicted face real penalties by virtue of the bill, without being able to avoid the legal consequences because the test was not admissible in court or because the test was judged to be unconstitutional.
In 1999, the committee said there was no reliable, non-invasive, fast method of detecting drugs on the roadside. Blood tests are one of the best ways of detecting cannabis. It is impossible to tell whether it has been used recently from a urine sample. Saliva might be a method, but there are not any fast, sufficiently reliable tests on the market.
So that is what the committee recommended in 1999. The representatives of the Bloc Québécois are telling the Quebeckers who listen to us that this is important; that there are people who drive while impaired by drugs and that this is unacceptable. But we have to be able to find these people if we want to charge them under the Criminal Code, and they have to justify their actions in court. A law may be passed but, if unconstitutional tests or tests that are inadmissible in court are no more than words and end up making it possible for some people to get away without being punished, it means that, as legislators we have not asked the right questions at the right time.
Furthermore, in 2003 a working group looked at this issue and published a document titled Drug-Impaired Driving: Consultation Document. This working group was created by the Department of Justice further to the recommendations made by the committee in 1999. The working group looked at solutions and asked how to come up with effective legislation that was admissible in court.
The working group described two main solutions. The first was to establish a legal limit for drugs in a person’s system. Still, it was admitted that a zero limit might not be advisable since some drivers could have cannabis in their system or have taken prescription drugs without being impaired. The committee thought that where drugs were concerned the allowed level would have to be determined.
The second solution was to legislate on the ability of police officers to demand drug detection tests. This working group spent more time looking at reasonable grounds for demanding more extensive tests than simply breathing into a device such as a breathalyzer. These grounds were mentioned by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 1999. So when the topic of taking samples of blood, saliva and so on comes up, so does the old topic of reasonable grounds. When such samples are demanded, they must be constitutionally and legally defensible so that they are admissible in court.
Describing more or less the same system as the one proposed in Bill C-32, the working group suggested that a trained expert police officer be able to demand a physical sobriety test, or take a sample of saliva or sweat on the roadside if there are reasonable grounds for thinking that someone is driving while impaired.
So, the standing committee proposed that experts from each unit along with all police officers be assigned directly to these problems of consumption or lack of security so they could not be contradicted when they appeared before the courts.
That is one solution proposed by the working group. Such experts, certified police officers, could administer the tests themselves. They could require a sample of body fluids—blood, urine, saliva—to confirm that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the driver had committed an offence under section 253(a) by taking a drug. The counterpart to reasonable grounds is refusal. If the individual thinks there are not reasonable grounds and refuses to provide samples, they must prove that the police did not have reasonable grounds for believing that they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
This is why the working group proposed that the police become experts in this type of intervention. They have the skills required to appear before the court and say that they examined three, four or six persons during the operation and that they chose one for a particular reason. This officer can defend himself because he has the necessary skills. These were the recommendations made by the working group in 2003.
The concept of reasonable grounds reappears in Bill C-32. However, there is no mention of police experts. This concept comes under the provinces. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will have to call provincial authorities to appear in order to discover whether Quebec, for example, is in a position to implement the regulations and has the required personnel. The 2003 report by the federal Minister of Justice's committee will have to be studied to see if it is acceptable. Can the Quebec provincial police acquire the staff required? Who will pay for all of this? There are many questions. These are questions the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights can rightly raise with respect to Bill C-32.
For the benefit of Quebeckers watching, I point out that the Bloc agrees with the principle of this bill. Our question is whether, once the bill is passed, the Province of Quebec and the Quebec provincial police will be in a position to implement it. The people found guilty will thus be charged with the offences that have been put into law. In the event of doubt—do we have the necessary technology or are we incapable of defending ourselves before the courts—we will question the importance of implementing these regulations.
The 2003 Working Group also emphasized that because of Charter rights sensitivities, legislators would have to give serious consideration to current Criminal Code provisions permitting demands for evidential breath or DNA samples that have already survived legal challenges. That is what was said earlier. It is all well and good to say we want to make legislation effective, but there are examples of legal challenges when it comes to DNA tests. In major criminal cases there have been challenges with respect to DNA. We have to be able to have legislation because we understand that when we talk about drugs we do not mean alcohol. We are talking about drugs such as cannabis and other illegal drugs, but also legal drugs such as prescription medication.
We have to be able to make the distinction. Anyone convicted will have to suffer the consequences—fines and loss of driver's licence—after being found guilty of their actions. They will have to be sentenced according to law.
The situation around this legislation is quite complex. There have been major studies and statistics. In 2002, in Canada, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation conducted a survey. According to the survey, 20% of Canadian drivers had driven within two hours of taking a drug that may have affected their faculties.
We are talking about everyday medication, prescription medication or illicit drugs. This is a major problem. It was a problem in 2002 and I do not think much has changed in 2007.
People drive after using drugs for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps there is not enough publicity on the matter. Nonetheless, among other things, it is because it is still not considered a criminal offence. Our objective today is to recognize it as such.
A study by the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec found that 30% of fatal accidents in Quebec involved the use of drugs or the combination of drugs and alcohol. It is important that legislation such as this be passed, but we have to ask all the questions—