House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vehicles.


Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to comment on the bill. Other speakers have commented on the repetitive nature of the speeches given by the government and by the minister. I imagine they are putting the photocopier in overdrive, given the essential sameness to these speeches and the vacuous content to them.

Pretty well everyone in this chamber, including my party, will support sending the bill to committee for further study. I do not propose to get into much in the way of the details about this study, but I would have preferred that the minister, when supporting and advocating the bill, would have come forward to the House with some costing of the anticipated increase in the prison population by virtue of a bill, which has both minimum mandatories and also increases the number offences. It stands to reason that the courts will be busier.

I note in the stakeholder reaction, the Insurance Bureau of Canada supports that. Why would it not support that? I support it, as a person who pays insurance on a regular basis for my vehicles and had my car stolen a number of years ago and returned intact five or six days later. This seems to be a particular problem to Winnipeg and to Montreal. I noticed that the Manitoba justice minister and the Winnipeg mayor, Sam Katz, support this bill, as do the Winnipeg police and, I dare say, as do most police forces.

I thought, however, that Rick Linden, a professor at the University of Manitoba, made an interesting observation. He noted that the bill was a good step forward and hoped that it would reduce crime. However, he makes note that it will only occur if we invest significant resources in police tactics, numbers and in implementing evidence-based prevention programs.

The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers is opposed to the bill because of issues of judicial discretion. They think, rightly in my judgment, that a judge should be given maximum discretion as to the allocation of sentencing.

The Crown Counsel Association is opposed to the bill. It thinks it will add to the workload of an already overwrought system, without any mention or apparent mention of adding resources to support the legislation.

Hence my concern with the way in which these bills come forward to the House with, frankly, no costing of any kind whatsoever. There is no costing on police resources, on prison facilities, on custodial facilities, no costing whatsoever. We are supposed to simply take this on faith that this is a good thing, that our streets will be safer and that this will be, in effect, a cost-free exercise.

I hear various Conservative members say “what price justice?” There is always a price.

I want to spend some time talking about the evidence given by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Page, before the government operations committee yesterday with respect to the bill, truth in sentencing, which passed through the House. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has tried to establish the costs to the system if the bill is fully implemented. He is receiving no co-operation whatsoever from the government.

This was in response to a request from the member for Ajax—Pickering, where he tried to meet with the corrections officials. As he said in his testimony:

Over the course of this project, PBO encountered a number of challenges. Other than the initial communication between PBO and Correctional Service Canada, which is available on PBO's website, the PBO was unable to secure a single meeting with CSC officials in spite of repeated requests. Moreover, the PBO was unable to verify the government's own estimates, assumptions, or methodology for the various figures presented publicly. Much of the data used for the PBO report was sourced from the annual surveys by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, and from provincial and territorial correctional departments themselves.

In other words, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is our officer. He is the person who is charged by Parliament to cost the various initiatives put forward by the government and to fully inform members of Parliament as to the real cost of any initiative whatsoever.

In my judgment, we are looking at something similar here. In response to a question, the previous speaker said that there may be no cost whatsoever. He may well be right. I hope he is right. On the other hand, there may be significant costs.

In my view, if there is a minimum mandatory initiative put forward, the prison population is going to be increased. The prison population may well be increased significantly with no real impact on the actual rate of crime. It is not as if the people who are stealing these cars are the sharpest knives in the drawer. In fact, if they heard the phrase “minimum mandatory”, I dare say that pretty well 10 out of 10 would ask what we were talking about. I dare say that most of the population in Canada would have no idea what a minimum mandatory sentence is.

For those of us who do pay some attention to justice issues, a minimum mandatory is simply an elimination of a discretion on the part of a judge to make an appropriate sentence under all of the circumstances. It circumscribes his or her ability to fashion a sentence that he or she thinks is appropriate having heard all the evidence.

The more minimum mandatories there are, the more realistic it is to assume that this person will end up spending custodial time. Over a period of time, with the pileup of these bills, one after another after another, circumscribing and further circumscribing the discretion of judges, we will end up with an increased prison population.

What does that actually mean in terms of an increased prison population? The first thing it means is that there may or may not be any reduction in crime. The rate of crime generally goes up and down independent of whether there is an increase or decrease in the prison population.

Frankly, crime is, in and of itself, something where people who are committing crimes do not think they are ever going to get caught. They think that somehow or another they will be exempt from the possibility that if they steal this particular car or this particular vehicle, regardless of whether it is a Honda or a Dodge, they are not going to get caught.

The police are efficient in this country and they do catch a significant number of people. Therefore, those people end up in the justice system, having convictions, and frequently in a custodial situation.

This is a not a cost-free exercise. To wit, my point is that if a prisoner is incarcerated in a provincial system, the rough cost is about $85,000, and if a prisoner is incarcerated in a federal system, the rough cost is about $147,000 per person per year. That is a lot of money.

So even if the number of people who find themselves in a custodial situation is bumped by 1%, 2%, or 10%, the cost is actually bumped up rather significantly with no provable reduction in the actual rate of crime. That was the Parliamentary Budget Officer's core piece of testimony yesterday.

