House of Commons Hansard #225 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was s-6.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Prince Albert for introducing this bill. I have a personal interest in this issue. During one of the trips I made to my riding in the last four years—I will not to say when or where—I was driving at night and a car swerved into my lane. It ended up stopping behind me and did not cause an accident, but it was clear that the driver was drunk.

This is a very important issue. It affects all of us, and especially those of us who have children.

I have a very simple question for the member. Before he drafted his bill, and even as it was being drafted, did he have the opportunity to consult with organizations like MADD Canada, which deals with these issues first-hand? The additional information these organizations could have—such as personal stories or particular cases—could enhance the bill and make it more relevant.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did talk to different organizations like MADD. They would have liked to have seen it go even further. They would like to see a mandatory minimum sentencing of a greater degree. They would like to see even more punishment for those people who drink and drive.

As legislators, we have to balance the will of different parties in order to get legislation through the House. We had co-operation in committee, and we have ended up with legislation which is better than what we had but maybe does not quite meet what they expected or would like to see.

The reality is that if we can do anything to take these people off the road, anything to save the life of a youth or someone else hit by a drunk driver, if this bill saves one life, which is what it will do, we have done a better job and have put forward a good piece of legislation.

Should we stop here? No. Like the member from the Liberal Party said, there are other things we need to start looking at, such as prescription drugs, marijuana, and cocaine. Things like that need to be addressed. We need to find tools to address people who take those types of substances and drive.

The reality is that if people are intoxicated by any means, they should not be behind the wheel. In the next sessions, we, as parliamentarians, are going to have to find a way to deal with these other types of prohibited drugs.

As far as the people in my riding, just as the member has said, there are so many people who have had personal experiences when it comes to drinking and driving, whether it was losing loved ones or neighbours or friends, or are in the situation like Ben's Auto Glass. Not only did Ben's family lose a father, he was a business owner and his employees lost their boss. There was turmoil around that whole scenario. It was heart wrenching, and for what? It was so sad.

He had just bought a brand new boat. He was heading up to the lake to try it out for the first time. His family had gone up ahead of him to get a camping site. They never met again. It was a sad situation.

There are so many stories around Canada like that, and we need to do something to prevent this from happening again.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour for me to rise in the House today on behalf of the people of Alfred-Pellan in Laval, whom I have represented for four years, to talk about a private member's bill, Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code provisions on blood alcohol content.

I would like to begin by telling my colleague who introduced this bill in the House that I will support it at third reading, and I will explain why we on this side have taken this stance.

In light of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights' recent study of this bill, New Democrats believe that Bill C-590 is a step in the right direction to combat the scourge of drunk driving.

In essence, Bill C-590 amends section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish the possibility of imposing more severe penalties for offences committed under section 253 in circumstances where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, which is double the amount that now constitutes an offence. It also raises the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

As a young mother of a two-year-old little girl, as a woman and as a New Democrat, I truly believe that drinking and driving is a very important issue. I also think that all parliamentarians in the House care deeply about this issue.

I do not mean to speak on behalf of all parents here, but I am sure that every father, every mother and every grandparent cares a great deal about the health and safety of their children, their family, their fellow citizens and the general public.

I am quite confident that everyone here in the House wants to address the problem of drinking and driving, and Bill C-590 is a step in the right direction.

I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. However, I do have some wonderful colleagues, like the member for Gatineau and the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who are members of that committee. I looked at their work and the work done by my other colleagues, because I am always interested in what is happening at committee, and everyone wanted to ensure that these new measures were designed to eliminate the scourge that claims too many Canadians' lives every year.

I support the bill, but I know that it has some shortcomings, which is rather unfortunate. However, as I said, it is a step in the right direction.

Although Canada has very tough laws and penalties for impaired driving, more than 750 motorists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists were killed every year between 2003 and 2005 in traffic accidents involving drunk drivers. Even one death is one too many, but this is more than two people per day. That is far too many, and we need to implement measures to address this problem.

This is a relatively conservative estimate, since in some cases it was not possible to determine whether the driver had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. Some road safety organizations estimate that the number of victims is actually much higher.

Although the exact number of victims is in question, no one doubts that impaired driving causes a large number of injuries and deaths that could be avoided.

