moved that Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to address the House of Commons to debate Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
This is the first private member's bill I have tabled since I was elected in 2006 to represent the constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country. The bill pertains to a problem that has concerned me since my days as a city councillor for the city of Kelowna in British Columbia, now as a member of Parliament, and not least as a father of three daughters, two who are still teenagers, and thus part of the demographic that is particularly vulnerable to the tragic results of drinking and driving.
I will begin my remarks by laying out the particulars of the bill and will follow with the rationale. Bill C-376 will create a new .05 blood alcohol concentration, BAC, offence. This is in addition to the current .08% blood alcohol content which already exists in the Criminal Code.
The new .05 legislation will be an exclusively summary conviction offence with relatively moderate fines and driving prohibitions. It will give peace officers the right to issue a ticket to the accused who can choose to plead guilty without having to appear in court. It will make changes to the Criminal Records Act so that if a person convicted of the new .05% offence has no additional drinking and driving related convictions for two years, the record of the conviction will be destroyed.
These are the particulars, but what is the rationale, the impetus for the bill? In other words, why introduce .05% into the Criminal Code? The short answer is that it will save lives. What many people do not know is impaired driving remains the number one cause of criminal death in Canada, more than all other causes of homicide combined. This is a problem we cannot ignore.
I believe in part this problem exists because the current .08 blood alcohol content is not an accurate reflection of the true risks associated with drinking and driving. When parliamentarians set the .08% blood alcohol content in 1970, they did so based on findings that we now know considerably underestimated the risks of fatal crashes associated with impaired driving. Driving related skills are significantly impaired at levels well below .08%. Not only does research show that a majority of the driving population is impaired in some important measures at blood alcohol contents as low as .02%, it has also established that occasional drinkers have a higher risk of fatal crash than regular drinkers at the same blood alcohol content.
The fact is no amount of drinking and driving is completely safe. Although logically the only solution is to never to drink and drive, as legislators, we must balance such laws against the issues of practicality, of the burden it places on the resources of all levels of government and the police, and the right of the individual to determine his or her own choice to act responsibly.
In this respect it is up to us to determine based on sound scientific evidence what a safe blood alcohol content level is. In other words, how much is too much? The evidence shows that a blood alcohol content level below .05% is a responsible limit. Given the evidence, there is a clear trend within the international community for lower blood alcohol content limits which I feel Canada too should adopt.
Most of the developed countries of the world now have administrative or criminal blood alcohol content limits of .05% or lower for the general driving population. Virtually all of the leading medical, accident prevention and traffic safety organizations around the world support a blood alcohol content driving limit at or below .05%.
The British Medical Association has maintained for decades that .05% blood alcohol content is the highest level that can be accepted as entirely consistent with the safety of other road users. Our Canadian medical associations concur. Both the Ontario Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association have made public statements in support of a .05% blood alcohol content in the past.
In many countries around the world, legislators have set reasonable limits and have effectively reduced the incidents of death and injury due to drinking and driving. Yet this is not the case in Canada, despite the fact that impaired driving remains the number one cause of criminal death in Canada, as I mentioned, more than all other causes of homicide combined.
Many have tried. Parliamentarians before me and organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, otherwise known as MADD, have advocated for a lower blood alcohol content for some time but it has not been accepted. The question is why. I think the answer lies in certain myths about lowering the blood alcohol content and the concerns Canadians have as a result.
In a letter to the editor in my local newspaper, the Kelowna Capital News, a constituent wrote that lowering the blood alcohol content to .05% would only succeed in stopping people from going out to dinner and enjoying a drink with a meal. Lowering the blood alcohol content would fail to curb heavy drinkers whom he believed caused the majority of accidents and could not be deterred.
These are arguments shared by a number of concerned constituents, but they are in fact not true. I will address them here today as I did in response to my constituents.
A lower blood alcohol content does not impede one from enjoying a drink with dinner. In fact, few people understand the amount one can drink and still come under the .08 limit of today. At the current level of .08, the average male can drink six bottles of beer on an empty stomach over a two hour period without reaching the legal limit and get behind the wheel of a car. This seems excessive. In contrast, lowering the blood alcohol content to .05 requires that he cut those drinks back to four, which I think we can all agree has no impact on the enjoyment of going out for dinner and enjoying a drink.
Second, the assertion that drunks causing accidents are the ones who exceed current .08 is not accurate.
As a deterrent effect, lowering the blood alcohol limit reduces impaired driving at all blood alcohol content levels. In countries like Germany and Sweden, where levels have been legislated at .05 and .02 respectively, the sharpest declines were seen among those drinkers and drivers at the highest blood alcohol content levels.
The .05 level is neither a prohibitionist measure nor is it ineffective in reaching the so-called heavy drinkers. In fact, countries that instituted a .05 or lower blood alcohol content have seen significant reductions in the number of deaths due to impaired driving and have witnessed a deterrent effect on those who drink and drive.
When Canadians are informed of these facts and understand the amount of alcohol that the current law allows drivers to consume, surveys show that support for a lower blood alcohol limit increases.
In the fall of 2006, the Toronto Star did an expose of impaired driving and asked its readership the following poll question. Should Canada follow many European countries in lowering the legal blood alcohol level for motorists? The results were that 84% said yes, and 15% said no.
In the fall of 2005, an SES national survey showed overwhelming support for reducing the amount one can drink alcohol and then legally drive. According to the recent SES findings, more than seven of ten Canadians believe that the drinking limits allowed by our impaired driving laws should be reduced. When allowable drinking levels at a proposed .05 blood alcohol concentration legal limit were explained, 84% of Canadians felt this level was about right or should be even lower.
I believe there is a willingness on the part of Canadians to follow the lead of other countries and set a .05 limit. As the surveys show, Canadians are comfortable with a .05 law and view it as a responsible measure which also reflects the right of the individual to exercise his or her own discretion.
There is one more concern and it is by no means a small one, but one I would like to address today. The concern is that by adding a .05 blood alcohol content to the Criminal Code, the measure will unduly burden the provinces, the courts and our police. I do not think anyone can argue that it certainly will change what is now the current practice.
At the moment all provinces have, with the exception of Quebec, provincial and territorial short term roadside licence suspension legislation. This legislation does not create any offence, or carry any fine or other penalty. In most cases, the roadside suspensions are not officially recorded and have no long term licensing consequences. For most drivers, the suspension will merely result in having to park the vehicle or allow a sober licensed passenger to drive. Under Bill C-376, we will add significant weight to the provincial sanctions at .05 blood alcohol content.
Those who violate the proposed Criminal Code offence would be guilty of a federal summary conviction offence and subject to a mandatory fine and federal driving prohibition and it would apply uniformly throughout Canada.
Yes, we are required to consider the concerns of the provinces, but the status quo is not working and the federal sanctions proposed have the potential to be a far greater deterrent than the existing provincial and territorial short term roadside suspensions.
We must try to achieve a .05% Criminal Code offence in Canada, as so many other countries have done, to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and save potentially hundreds of Canadian lives.
I am not the first to bring this issue to the attention of the House and I may not be the last. Others have tried to do so before me, including my hon. colleagues from Cariboo—Prince George and Langley as well as Senator Marjory LeBreton and, of course, the late Chuck Cadman.
Today, I am asking the House to consider this issue again. By supporting Bill C-376, we can have a significantly positive impact by reducing drinking and driving related deaths and injuries in Canada, for the loss of a child, a daughter, a son, a father or a mother due to a drunk driver is unimaginable.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. I look forward to working together with my hon. colleagues, and all Canadians, to introduce more effective impaired driving laws that would reduce both the unnecessary deaths and the carnage on our roads.