The truth in sentencing bill, like this bill, was not costed. We really have no idea as to how many more people will end up in jail. It seems reasonable to assume that more people will end up in jail. It seems reasonable to assume that more people will be bumped from the provincial system into the federal system. That was the point that the Parliamentary Budget Officer was making.

Since the Parliamentary Budget Officer could not actually get a meeting with Correctional Service of Canada, he could not get a meeting with the minister, he could not get a meeting with the departmental officials or the minister's officials, he therefore had to take documentation and material that was in the public realm. Based upon that information, he said that at a very minimum, that one bill alone, Bill C-25, the truth in sentencing bill, would cost $620 million on an annual basis.

Madam Speaker, $620 million is a lot of money. It is half a photo op, for goodness' sake. That is just on the basis of an increase. That is with no capital increase whatsoever. It is $620 million, give or take, increasing year after year, based on the assumption that the increase in the prison population is double-bunked. More people will have to be jammed into less space. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was working on the current occupancy rate of 90%, which are public figures put forward by Correctional Service of Canada.

If, however, the prison population is literally bursting at the seams by virtue of not only the Truth in Sentencing Act, but possibly this bill and other bills that the government wishes to put forward, we therefore are going to have to start building new prisons.

On building new prisons, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated a building program at something in the order of $300 million or $400 million a year. His estimate on what is currently passed, the truth in sentencing bill, is that the cost to the taxpayers of Canada would be increased by a minimum of $1 billion a year.

It actually gets worse than that. It is $1 billion a year for the federal government. However, the prison population would actually be increased on the provincial side of the equation as well, and the rough figure again is another $1 billion for the provincial authorities. So what do we have? We have an increase in the cost to the taxpayer of roughly $2 billion a year to put away more folks in prison, and that is on one bill alone.

That may or may not be true. I am perfectly prepared to accept my learned friend's argument here that this may not increase the prison population. However, both he and I, and everyone in this chamber, have not been told by this government what the actual cost might be. We have no costing. We have no figure as to how much more this will cost.

I want to emphasize again the point that this is an increase in a custodial population. More people would be put in jail. For some people, that is greatly satisfying, but the crime rate is not necessarily being reduced and we may or may not be achieving any form of justice.

Inevitably, with Winnipeg being a unique case, and certainly Regina as well, the populations represented in prison are the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable. There are aboriginals, minority groups of some kind or another, and frequently people with disabilities, whether those are learning disabilities, behavioural issues, mental issues, or things of that nature. We would be housing more of these kinds of people.

Again, that is a gross generalization. Certainly it is subject to challenge, but the government is not prepared to put forward the basic data that parliamentarians need in order to be able to assess the validity and viability of the bill.

The question was asked, why should we be concerned about this? In respect to the Truth in Sentencing Act, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said it will have significant impact on the correctional system, which is one reason we should be concerned about it. Parliamentarians should be concerned about how this will impact the fiscal framework and whether the budget actually reflects the cost pressures arising out of the bill.

The taxpayer is not an unlimited tap. We cannot just keeping going to this well. The taxpayer has limits. So if there is a limit and if this is the limit, we are going to have to start shifting resources. Where is the money coming from in order to increase Correctional Service of Canada's budget?

It is increasing the budget. It is one of five departments that are actually increasing the amount of money available for staffing resources and for facilities improvement. So where is it coming out of the fiscal framework? That is a perfectly legitimate question to ask and I encourage my colleagues on the justice committee to ask that very question.

Parliamentarians should be concerned about the lack of transparency to Parliament in the cost and by the Government of Canada. Parliamentarians should be concerned about the operational cost on the provincial-territorial issue.

During the Parliamentary Budget Officer's speech, his point was that at this stage it is roughly 50:50. If we are spending $1 billion in extra costs on truth and sentencing from the federal fiscal framework, we are going to be spending another $1 billion under the provincial framework. There is no indication we know of that the provinces are going to get an extra $1 billion in order to be able to house the inevitable increase in prison population.

However, it actually gets worse than that, because over time the federal share of the cost of this initiative reduces to roughly 44% and the corollary is that the provincial share increases to about 56%. If I am a provincial premier and I am looking for every dollar that I can find and I am trying to contain costs on health, education and the other appropriate responsibilities of provinces, I am going to be a little upset that I have to take a pro-rated share of $1 billion and find it for an increase in the prison population for which I had no say whatsoever.

In the case of my province, Ontario, if the number is an increase of $1 billion because of the increase in prison population, I am stuck with roughly 40% of that. So that is $400 million that the Premier of Ontario has to find, that he has no resources for, and he is receiving nothing from the federal government.

I thought the Parliamentary Budget Officer did us all a great service yesterday when he made a very sincere attempt to try to cost a previous piece of legislation, and I would draw a parallel between that legislation and this legislation. Whether it is greater than Bill C-25 or less, and I suspect that it is less, the principle still applies that members of Parliament should be given a fully costed analysis before they are asked to vote on the legislation.