My colleague's bill, Bill C-590, seeks to decrease the number of injuries and deaths by amending section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish more severe penalties for offences committed under the Criminal Code in circumstances where the offender's blood alcohol content exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol.

As I mentioned previously, the bill also seeks to raise the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

I sincerely believe that we need to do more to combat impaired driving.

The NDP examined the measures proposed by the member for Prince Albert, and saw that they were a step in the right direction towards effectively fighting the scourge of drunk driving.

However, there remain some questions about minimum sentences, even though we had already raised them. The minimum sentences in this bill are substantially shorter than the current sentences that are imposed for these offences. I mentioned a few of this bill's flaws, including these shorter minimum sentences. I will talk later about why this matters.

For example, in 2011-12, the mean length of imprisonment was 277 days for impaired driving causing bodily harm, and 959 days for impaired driving causing death. Why are the proposed minimum sentences important and why do we need to discuss them? There is a tendency for a minimum sentence to become the default sentence, except in the worst cases. In other words, the minimum sentence ends up being the norm rather than a sentence reserved for less serious crimes. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that defence lawyers will ask for the minimum sentence, unless the Crown can prove that their client's crime warrants a special punishment.

As I said, we absolutely must do more to address drunk driving. There are a number of things we can do as parliamentarians, but also as citizens in our communities.

I want to reiterate the question my NDP colleague asked about the type of consultations that were done with regard to the bill introduced by my colleague from Prince Albert. I would have liked more details on who was consulted on the bill. I know that MADD Canada works very hard on the issue of drunk driving. Everyone acknowledges the exemplary work that it does, but it would be good to know how MADD feels about this bill. It would also be good to get feedback from the many stakeholders across Canada who work on this issue that is so very important to our constituents. This is important input if we want to have leadership and crack down on drunk driving.

This bill deals with sentences for offenders, but we cannot forget that there is work to be done before things get to that point. I cannot stress this enough, but when it comes to topics that are this sensitive, it is often important to educate people. Whether we are talking about young drivers taking the wheel, starting their classes or applying for a licence, it is preferable for parents to get them started with good habits. We need to look at everything we can possibly do. We also need to ensure that people who already have a licence understand the negative impact that drinking and driving can have as well as all the potential consequences for our society. We cannot forget that education plays an important role in this issue.

I also want to mention that I am a young mother and that I have since become more interested in these issues. I think that is how it normally works. We all want to ensure that we do a good job of raising our family. As a young mother I must say that I really sympathize with all the victims and families of victims of drunk driving. It is never an easy thing. No one can understand what it means to lose a loved one, regardless of the circumstances.

I think that a fairly funded justice system would truly help them through the process. We can never forget the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of drunk driving.

I would like to make something clear. This bill does not specifically target young people. We need to avoid stereotypes here. It is very important that we not stereotype our youth. In this case, I think we really need to be careful. We need to remember that the statistics on young people and drunk driving have improved a lot in recent years. I think that is the result of the great work being done by parents and society in general.

In closing, I would like to thank all those who worked on this bill when it was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as well as my colleague from Prince Albert. I also want to acknowledge the incredible work done by our justice critic, my colleague from Gatineau, and her deputy critic, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. They worked very hard on this issue.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-590, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to blood alcohol content. This bill, from the member for Prince Albert, would allow for stiffer penalties for impaired driving where the offender was severely intoxicated. Specifically, the changes would apply to convictions where an offender's blood alcohol concentration exceeded 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood at the time of the offence. As the justice critic for the Liberal Party, I have recommended that my caucus colleagues support this bill.

Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada. Every life taken by a drunk driver is an avoidable tragedy. Getting behind the wheel while impaired is a reckless and selfish personal choice, and its predictable results cannot be undone.

Across the country, the number of bodily injuries and deaths caused by impaired driving continues to be unacceptably high. It has been a perennial and vexing problem in my province of Prince Edward Island, and I know that the same can be said for the home province of the member for Prince Albert.

I will say a few words later on about some creative strategies my province is trying, strategies that could be used beyond the simple solution of amending the Criminal Code, which seems to be the default tool of choice for just about everything for the government.

In spite of the inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences, I can support this legislation. By targeting drivers who are severely intoxicated, Bill C-590 would send a public message about the category of drivers who pose the greatest statistical risk.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has found that impaired drivers with a blood alcohol content of over 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood represent close to 70% of impaired drivers killed in car accidents. When we are talking about this crime, I do think stiffer penalties may be an effective deterrent, since many people who get behind the wheel while impaired would not be prone to criminality in general.

