Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today in support of Bill C-590, an act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content). This private member's bill was tabled by the member for Prince Albert on April 9 and it addresses minimum penalties for the crime of impaired driving.
As much as there has been improvement in this area of the law over the past 40 years, more has to be done. Impaired driving cases are familiar to all Canadians. Everyone knows a family member, a friend or someone in their community who has been touched by this crime.
Over the past decades, we have managed to lower the number of persons who are killed in collisions involving alcohol-impaired driving. Lives have been saved by the efforts of families, individuals, schools, service organizations, police and legislatures.
I would like to recognize the really great work of the people who volunteer for Operation Red Nose, in the month of December, who volunteer to drive until the wee hours of the morning to keep impaired drivers off the road.
However, even with the improvements, the sad reality is that impaired driving remains a pernicious and persisting crime. It is the single most committed crime at 12% of crimes, according to the Statistics Canada 2011 Juristat on impaired driving.
Impaired driving is said by prosecutors to take up about 40% of provincial court trial time. The great tragedy is that hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries every year from impaired driving are, each and every one, avoidable.
With the arrival of the motor car at the turn of the 20th century, it soon became clear that death and injury from crashes were part of the new motorized driving reality.
In 1921, Parliament enacted the offence of driving while intoxicated, in recognition of the reality that driving while intoxicated greatly increased the risk of a crash.
In 1951, Parliament added to the Criminal Code the offence of driving while impaired, in recognition that it was not only someone who was intoxicated who posed a higher risk of a crash.
In 1969, Parliament repealed the driving while intoxicated offence and followed some other western nations in setting a blood alcohol concentration above which it is an offence to drive.
The over 80 offence rested upon the development of technology to measure blood alcohol concentration, which is converted using a blood-to-breath ratio into a blood alcohol concentration.
Over the years, Parliament has acted many times to improve the impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code, which brings me to Bill C-590.
The bill could be seen as taking the step in the right direction. The bill is also in the spirit of one of the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that was made in the committee's 2009 report, entitled “Ending Alcohol-impaired Driving: A Common Approach”.
The report was in favour of setting higher penalties for individuals who drove with a blood alcohol concentration which was over 160. Currently, a reading above 160 on an approved instrument is an aggravating factor for Criminal Code sentencing purposes.
Bill C-590 proposes two things.
First, it would create a new offence of driving while over 160 that would be a straight indictable offence. The mandatory minimum penalties would be even more severe than a case where someone drove while over 80. On a first over 160 conviction, there would be a mandatory minimum penalty, or MMP, of a fine of $2,000 and imprisonment for 60 days. On the second offence, there would be an MMP of 240 days imprisonment.
The second thing that Bill C-590 would do is to raise the MMP where an offender caused a crash involving a death or bodily harm while driving impaired or over 80 or when the driver refused to provide a breath sample knowing of the death or bodily harm.
Right now, in these cases, the MMP is a fine of $1,000 on a first offence, 30 days imprisonment on a second offence and 120 days imprisonment on a subsequent offence.
For a first offence that causes a death or bodily harm, Bill C-590 would set an MMP of $5,000 and 120 days imprisonment. For a second offence, it would be 240 days imprisonment.
It would be advisable to consider at committee whether there should be a higher MMP for causing death than for causing bodily harm. I understand that the current MMP was set for the purpose of avoiding situations where a person who drove impaired and/or over 80 and/or refused to provide a breath sample could be given a conditional sentence of imprisonment.
Where there is an MMP, no conditional sentence is available. However, the MMPs for the cause of death or bodily harm scenarios are the same as the MMPs for impaired and/or over 80 and/or the refusal where there is no death or bodily harm. In death cases, the courts are clearly giving sentences measured in years and are not giving the $1,000 MMP. It may be helpful to hear from witnesses, and to see whether there needs to be any adjustment to the MMPs.
I am pleased that Parliament is being given the opportunity to respond to one of the recommendations in the 2009 report of the standing committee. We can establish MMPs that will have a deterring effect and that will have an effect on public safety because they incapacitate the high blood alcohol concentration drivers and the drivers who kill or injure in offences of impaired driving, over 80 driving or refusal to provide a breath sample.
I ask all parliamentarians to join me in supporting Bill C-590.
I would like to put my notes down and just tell the House a bit of a story.
It is a story of a nurse from Newmarket who had spent 25 years of her nursing career at what was then York County Hospital, who at the end of her career had determined that there were other opportunities for her to provide service and had dedicated the end of her career to serving people who were AIDS patients. She was providing personal service as a private duty nurse to those people.
It was Friday, February 8, 1991, when that nurse left Newmarket to drive to Kleinburg to a special patient. Somewhere around the Ansnorveldt road, a driver who was driving over 85 miles per hour came across five lanes of traffic and hit that nurse head-on.
She did not survive. It was my mother's birthday. Things need to change.