At this point, we are all being asked to take things on faith. We are being asked to believe that this bill would make things safer and better for Canadians. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea. On the other hand, it would be appropriate that members of Parliament, whether they are from government or opposition, actually know what the cost might be.

Is there something wrong with asking the question and expecting the minister and his department to be fully transparent on these kinds of initiatives?

As I say, our party will support the bill. This is potentially good legislation but it would be nice to know the cost.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, in the end our objectives are the same and we are very close to considering the same means of attaining the same objectives, that is reducing crime. However, in this case, we have a minimum sentence for a third offence.

I believe that the member acknowledges that there are two types of car thieves. There are those who steal for fun, such as young people who love cars and riding around in them. Then there are those who steal cars to resell them or hand them over to a criminal organization. A youth on his third joy ride needs a serious warning and a stint in jail. It is important that he realize that there is a short six-month prison sentence with the possibility of parole. That is also the role of prisons. No matter the cost, I think we should pay it.

The other type of thief is the one who works for organized crime. It is another type of crime, where the perpetrator is a hardened criminal and the car is the object of the crime. He definitely needs to serve a longer sentence and a prison term is justified in this case as well.

There are two reasons why the government does not want to calculate the sentence. First, it is very difficult to establish the parameters. For example, how many people would be deterred if they knew about the minimum sentence? I think that most, if not all, young people would be deterred. The data is inconclusive and makes it difficult to establish the sentence.

There is another reason why the government does not want to give us figures. If it starts providing figures for all the prison sentences it has established, they will be appalling and people will be discouraged by its program. That is exactly what happened in Europe. The majority of European countries talk about the cost of incarceration before imposing minimum sentences and very harsh sentences.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

The hon. member makes an excellent point, Madam Speaker. His distinction between kids caught joyriding versus organized crime, chop shops and so on is a perfectly legitimate point and I agree with him completely.

With respect to organized crime initiatives, in some respects we cannot be too harsh.

He makes an additional very good point, which is that these bills are piling up. He does not know the cost, I certainly do not know the cost and, I dare say, there is no one in the chamber who actually knows the cost. Perhaps if they did know the cost they might reshape some legislation initiatives to reflect other forms of societal punishment.

However, at this point, we are operating in the dark because the government wants Parliament to be operating in the dark. It does not want to say.

I agree with the member in the sense that the cost parameters of this bill and any other bill are difficult to calculate but there is sociological and criminalogical material that does give us some working presumptions.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer, basically without co-operation from Correctional Service Canada, took the material from Statistics Canada and Correctional Service Canada and used the methodology the Department of Finance uses, i.e. there will be no behavioural changes, therefore, we calculate on the basis of, I think he said, 3,800 increased prisoners.

It seems to me that unless Parliament insists on a costing no one else will insist on a costing. All we have are cheesy headlines from the government where apparently we are going to get tough on crime and the crime operates independently of all of the cheesy headlines and boring speeches put forward by the government and, in particular, the Minister of Justice.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased once again to speak to the issue of auto theft in this country. I say “once again” because I, quite frankly, do not remember how many times I have been on my feet in the House speaking to bills on auto theft. This is the third incarnation. There was Bill C-53 after the 2006 election; Bill C-26 before the 2008 election because of the prorogation at that time; and now we are on Bill S-9.

There is such a lack of credibility on the part of the government on this issue and on crime bills generally. We have been going at this for over four years. The issue actually preceded that back in the Liberal tenure because there was a bill at that time dealing with the issue of playing with VIN numbers.

With the present government, we had one prorogation and the bill went down, one election and the bill went down and then we had the spectacle of the justice committee not being able to meet because of elections and because the chair of that committee was thwarting the activities of the committee for months at a time. Those things delayed the passage of these bills. In April 2009, it finally went before the committee, which was the first time in a year the justice committee actually dealt with a bill. It sat idle a whole year because of both the actions of the chair thwarting the work of the committee and the election in 2008.

Finally, in 2009 the committee was finally working again and we were dealing with the bill before us today, which, if I have time today, I will actually get to. The committee did a lot of work and extensive evidence was taken. It then went back to the House with all party support and then on to the Senate. When we got to the end of 2009, we all know what happened. We had another prorogation. We had three prorogations, one election and dirty tactics by the chair of the justice committee.

Here we are, four-plus years later, and the bill still has not been passed, a bill that has widespread support in the House from all parties. However, it is because of, quite frankly, the indifference of the government to what is a significant issue in the country and a government much more concerned about protecting its political stature than it is about dealing realistically, effectively and efficiently with a major crime problem in the country.

We already have a backlog in the justice committee because so many other bills have been impacted exactly the same way. This bill will probably go through the House tomorrow and get to committee, which is backlogged significantly. If it is dealt with in its proper order, it is highly unlikely that this bill will get out of the justice committee in 2010. It almost certainly will not be, given the other bills before the committee. It has been my forecast for some time that we will have an election in the spring and that this bill will never become law before the next election. We need to be very clear that the responsibility for that lies entirely in the hands of the government.