Impaired driving is a crime people have taken more seriously over the years, in large part due to the advocacy of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. My hope is that keeping a focus on this issue in Parliament can continue the cultural shift toward social condemnation of impaired driving. This is a crime where stigma is the real deterrent.

Far fewer people drive while intoxicated today, so we see that behaviours can change, and we see evidence to this effect. According to StatsCan, the rate of impaired driving causing death dropped 29% in 2011, reaching its lowest point in over 25 years. The number of incidents of impaired driving causing bodily harm also fell to half of what it was 25 years before. Of course, half the number of incidents is not good enough. Behaviours need to keep changing.

Everyone in the chamber understands what I am talking about. Every Canadian community has been touched by impaired driving.

Coming from Charlottetown, the way impaired driving has touched me is in the case of my neighbour, Kristen Cameron. This young lady used to babysit my children. She was a very talented and promising young hockey player who was recruited on a hockey scholarship to play in the United States. She excelled in the United States and was actually named to the all-American team for female hockey. She went on to share her talents as a coach at Mercyhurst College, one of the premier women's hockey programs in the country. During her time as a coach, she was driving her bike when she was struck by a drunk driver and rendered quadriplegic.

Unlike many stories involving drunk driving, however, this one, while it involves a tragedy, does not have a particularly sad ending. Kristen continues to inspire through her sheer determination. She is about to be named to the Canadian Paralympic rugby team. She is certainly someone who continues to make all Prince Edward Islanders proud.

Across the country, there are too many stories of lives lost or changed forever by impaired driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, estimates that there are somewhere between 1,250 and 1,500 impairment-related crash deaths in Canada every year, which is 3.4 to 4.1 per day.

Then, there are the injuries. In 2010, MADD estimated that there were approximately 63,821 individuals injured in impairment related crashes. That same year, according to Statistics Canada, police reported 121 incidents of impaired driving causing death, though my understanding is that number only refers to the number of charges. According to Transport Canada, alcohol use was a factor in almost 30% of deaths from vehicle crashes during the 2003 to 2005 period. As I said, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.

What would Bill C-590 change? This bill would amend the Criminal Code to create higher minimum sentences and allow the imposition of more severe penalties for impaired driving where the offender is acutely intoxicated. Again, we are talking about a blood alcohol content of over 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. To put that into perspective, I understand that that would mean approximately 8 drinks for a 160 pound individual.

Bill C-590 would also create minimum penalties for convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. The specific changes are as follows. Currently, if someone is caught with blood alcohol content over 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres, a summary conviction fine of $1,000 applies. With a level over 160 milligrams, it is an aggravated circumstance in sentencing. With Bill C-590, if the level is over 160 milligrams, it would be a minimum $2,000 fine, twice the current amount. In addition, the penalties on indictment would be much more severe, with a minimum fine of $2,000 and a minimum of 60 days in prison. The maximum period in prison would also be doubled, to ten years, on indictment. A second or subsequent offence would carry a minimum of 240 days in prison, which is again double the current amount.

These changes in Bill C-590 have been amended since the House last considered this bill. The change at committee was to retain a summary conviction option for acute intoxication. That change came out of concern for creating a loophole whereby drivers would simply refuse samples, which carries a lower penalty. The change that we settled on does not make for a perfect law, but it is an improvement that will affect some offenders.

I commend the mover and his colleagues on the justice committee for making amendments that have improved this bill and provided a mechanism for prosecutors to exercise discretion in such a manner as to avoid the one size fits all consequences of minimum mandatory sentences.

I would like to say a word about the situation in Prince Edward Island, where we have a chronic problem with drunk driving. That is in spite of guidelines within our provincial courts that make incarceration automatic in virtually 100% of DUI cases, regardless of the blood alcohol content reading. Along with Saskatchewan and the territories, we have one of the highest rates of impaired driving in Canada, I am sad to say.

In 2012, our provincial government did something about it, with three significant changes to the law. First, first-time offenders must have ignition interlocks installed. Second, offenders caught with children under 16 years of age in their vehicle will have to use ignition breathalyzers for two years. Third, the government introduced tougher rules for impounding vehicles. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was very supportive of those changes.

