Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate and speak in favour of Bill C-32, a bill that amends the Criminal Code in relation to impaired driving.
A great deal has already been said about the provisions of the bill. I do not wish to go over the same ground. Instead, I want to focus on some of the objections to the legislation that have appeared in the media regarding the bill.
First, there have been some who question whether the bill is constitutional with respect to the drug impaired driving provisions of the bill. I remind the House that this was extensively canvassed when Bill C-16 was considered.
Of course, no government will present to the House legislation that it considers is going to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unless it is convinced that the bill will be upheld as a reasonable limit on those rights. The previous government obviously considered the bill charter compliant or it would not have introduced Bill C-16.
When Bill C-16 was in committee, the then minister of justice, a well known human rights advocate, in his opening remarks on the bill addressed the issue of charter compliance. He said:
Let me deal for a moment with some charter considerations. We know that the demands for alcohol breath tests on approved screening devices at roadside, without a right to contact counsel, have been found justifiable by the courts under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pursuant to the section 1 demonstrable justification limitation on a right.
The right to counsel must be given following the demand for an alcohol breath test on an approved instrument back at the station and before the approved instrument testing is done.
I anticipate that the same practice would prevail for the DRE evaluations envisaged under Bill C-16. With Bill C-16, we have tried to closely parallel the grounds that our prerequisites for making alcohol breath test demand. I believe that Bill C-16 offers good and important solutions that will be found justifiable under the charter.
Later, in response to a question he went further:
No, I think the court would apply the generic approach with respect to whether a limit on a right is justifiable under the circumstances, and then they would go into the four-part proportionality test.
They would ask themselves, is there a pressing and substantial objective? They would come to the conclusion, in my view, that there is a substantial and pressing objective, which is of course, at the bottom line, the saving of lives.
They would then look to see whether the means chosen were appropriate for the purpose or objective sought to be secured, as the other part of the proportionality test. I think the court would conclude here that this is a proportional remedy for the objective sought to be secured.
I believe the House can be assured that the requirement that a driver perform standard field sobriety tests at the roadside which are relatively brief will be upheld in the same way the roadside screening for alcohol has been upheld.
Similarly, the tests back at the station which will be performed by a trained officer are analogous to the test on an approved instrument.
I know many, if not most, members of the House would like to have an instrument that would measure quickly the concentration of various drugs just like the approved instruments that measure blood alcohol concentration.
The technology simply does not exist and, until it does, we will have to rely on various tests such as the reaction of the eyes to light, blood pressure, pulse and muscle tone on which the trained officer bases his opinion of which drug or combination of drugs and alcohol has caused the impairment. That opinion has to be validated by finding the drug in the person when bodily fluid is sampled.
Another objection to the proposed legislation's constitutionality was made by the president of the Ottawa Defence Lawyers Association reported in the Globe and Mail. He objected to the proposed offence of refusing to provide a breath sample when a person has been involved in a crash which will be punished in the same way as impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. He said:
There is no connection between the fact that you refuse to provide bodily substances and the accident itself. If you refuse, you have no defence.
When a person is charged with impaired driving causing death or bodily harm, the Crown has to establish the impairment and that the driving caused the accident.
The new offence will require the Crown to prove the refusal and then prove that the driver knew or ought to have known that he or she had caused an accident that had caused death or bodily harm.
This offence is modelled on the offence of failure to stop at the scene of an accident. The mental element is the intention to frustrate the police investigation.
In the case of flight, the person simply tries to avoid the police. In the case of refusal, the person refuses to provide a breath sample, the breath sample evidence necessary to determine whether the person was over .08 or in the case of a drug the person refuses to perform the test or to provide the bodily sample to determine whether the drug is actually present in the body.
Of course, in most accident situations the person will be well aware that there has been an accident. The police will still have to have reason to suspect the person has alcohol or drug in their system before making the demand.
Finally, I note that some of the users of medical marijuana claim that this legislation is aimed at them and will prevent them from driving their cars.
Russell Barth, quoted in the Edmonton Sun and other newspapers and described as a medical marijuana user and member of the National Capital Reformers, said that, “Discriminating against us based on our medication is much like discriminating against us based on the colour of our skin”.
In fact, medical marijuana users will be treated like other persons who take prescribed and over the counter drugs. People take all kinds of drugs for legitimate medical reasons. The question is whether they are impaired by that drug. If they can take their medicine and still pass the standard field sobriety test, they can drive. If they cannot, then they had better find someone to drive them around.
The offence of driving while in possession of an illicit drug also specifically provides that the person must be doing so without legitimate excuse. Clearly, persons who have been admitted to the medical marijuana scheme have a legitimate excuse to transport a supply of marijuana with them and would not be caught by this new offence.
I believe the bill is a balanced response to a very serious problem. I believe it is in fact long overdue. The minister in his speech made it clear that the government was prepared to consider any amendments that will strengthen the bill that the standing committee may suggest after hearing from witnesses.
I urge the members to give the bill second reading. I also urge the standing committee, which has a heavy workload, to give this bill priority. It will undoubtedly save thousands of Canadians from being injured or killed by impaired drivers.