All three of the opposition parties have dealt responsibly with the bill. When it was before committee, we did our proper work. We analyzed the problem, saw that the bill would work the way it should work, passed it, and then we see this again and again.

That is the reality of what we are dealing with. It is almost frustrating to say, “Why am I bothering to stand here today, because we are going to have an election before this bill becomes law?”. We will then start all over again and it will be another couple of years before we get it into the books as law.

The bill, as I see it, has only one significant problem, which is where I take some issue with what my colleague from Scarborough said. The mandatory minimum in the bill is only after a person has committed his or her third offence. As my colleague from the Bloc has raised, we are not quite sure what that would do. One of the reasons we should not be supporting mandatory minimums in some cases is that it sets the standard and judges feel compelled to work to that standard.

We can think of any number of scenarios. When a person has been convicted for the third time, six months is a ridiculously low sentence, especially if it involves individuals who are involved in organized crime in the theft of autos. Six months is a joke in those circumstances after a third offence. However, that happens because it is sometimes easier for judges who are overworked to say that the legislature has said that six months is the target after the third offence, so that is what they will invoke, when it should maybe have been two years or a penitentiary sentence, especially if it involved organized crime.

At the end of the day, my friend from Scarborough may be right, we may see an increase in the number of people incarcerated for this theft but it is also possible that we will see a reduction in the amount of time that they spend in our provincial jails.

The member has a very good point, though, in that the government does not know. Its simplistic solution is that everything can be solved by a mandatory minimum penalty. It just throws it at the problem. It has absolutely no idea what the consequences will be of that provision. Will it dramatically increase the prison population? It is building all those jails to the tune of $9 billion and there was another announcement for more jail cells. For those crimes that are not being reported, so we cannot put those people in jail because they will never get to court, we can maybe increase the population here to justify spending that $9 billion. The bottom line is that the government does not know. It has absolutely no idea what the consequences will be of that mandatory minimum in this situation.

The other point of significant concern, which came out of the work done by the justice committee, is that the bill would empower, which is necessary and we are supportive of it, the Canada Border Services Agency to take additional investigative methods to deal with the illicit importing and exporting of mostly autos and auto parts. The CBSA does not have enough jurisdiction right now and it is the agency that is on the front line.

When that was explained to us as we heard the evidence on it, we understood the necessity of it, but what was corresponding to it was that there were no plans by the government to provide the additional resources. This will be a significantly increased workload for the Border Services Agency but there were no plans in the last two budgets to provide additional funding to that agency. I am sure we will hear again, when this issue comes before the justice committee, that the government still has not planned for it. By that, I mean doing a basic business plan. How much more will we need? How many additional staff will we need? How much more equipment and investigative tools will we need? The government has no idea of that at all.

We are seeing this in terms of complaints coming back from governments at the provincial and municipal level, where these additional burdens are being put on our police officers, our prosecutors and our judiciary with no additional resources being provided by the federal government.

In this regard specifically, this is a federal government agency and this responsibility is entirely ours. We do not have any analysis of how much it is going to cost, how many more people, how long it is going to take to get it fully staffed. Are funds going to be available to fully staff it, or are we going to dump this responsibility on the officers who will have no ability to carry it out because they are under-resourced? They are under-resourced now. If we had additional staff at the Windsor-Detroit border, we could be doing much more, for instance, in the illicit import of guns. There is no capacity to do it. Now these officers are going to be forced to do more work with no particular ability to carry it out.

I am not a great fan of making auto theft a separate offence, although there is nothing wrong with doing it. It just does not add anything to the front-line police officer who enforces the law.

I want to acknowledge the work we saw in Manitoba. It came up with a solid, practical solution that dramatically reduced auto theft rates, particularly in the city of Winnipeg. In 2007 Winnipeg was the auto theft capital of the country by a long shot, running at about 1,700 thefts a year. The next closest city was Abbotsford at just under 1,000. Montreal, which traditionally until about 2000-01 had been the auto theft capital in the country, was only at 550 thefts a year.

Those numbers have altered somewhat in the last two years, since the last study available from Juristat. Winnipeg has dropped dramatically. It is no longer the auto theft capital of the country. Abbotsford still is and Edmonton is right behind. Montreal is running fairly close.

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member. When the bill returns to the House, he will have seven minutes left for his comments.

The House resumed from October 5 consideration of the motion that Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division at second reading of Bill S-6.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #96

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from September 29 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Instruction to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the amendment to Motion No. 517 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #97

Instruction to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the amendment defeated. The next question is on the main motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #98

Instruction to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from June 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-511, An Act respecting the reporting of motor vehicle information and to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (improving public safety), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora has eight minutes to conclude her remarks.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to comment on Bill C-511, introduced by the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence, which proposes amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act with respect to its notice of defect provisions.

To help provide some context for the changes it proposes to the act, I feel that it is important to provide some background on the act itself.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which is the object of the hon. member's bill, regulates the manufacture and importation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment in order to reduce the risk of death, injury and damage to property and the environment.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act came into effect in 1971 to establish comprehensive safety standards for the design and performance of vehicles and equipment manufactured in, or imported into, Canada.