In addition, Prince Edward Island has introduced special discrete licence plates for police to recognize the vehicles of repeat drunk drivers, as well as a campaign for people to call 911 if they observe impaired driving. Again, Mothers Against Drunk Driving supported these changes.

There are potential solutions to problems other than amendments to the Criminal Code. We have seen promising results. From 2013 to 2014, the number of convictions for impaired driving decreased by nearly 20%. We need to do better, but I am pleased to see progress and I am hopeful for the future. In 2013, we had 297 convictions for impaired driving, and in 2014, we had 241. Compare that to 628 convictions in 1989, and 1,570 convictions in 1980.

I would encourage parliamentarians from all parties to take a look at these measures on the island and consider whether they could be useful in their respective regions. The parties in the House disagree on many issues, but the need to stop drunk driving in Canada is not one of them. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-590.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the justice critic for the official opposition, I have the honour of rising in the House on this Friday afternoon to speak to Bill C-590 on behalf of both my riding of Gatineau and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party. First of all, I would like to say that we too support Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content). This bill seeks to establish more severe penalties for offences where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood and where driving under the influence results in serious consequences, such as bodily harm or even death.

I heard a number of my colleagues in the House mention that impaired driving is still a scourge even today in 2015. It is still a problem. People go out and they still think that they can drive a vehicle, which can actually be considered a weapon. A vehicle can cause considerable damage. Nevertheless, some people seem to think that they can get behind the wheel of their vehicle after they have been drinking, no matter how many drinks they have had.

The New Democratic Party obviously has a zero tolerance policy for impaired driving. We believe that even more can be done. Members may ask if I think that Bill C-590 will solve this problem. When members introduce a bill, they usually want to make sure that it accomplishes what it is supposed to. In this case, the member obviously wants to send a clear message, but I hope that the bill will do more than that because it does not seem that people really understand. There are many repeat drunk drivers who unfortunately do not seem to care about the Criminal Code.

Is Bill C-590 going to make every single Canadian understand the concept of zero tolerance once and for all? I highly doubt it. First of all, I doubt that this bill is that well-thought-out. Whether the Conservative member introducing this bill likes it or not, it definitely should have been fine-tuned a little more. For now, with this parliamentary session coming to an end and time running out, it is a half measure. Clearly, the person who introduced the bill had good intentions in relation to its objective, but he is not a legal expert. Few witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to talk to us about Bill C-590, so the member left many questions unanswered.

We realize, and people from the Justice Department also realize, that this bill has a few gaps in it that should have been fixed before it was introduced. This is perhaps another reason why these kinds of files do not usually come from backbenchers, but rather the government, because they involve complex policies. Certain sections of the Criminal Code can lead to disputes as well as some confusion.

The main confusion here relates to a question I asked my colleague across the way when he first introduced the bill. When most offenders are first stopped by a police officer on the side of the road, they are asked to take a breathalyzer test. Knowing the penalties for someone who has more than 160 millilitres of alcohol in their blood, would the person not be better off to simply refuse to take the breathalyzer? Of course, refusing the test carries its own penalties, but, Mr. Speaker, since you are a lawyer like me, you know that those penalties are much less harsh than the penalties that would apply under Bill C-590 if it passes.

Someone who is very drunk would certainly have greater incentive to refuse to take a breathalyzer test, rather than giving the Crown evidence that they are above the new limit that comes with this new sentence.

As justice critic for the New Democratic Party, I have always believed that when we are drafting bills it is not a matter of taking a tough-on-crime approach—as the Conservatives love to say—but a matter of taking an intelligent approach. We need to ensure that the measures we take will truly achieve what we claim they will.

For example, if Bill C-590 passes, we could see games being played. As I mentioned in committee, in January or February this year, a judge in the riding of Gatineau dismissed some 30 impaired driving cases because the cases had not been tried within a reasonable amount of time. This made the news, and many people were shocked.

On occasion I go through my riding to talk about drunk driving and how, despite all of the awareness campaigns and the harsher sentences in recent years, people still do not seem to get the message. The problem is that the Conservatives have made all kinds of amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code.

Criminal justice experts, such as crown prosecutors, defence attorneys, police forces, judges and all stakeholders, tell me that there are so many delays in these cases that the Crown and the defence end up playing games.

