Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak this evening to Bill C-376, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Kelowna—Lake Country for tabling this bill. Impaired driving is a serious problem that carries a high price for the innocent, their families and the Canadian legal system. All members present understand and share the desire of the member for Kelowna—Lake Country to reduce impaired driving and its serious consequences.
For reasons I will explain in my remarks, I do not think the bill targets the real problems we currently have with ongoing impaired driving. For that reason I cannot support it.
The first concern with the bill is that it does not properly match the punishment with the offence. While I think everyone in the House will agree that there must be legal sanctions for people driving with blood alcohol content, or BAC, levels of between .05% and .08%, I have strong reservations as to whether the criminal justice system is the best tool to deal with these people.
Lowering the criminal blood alcohol content limit to .05 would push many people into the criminal justice system who probably should not be there. Criminal charges can have very serious impacts on a person's ability to work, to be bonded and to travel. Even if a person's criminal record is removed at some point, some people may still be affected because many legal forms require people to state whether they have ever been charged with a criminal offence.
Moreover, research conducted by Canada's Traffic Injury Research Foundation suggests that 4% of all drivers are responsible for 88% of all impaired driving trips. Drivers stopped with BAC levels between .05 and .08 tend not to be part of this high risk group.
While we all agree that we need to send these people a message, pushing them directly into the criminal justice system is not the best solution, in my judgment. A more appropriate way to deal with drinking and driving offences is through a graduated system of punishments that treats offenders more harshly as their blood alcohol content increases or if they reoffend. In fact, this system already exists in Canada.
What some people may not realize is that in nine provinces it is already an offence for anyone to be driving with a blood alcohol content of .05. Motor vehicle or highway traffic laws of most provinces allow for immediate roadside suspensions for drivers stopped with BAC levels between .05 and .08. In Saskatchewan it is .04.
These so-called administrative sanctions can be immediately handed out by police officers to offending drivers on the roadside, without the need for charges or courts. These sanctions achieve the goal of getting drivers with .05 and above off the road without incurring the time and cost of court and legal proceedings. They also are regarded by many experts, including the Canada Safety Council, as being an appropriate and effective deterrent for lower BAC drivers. We need to take drivers off the road who continuously offend or who drive while suspended. This is possible currently with the regulations and laws on our books.
As I mentioned, an analysis by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation suggests that lowering the criminal BAC limit to .05 would significantly increase the number of criminal prosecutions in Canada. The extra caseload created by this would put additional stress on our criminal court system and require police officers to spend more time in court instead of patrolling our roads and dealing with much more serious criminal activity.
If the legal system is to be given the means to pursue and punish drivers with a lower concentration of alcohol in the blood, I do not believe that it should do so within the criminal justice system. To propose devoting more legal and police resources to the criminal prosecution of drivers with alcohol levels of 0.5 or 0.8 would result in these resources being diverted from the prosecution of more serious crimes.
Criminal charges would represent an excessive level of punishment for most of the people who would be captured by this new limit.
I believe that this bill is directed at the wrong people, with respect. While a criminal blood alcohol content threshold of .05 would provide a new and harsh punishment for some drivers, a lower criminal BAC limit would have no additional impact on the small group of hard core drinking drivers who are disproportionately responsible for fatal crashes involving alcohol. These hard core drinking drivers have been studied in detail by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, the internationally recognized experts on the subject who are based right here in Ottawa.
Analyzing 1999 Canadian road fatality statistics, these researchers found that 67% of all the drivers fatally injured in motor vehicle accidents had not been drinking at all, while 20% had blood alcohol levels in excessive of .15 and 7% had BAC levels of between .08 and .15, the current criminal threshold. While 3% of drivers had BAC levels between .05 and .08, the same percentage of fatally injured drivers, 3%, also had BAC levels between zero and .049, which suggests the relative level of risk was equivalent.
Statistics show that, in terms of drunk driving, we must concentrate on those deemed “serious” offenders, who have blood alcohol levels of 0.15 or more. Unfortunately, this bill does not contain any additional deterrents for this high-risk group.
It has been mentioned that this legislation will only bring Canada in line with laws in many other countries which have already adopted a national blood alcohol content limit of .05. France, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and several U.S. states are often cited as examples. However, last year a study of international drinking and driving laws in 77 comparable jurisdictions sponsored by the Canada Safety Council found that only eight jurisdictions treat a .05 driving offence as a crime.
Taking into account that most provinces and territories already have legal sanctions for BAC levels of .05 and above, Canada's legislation is perfectly in line with international standards.
My issue with this legislation is not whether a person driving with a BAC level of between .05 and .08 should be punished. My concern is whether these drivers should be criminalized for it. Our legislative priority must be to prevent alcohol related motor vehicle accidents, not simply to punish offenders as harshly as we can.
This bill would bring before the courts individuals who should not be there. These individuals should, instead, be dissuaded from driving while impaired by the immediate penalties imposed by the police officer at the scene, which is already the case.
The majority of drinking drivers involved in alcohol related fatal crashes have blood content levels of .15 or more. These are the drivers we need to target.