It is important to note that since 1971 there have been many Canadian motor vehicle safety regulations established under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act that have contributed extensively to the safer operation of vehicles.

Examples of noteworthy Canadian motor vehicle regulations that were introduced as a result of research carried under the auspices of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act through the decades include crash tests in the 1970s on fuel system integrity and windshield zone intrusion; the introduction of three-point seat belts in front and rear seats in the 1980s; the introduction of stringent crash test requirements for occupant protection, including new seat belt designs and air bags in the 1990s; and, in the last decade, more efficient means for installing and securing child restraint systems, which have contributed to safer transportation for children.

Even though we strive for harmonization with the United States, our largest automotive trading partner, I must caution that full harmonization with U.S. vehicle safety standards is not always possible because of the complexity of the individual safety programs and the different needs of each country.

The Canadian driving environment and vehicle mix is different from that of the United States. Our safety standards were developed to meet national requirements, while harmonizing to a large extent with those of the United States. For example, the decreased daylight levels in winter necessitate the use of daytime running lights on vehicles in Canada. We have a requirement for speedometers to have kilometres per hour instead of miles per hour. There is also the makeup of the vehicle fleet in Canada, as compared with that of the United States. Smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles account for a greater part of the vehicle fleet in Canada than in the United States, and this requires attention to safety standards that affect the smaller, lighter vehicles.

We are continually striving to increase the level of road safety and to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries related to road collisions.

Continued regulatory improvements are planned for the next decade. It is hoped that even more effective child restraint systems, which would allow children to use them longer, will be introduced.

In addition, electronic stability control will become mandatory on all new vehicles manufactured in, or imported into, Canada, and more stringent occupant-protection regulations are planned.

I think we would all agree that it is important to maintain our level of vehicle safety, as the consequences of allowing unsafe vehicles are significant.

The cost of collisions in Canada has recently been estimated at $62.7 billion per year. This estimate of the cost of motor vehicle collisions includes direct and indirect costs.

Direct costs relate to property damage, emergency response, hospital care, other medical care and insurance administration, out-of-pocket expenses by victims of motor vehicle collisions, and traffic delays resulting in lost time, extra fuel use, and environmental pollution.

Indirect costs relate to human consequences of collisions, such as partial and total disability of victims, productivity and work days lost, as well as the pain and suffering of victims and their families.

The notice-of-defect provision in the current Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which is the subject of this bill, is an integral part of the act, aimed at reducing the risk of death and injury associated with vehicles and vehicle use.

The notice of defect provision mandates and establishes criteria under which a company must inform the minister and owners of affected vehicles and equipment when a defect in the design, construction, or functioning of the vehicle or equipment that is likely to affect any person's safety has been identified by the company.

Transport Canada receives on average 1,700 complaints a year from the public, and each complaint is reviewed and actioned as warranted. This year, with the increased media activity, there have been approximately 1,000 public complaints to date. During the same time, approximately 35,000 complaints were received by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The number of recalls recorded and monitored by Transport Canada has increased significantly in the last 10 years to approximately 400 recalls per year. The volume of vehicles recalled over the last ten years averages two million vehicles per year. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the recall notices occur as a result of investigations carried out by Transport Canada inspectors. It is also estimated that the recalls resulting from Transport Canada's actions account for approximately 50% of the total volume of vehicles being recalled annually.

It is difficult to attribute the increase in the number of recalls to any single factor. The industry and the world economy have evolved significantly over the last decade and a number of conditions have to be taken into account.

First, with the population increase and the rising standards of living, the total number of vehicles sold has increased. There are also more makes and models of vehicles being imported and sold. Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in the technological complexity of vehicles. As well, a number of new entrants are involved in the international commerce of vehicles.

This government remains committed to addressing road safety by exercising its powers and authorities under the act. By supporting Road Safety Vision 2010, a joint initiative between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and other partners, we can contribute to achieving this vision and set a standard of leadership for our road safety partners by maintaining the integrity of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

I thank the House for the opportunity to provide some background information on the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and to suggest how, with modifications, we can strike the right balance so that the act continues to be a strong anchor for road safety in Canada.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-511, An Act respecting the reporting of motor vehicle information and to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (improving public safety).

From the outset, I can tell the sponsor of this bill that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the proposed legislation. We are in favour of referring the bill to committee. Every member in this House is concerned about road safety.

Over the past few months, several recalls have shocked the collective psyche, perhaps because they received more media attention or they involved manufacturers that were generally thought to be road safety conscious. I think for instance of the recall affecting some Toyotas. We should not focus on that make of car, because other car manufacturers have also recalled products.

Updating the Motor Vehicle Safety Act is totally appropriate. We are for making changes to it, so that the reporting of certain critical information between car manufacturers and the regulatory body, namely, Transport Canada, is improved.

The Bloc Québécois is also in favour of hearing from various witnesses and stakeholders from the industry about the technical aspects that could strengthen safety standards for these vehicles. We would be very happy to see this bill sent to committee.