Since sentences are more severe, the defence is less likely to negotiate a plea bargain with the Crown and more likely to go to court in all cases to avoid certain new sentences. This creates a tremendous backlog in our courthouses. Gatineau is not alone in this. We see it all across Quebec and Canada.

This backlog should not be the one thing preventing us from taking action. However, as we in the New Democratic Party often say, if the government wants to introduce new sentences and a new way of doing things, it has to give the police the tools they need. For example, there should be more officers on the ground so that offenders can be arrested. The government also has to ensure that our justice system can handle these people and hold their trials within a reasonable period of time instead of allowing unreasonable delays due to a shortage of judges, crown prosecutors and courtrooms.

Taken together, these elements result in an extremely dysfunctional system. Courts are begging for help, but nobody is responding. All the government does is give them new laws that they have to adapt to and interpret within the context of other laws. This complicates legal situations and sometimes results in the opposite of what the Conservatives are trying to achieve. Lots of people manage to slip through the cracks in the system. How many times have I read in the paper that somebody has been caught for the fifth time and been sentenced to the equivalent of a slap on the wrist?

One serious problem that the Conservatives have not yet fixed is the fact that criminal records are not always up to date because the RCMP lacks resources. We know there is a way to emphasize recidivism before the courts, but the criminal record and the history have to be properly identified. If they are not, the Crown cannot work miracles. It cannot say that a particular conviction has not yet been entered on the record but that the individual was convicted in such and such a year. That is not how it works. Sometimes there are more basic problems to fix.

This will not stop us from supporting Bill C-590, which is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, it certainly is not the answer to all our problems when it comes to zero tolerance for drunk driving.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

I am pleased to add my voice to those of the members for Gatineau and Alfred-Pellan, who both gave very eloquent speeches.

We support the bill. However, as the member for Gatineau said so well, it has some flaws. Unfortunately, in committee, the Conservatives rejected all the proposed amendments to this bill instead of improving it.

No doubt everyone in this House understands the importance of cracking down on drunk driving. I do not think there is a single member in this House who has not had a family member, neighbour, or friend involved in these tragedies that take place far too often on Canadian highways. What we see often is that they were entirely preventable.

Someone getting behind the wheel of a car and deciding to drive while having consumed alcohol is someone who is a risk to people throughout the community. Far too often, it results in serious injury and even death.

As members know, my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster is part of the north Fraser area, and we are connected to the south Fraser area by a number of bridges, including the Pattullo Bridge. I know a number of constituents who have had family members who have died or been severely injured because of drunk driving on the Pattullo Bridge. This is something that is repeated right across the country.

There is no doubt that having legislation is helpful, but what the legislation before us lacks is somewhat along the lines of what my colleague, the member for Gatineau, just expressed so eloquently a few minutes ago. What the Conservative government has done in terms of crime prevention, cutbacks to the RCMP, and refusing to adequately fund the judicial system has caused enormous prejudice to actually putting in place a smart policy on crime.

I think the most egregious is the government's slashing of crime prevention programs. For every dollar we invest in crime prevention programs, we save six dollars in policing costs, judicial costs, and penal costs. The investment for the Canadian taxpayers is extraordinarily large if one dollar invested in crime prevention saves money in a whole variety of other spheres. More importantly, it means that there are no victims, because the crime is not committed in the first place.

The current Conservative government has completely slashed and burned crime prevention funding right across the country. Crime prevention offices that were set up to prevent crime, to stop crimes like drunk driving from being committed, and to educate the population so that what we end up with is a population that understands the ramifications of these kinds of offences and does not commit them were slashed and burned by a government that, in some bizarre way, seems to want to triumph on fighting crime when it actually undermines all of the effective programs that would actually reduce crime rates.

This is the problem. We have seen it in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and right across the country. We can ask members of Parliament from any part of the country, and we will get the same reaction.

The Conservative government has been utterly irresponsible when it comes to taking a smart approach to crime and reducing crime at its source by putting in place education programs on drunk driving, and even more importantly, by having an overall crime prevention strategy. The elimination of all of those programs has been distinctly unhelpful. As we are seeing now in various parts of the country, it has led to a rise in the crime rate.

The member for Surrey North and the member for Newton—North Delta have been raising consistently in this House the number of shootings taking place in Surrey, British Columbia.

