Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the fine member for Peterborough.
It is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-32. It is an important piece of legislation that will close some serious holes in our impaired driving laws.
In 2003 impaired driving cost our society $10.5 billion, but there were other more significant costs. In that same year impaired driving took the lives of 1,200 Canadians and over 47,000 Canadians were injured, many of them very seriously. That is more than three people killed and over 125 injured every single day. How do we put a price tag on that? I strongly believe that we can prevent many of these tragedies in the future and it certainly is our duty to try. The legislation introduced today will give police and prosecutors the tools they need to rid our streets of drunk and drugged drivers. Let me begin by discussing the drugged drivers.
In researching this issue I was terrified by the statistics relating to teen drugged driving. According to a 2005 report on drug use by Ontario students, almost 20% of all student drivers reported driving after smoking marijuana. By grade 12 that figure is over 25% and they are not driving alone; 22% of all high school students from grade 9 to grade 12 reported that within the last year, they had been a passenger in a car driven by someone who smoked marijuana.
Of course, it is not just teenagers. A Senate report in 2002 found that between 5% and 12% of all drivers may drive while high. Drugged driving is obviously a very serious problem and as of right now, law enforcement is all but powerless to stop it. Police officers' hands are almost completely tied when it comes to collecting evidence. As Sergeant Brian Bowman of Toronto explained to CBC News:
If we see someone driving erratically, we really have a high hill to climb to prove it's from drug-impaired driving. We almost need the smoke to waft out of the car or have the pills fall out onto the road.
The police cannot even demand a physical sobriety test. This legislation will close that loophole. With this legislation police will now be able to request the performance of a roadside standardized field sobriety test when there is reasonable suspicion that a driver has a drug in his or her body.
They will also be able to demand a drug recognition expert evaluation to be performed at the police station. The DREE system has worked well outside Canada and it will work well here as well. Failure to comply with these demands will be considered an offence under the Criminal Code, just like refusing to take a breathalyzer test. A final deterrent to drug impaired driving will be added by making it a criminal offence to be in control of a motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled substance.
Now let me turn to the drunk drivers. Drunk driving was once winked at, but no longer. Today everyone recognizes that it is a deadly, serious problem. OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino has noted that the leading cause of criminal death in my home province of Ontario is not murder, it is drunk driving.
In my community, I had the opportunity to sit down with members of the Niagara Regional Police Service, to work with local MADD organizations and to meet on a number of occasions with their communications and public relations person, Chris George. In 2003 the Niagara Regional Police Service arrested 28 people during its month long holiday RIDE program. The Niagara OPP laid 99 charges of impaired driving in 2006 alone. The number in my riding continues to increase.
Drugged and drunk driving is listed as one of the top three justice concerns for the people of my community. This bill delivers on that concern. Bill C-32 toughens penalties for drunk drivers and helps prosecutors secure the convictions that are needed to keep the roads safe for responsible drivers.
We have strengthened the mandatory minimum penalties for first, second and third offences. The maximum penalty for impaired driving causing bodily harm will now be 10 years, and for causing death it will be life imprisonment. This is simply the right thing to do.
Our bill will help prosecutors get convictions. When prosecuting drunk drivers, the crown has objective scientific evidence from approved instruments that measure blood alcohol content.
In the 2005 case of R. v. Boucher, the Supreme Court ruled that the credibility of such testimony cannot be called into question by breathalyzer results, not even if someone blew more than twice the legal limit.
The two beers defence is a joke. Testimony from one's drinking buddies should not be allowed to distort objective scientific measures.
Getting this legislation passed should not be a partisan fight. In fact, in 1999 a Liberal dominated justice committee released a report on the issue. The committee's recommendations included the following: allowing imprisonment for life following conviction for impaired driving causing death; allowing for a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment where an accident causes bodily harm; and authorizing the taking of a blood sample for the purposes of testing for the presence of alcohol or drugs based on reasonable and probable grounds. Those were all good ideas agreed to by the Liberal MPs but good ideas nonetheless.
In 2003 the Department of Justice released a consultation document on the issue noting that drug recognition expert programs had been successfully implemented in many American jurisdictions. It was a very good point.
Bill C-32 will protect Canadians from impaired drivers. I encourage all members to support it. We have the opportunity to reach across all party lines and put forward legislation that is tough, that is fair, that is right and that is current with what is happening in jurisdictions around the world.