The sponsor was surprised by the fact that automobile manufacturers, who were known for their dedication to safety, who had built their reputations and had gained significant market share in North America and throughout the world, were heavily criticized for their inability to manage problems that were identified.

Initially, experts at Toyota denied that there was a problem with the accelerator pedal in the Toyota RAV4. I do not know if that was the only model with that problem, but I am very familiar with the problem, because I experienced it myself. A dealer's first reaction, even if it is not directly responsible, will be to deny the problem. Unfortunately, it is the law of supply and demand that prevails: the person selling a product always has more information than the person buying it.

Over the years, legislation has been passed to protect consumers—car buyers, in this case. It makes sense to extend this protection, given that problems are increasingly complex because of the sophisticated technology that goes into cars today. It used to be that we would take our car to any garage, where any mechanic could look at the problem and say whether it was a common problem and what caused it. Now, we need computers to do that. Sometimes, the mechanic even needs to have technical knowledge that not every garage operator we take our car to can necessarily afford.

Although certain protections in the act once met the technology and consumer protection requirements, new realities mean new needs. The Bloc Québécois is very open to referring this bill to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for review.

The bill would make four major amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. First, it would introduce the concept of safety-related defect. As I said, because of new technology, this is something that needs to be done. The bill would also give the minister new powers to recall vehicles and equipment if he makes a preliminary determination that they contain a safety-related defect.

Unfortunately, automobile manufacturers—and I do not want to target any specific one—are in business to make a profit, and safety concerns, while they do exist, are often somewhat secondary. And this does not happen solely in the automobile sector. We have seen it in the financial sector with the financial crisis we have just experienced.

A third element is to create an early warning system, which requires manufacturers to provide the minister with quarterly updates on potential safety-related defects based on data from domestic and foreign sources. One final element is the mandatory installation of a brake-override system in vehicles that employ an electronic throttle control system. This is in reference to the recent problems that we have seen with certain Toyota models.

For all of these reasons, I believe that this is completely normal, and I imagine that all of the parties in this House want this bill to be studied in more detail and would perhaps like to improve it. However, it certainly would meet an essential need regarding safety on our streets as well as the consumer's right to purchase a product over which they have little control and in which they have a great deal of confidence.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate and support Bill C-511.

The NDP also has Bill C-513 from the member for Elmwood—Transcona, which would enhance the bill if we could get some amendments made to it. Some key elements are missing from the bill, but this is a good start and an important one.

I want to note a statement, and it is important to put this in context. As things currently stand in Canada, there is very little protection for consumers and public safety under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act as it currently stands. Basically we allow decisions in Washington and Tokyo to decide what vehicles are on the road in Canada and what can be recalled, as we really have very little enforcement power.

We have also seen, through the Toyota case, Canada being treated as a second-class citizen. The government's behaviour in this action has been rather troubling. Quite frankly, it has been ignorant of this issue and has not been willing to move forward with changes to legislation. I do not understand, when there has been support offered by myself and others to move on this, why we have not done so.

The result has been the treatment of Canada by Toyota as an example. In the United States, it was fined the largest fine possible under its act. It promised the United States over $100 million for a new research training and safety centre. Canada is getting nothing. It provided its citizens with different recall supports than in Canada. Therefore, Canadian consumers were treated differently.

In fact, when the original recall took place, I wrote Toyota Canada and asked it to at least treat Canadians the same. I wrote Toyota on November 26 for the first time. Although it contacted the American customers individually, it refused to do so for Canadian customers.

There is a history that is now backed up with facts. Later today I will discuss how some of Toyota's investors are now suing it because they believe it withheld information.

The one case that I want to talk about, and a statement I am going to read, is from Mr. Ron Eves, whose partner is Lori Eves. They lost their son Christopher in a car accident in Washington. This is Mr. Eves statement about the situation that took place in 2007.

The minister told the Eves family that he would investigate this matter, but he has yet to do so. Members will hear the circumstances, which are very important, as well as the credibility of the witnesses.

This is what Mr. Eves has to say:

As a Canadian my experience the past three years has been appalling. One would expect the federal government whose responsibility it is to ensure the public's safety with regards to motor vehicles would take seriously a potentially suspicious single-vehicle accident that resulted in the death of the driver. The fact that the manufacturer has gone out of its way to obfuscate and ignore examining in detail the vehicle, the electronic data recorder, and the possible issues the accident raises should be alarming and initiate an immediate comprehensive investigation by the regulator, Transport Canada. This has not been the case which should be extremely troubling to all Canadians, drivers or not, since we all are affected by the vehicles on our roads. Before I continue, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear, my family is not suing Toyota and we are not involved in any litigation for monetary compensation. We only seek the truth of what happened to our son and to ensure that the reforms needed take place actually happen so that all of us are protected.

My son Chris was killed in a mysterious single-vehicle crash in Washington State when he drove off a highway and hit a tree on October 26, 2007. As a former police officer I examined the vehicle and found hair and scalp tissue near the gas pedal which would indicate he was reaching down there to potentially release the gas pedal or floor mat when the accident occurred. I had a veteran accident investigator with more than 25 years experience examine the scene. His analysis raised more questions.

I asked Toyota to reveal the contents of the electronic data recorder and the company refused. Earlier this I asked then [minister of transport] for help and he said that he would. To date he has not.

I reached out to the United States Senator from the State of Washington, Maria Cantwell. She agreed to help me. During committee hearings in Washington in front of the U.S. Senate Commerce committee in March of this year she asked Yoshimi Inaba, President of Toyota Motor North America, to provide that readout from the electronic data reader to our family. He agreed to do that.

The results, taken by Toyota in early April, indicated that the truck was travelling at roughly 75 miles per hour, but somehow accelerated by 177 mph after hitting a tree.

William Rosenbluth, an expert in electronic data readers, the “black boxes”, who has been assisting our family, has stated that the readout from Toyota was flawed and incomplete. Even with this incorrect or flawed readout Toyota refused to examine the situation further.

Then in August a strange turn of events took place. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a rare subpoena to William Rosenbluth to obtain the electronic data reader of our son's vehicle.

Finally, on September 15, Toyota Motor Corporation admitted publicly that they had a software bug in the device used to read the electronic data readers. This exposed the fact that Toyota cannot be trusted to use data from these recorders in regards to sudden unintended acceleration. This is the opinion of Clarence Ditlow, the Executive Director of Centre for Auto Safety, an expert in the field.

Our family's situation demonstrates a few facts:

1. That we did not get the assistance needed or the protection we should have from our government.

2. We were helped by U.S. regulators and politicians. During the entire Toyota recall episode there are many others including the general public who found out more from U.S. sources, regulators, and government agencies than from our own Canadian government or our Canadian regulator, Transport Canada.

3. This inadequate and unacceptable circumstance demonstrates the need for reforms to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to modernize the tools and enforcement powers of the regulator Transport Canada. We have to change the law.

4. Also we have to put more resources, money and personnel, into the regulator. Having the best laws on the books does not mean anything if we don't enforce them and that takes funding and people.

I thank Ron and Lori Eves for this gift to the country and their advocacy, because if they had not done so, their case would be diminished for sure. They are doing this as good Canadian citizens. Sadly, this took place in 2007 and there has been no action from the government. Chris' vehicle, although it crashed in Washington state, could have crashed as well in Canada because the Toyota Tundra was made in one factory but it has the same elements across the world. This is a serious issue.

What is sad about this issue is that when I asked Toyota why it was treating Canadians differently with regard to this matter, it simply fluffed it aside. I received a letter back on December 1 from Toyota and it basically brushed this under the carpet, so to speak. What is sad is that our government said, on November 26, 2009, after it had been providing uniquely better service and provisions to the United States already, that Transport Canada applauds Toyota's actions to protect consumers.

What we found out later was that the list of vehicles and some of the problems with those vehicles, especially in the letter that Toyota wrote back to me, would grow exponentially and recalls would grow exponentially. What is sad about this situation is that the government and the department have a cozy relationship with Toyota. Maybe it has it with others, I do not know, but that is not in the interest of public safety. It is well documented that it is short on staff. What this bill attempts to do is bring some greater accountability to it.

We also want to explore other issues in the bill, which I will highlight in a couple of minutes. However, I want to again note the way things stand right now in this country. Despite everything we have gone through, Toyota had several ways to correct the situation along the line and it refused to do so, and we say that is wrong.

What do we want to do? The member for Elmwood—Transcona has a great bill that would enhance this bill, Bill C-513, which has elements in it that would create more of a balance in this bill. In particular, it deals with the black boxes, which is why I read the Eaves' story. It gave some public as well as some consumer rights advocacy for the black box information and ensure there are industry standards to which people can actually get access and can prove whether their accident was the fault of the vehicle manufacturer or the driver, which is a critical element in this.

I have other important issues but I know I must wrap up right now. I do, however, want to say that the government has failed Canadians. A famous line used in the United States was that Toyota was safety-deaf. The Conservative government has been voiceless on this issue. We are hoping--

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Markham--Unionville.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak this evening to Bill C-511, introduced by my colleague the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence.

The name of the bill is proactive enforcement and defect accountability legislation (PEDAL) act and it was tabled as a direct response to the legislative shortcoming revealed by the Toyota recall issue earlier this spring.

My hon. colleague, who was a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities during the Toyota hearings, quickly recognized that there were significant gaps in Canada's legislative framework when it came to vehicle safety.

First, recall responsibility is vested in the automakers. It is a bit like leaving the fox to guard the chickens. These companies decide if they have a safety related defect and they determine if it merits a recall. The federal government can only watch from the sidelines. The government can only see what information the automakers provide to it. There is no mandated requirement to pass all safety related information to the Department of Transport.

As legislators, we have a responsibility to correct this flaw in the system. There are millions of cars in this country and ensuring that they are built in a safe manner is critical to protect all Canadians.

The PEDAL act is a four part update to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act that puts the authority to protect Canadians safety back in the hands of the government and the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

I would like to take a moment and describe the four major proposed changes to this law. First, the PEDAL act would create a definition for a safety related defect. This would prevent automakers from classifying problems as non-safety related when they ought to be clearly labelled as related to safety. This change was recommended in 2002 during a review of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act by the Department of Transport and it would remove the ambiguity that has allowed automakers to skirt the current recall provisions of that law.

The second change in the bill would require automakers to provide the minister with quarterly reports detailing foreign and domestic information related to potential safety related defects. This would allow the department to create an early warning system for detecting serious recall-worthy safety issues. This reporting system would allow the Department of Transport to monitor safety trends and work proactively to issue safety related recalls. This is perhaps one of the largest holes in the current legislation.

Right now, all the department has to operate from is customer complaint data directed to Transport Canada. The department receives approximately 1,000 complaints every year. However, it does not have access to the tens of thousands of complaints that dealers and automakers receive annually.

By giving Transport Canada access to the more robust data that automakers have, it will be better able to predict the existence of a safety related defect.

All this data is meaningless, however, unless the minister also has the power to issue a recall, which brings me to the third aspect of the PEDAL act.

Currently, the minister does not possess the power to formally issue a safety related recall. Under the current version of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, only automakers issue recalls and only on a volunteer basis. The PEDAL act would correct this omission and provide the minister with the power to issue mandatory recall if the minister becomes aware of a safety related defect.

The final amendment made by the PEDAL act is a direct response to issues raised during the joint industry and transport committee hearings into the Toyota recall. The bill, if enacted, would require the installation of a brake override system on any vehicles that use electronic throttle control.

Bill C-511 is good legislation and it deserves the support of all members of this place. The safety of Canadians is something that we all take seriously in the House and the bill would help ensure that Canadians are protected from serious safety related defects in their vehicles.

As the Liberal transport critic, I am supporting the bill and I encourage my colleagues to ensure that this important legislation passes second reading and gets the in-depth study that these issues deserve.

I know I have only been in this job a short time but I have had brief discussions with the minister and I do think it is possible to get all party support for the bill.

I understand there are concerns about the implications for government liability in these matters, but I am hopeful that when the bill gets to committee ways will be found to ensure that the four principal points contained in the bill can be passed while at the same time dealing in a satisfactory way with the issue of liability. That remains to be seen. I am hopeful we will be able to do this.

In closing, I would simply like to congratulate my colleague from Toronto for all of his hard work and his focus on consumer safety.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. There being no other members rising, I will go to the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence for his five minute right of reply.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in this place and to thank, first of all, hon. colleagues who have intervened in the debate. The first among them is my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie who seconded my bill just before the summer recess. He had the foresight to recognize the four points that are important and are presented in the bill.

I think government members as well have been supportive in this exercise and debate. The critic for the Bloc Québécois has also given an indication that the Bloc is seized with the issue and will be supportive. I want to thank my colleague from the NDP as well who sat with me on the joint committee that dealt with the issue of consumer safety. Although it focused primarily and almost exclusively on Toyota, it generated a series of decisions, questions and investigations by the transport committee that led to the deficiencies in our Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Those deficiencies are what the bill hopes to address.

I want to reiterate once again what some of my colleagues have mentioned, that this is driven by a desire to introduce an element and a culture of consumer safety, consumer protection and the government's responsibility to ensure that all manufacturers and all vendors of products that will impact on consumer safety and security, especially on the roadways or those who share the roadways, keep that first and foremost.

After a year or more of public hearings that took place not only in Canada but elsewhere, as my colleague from Windsor has indicated, and that prompted greater concerns internationally, we came forward with proposals. It is one thing to criticize and to critique, but it is another to come up with alternatives. It would be very easy to slam the companies. As our colleague from the Bloc has indicated, it is easy to name one company today, but we will have to pick on another one tomorrow and maybe a third and a fourth the day after. If we can establish a culture of consumer first, protection and security then we do not have to name a company; we have to establish a process whereby the culture prevails that the ultimate responsibility will be with the government.

The bill says that the Government of Canada is completely implicated in ensuring that that culture of consumer protection and consumer safety on the road system is part and parcel of the obligation which it already, as others have indicated, exercises but cannot fully implement.

The Motor Vehicle Safety Act has some drawbacks, some weaknesses that we hope to address. One of those weaknesses is, as my colleague from Markham has indicated, that the minister cannot effect a recall. He can receive advice. He can receive complaints. Those complaints will come from customer, but not necessarily from the manufacturer or vendors. They will come from a restricted geographic area.

We propose that in the globalized market environment the information come from all over the world, as in one case, one of the companies has already provided to the American authorities. If it is good for them, it is good for us. It is what we do with that information. We require reporting on a quarterly basis by the companies. We require a publicizing of the information that relates to defects. Of course we require a definition of “defect”, a definition that has been there and that the courts have indicated. We require an immediate safety mechanism, which is the brake override in those vehicles that already have an electronic throttle system.

The minister and the department are obliged, not only authorized. That is the important change. I look forward to colleagues helping us through this in committee, and I call for unanimous consent.

Proactive Enforcement and Defect Accountability Legislation (PEDAL) ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?