As members know, what has happened in Surrey occurred primarily because the current Conservative government did not keep its commitment to put more front-line police officers in place across the country. It failed to keep that commitment. Also, as members well know, what we have is a government that has also actually clawed back from the RCMP. Our front-line police officers now have fewer resources than they used to have to combat drunk driving and other offences, again because the current government seems to want to put money into other things. Maybe it is the Senate; maybe it is special conferences, such as over the last one or two days, that cost a billion dollars. The Conservatives are eager to put money there.

However, when it comes to crime prevention programs, front-line police officers, or adequately funding the RCMP, what we have seen is a woeful lack of responsibility from these Conservatives.

I think that is the reason that in poll after poll, 70% of Canadians say they are finished with these Conservatives. They want nothing more to do with them. They are eagerly awaiting October 19, when they can toss the Conservatives out of office. The Conservatives have proven to be irresponsible at the one policy they said they would be good at.

Yes, there are some bills that may help, such as the bill we are discussing today, but when they cut and slash crime prevention, when they do not keep their commitments around front-line police officers, when they claw back from the RCMP, they are undermining the institutional foundations for actually putting a smart-on-crime strategy into place. The unfortunate victims of those incredibly short-sighted policies and incredibly mean-spirited, foolish, irresponsible approaches to being smart on crime are Canadian families.

When we look at a bill like this, we say, yes, the bill may move us forward. There are weaknesses in the bill that should have been addressed, but this government does not actually accept amendments from the opposition. More importantly, it is not the bill that counts; it is the overall actions. Every single time when the Conservatives had an ability to make the right decision over the last four years, they have chosen to make the wrong decision. Slashing crime prevention was a wrong decision. Refusing to keep a commitment to put front-line police officers into communities like Surrey, British Columbia, where we have seen a marked increase in the number of shootings, was a foolish, wrong decision. Clawing back from the RCMP was a foolish, wrong decision. We have simply seen too many foolish, wrong decisions

We will support the bill today. There is no doubt. However, Canadians who feel who strongly, as I do, that we need to crack down on drunk driving—including at the source, including putting in place smart strategies to educate the public on crime prevention strategies—will have to wait until after October 19 of this year, when we will have a government in place that will do the smart thing, the right thing, in battling crime and reducing the number of victims in this country.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques has eight minutes for his speech.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, although it is always difficult to follow the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, I am pleased to rise in the House to debate Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (blood alcohol content).

First of all I would like to say that I personally will be voting for the bill at third reading stage. However, I feel the need to repeat some of the very eloquent arguments made by the member for Gatineau, the official opposition's justice critic, and the member for Alfred-Pellan. They discussed some very important points that were completely ignored by the Conservative government. That is nothing new, as we have seen this repeatedly over the past four years.

This is a pertinent bill in that the issue of drunk driving is of concern to all Canadians. I am sure that all of us here in the House, and all Canadians, can think of examples of tragic events that have affected us directly or indirectly, within our family or in the community where we live.

Clearly we need harsher penalties for impaired driving, and the offence itself needs to be a more serious one. It was not so long ago that drunk driving was considered a minor offence, simply a car accident. It was not considered a criminal offence. I think that we on this side of the House can be pleased with the progress that has been made since that type of mentality was the norm.

However, there are certain approaches that are reminiscent of the Conservative government's old way of thinking. I am talking about minimum sentences. The hon. member for Gatineau said quite eloquently that such provisions could be counterproductive. For the past four years, the government has been adding minimum sentences to just about every serious offence. When we look at the U.S. experience, it is clear that minimum sentences show a lack of confidence in the judges and the justice system, and that they also come at a high cost to the community because the judges are prevented from taking the context of the offence into account.

When we are talking about drunk driving, the context is hard to deny. Someone who simply drank too much and lacked judgment must be held criminally responsible for his or her actions. However, if we look at all the other offences that have been brought in by this government and that are now subject to minimum sentencing, we can see that minimum sentences are often counterproductive, either because they do not leave room for potential rehabilitation or because they impose a general direction that later becomes automatically adopted. In other words, the minimum sentence becomes a standard, when the circumstances and the context might call for a harsher sentence. The justice system and the judges in whom the government is showing a lack of faith, might be tempted to go with the lowest common denominator, and they do it quite often, as demonstrated, once again, by the U.S. experience.

In that sense, we are opposed to minimum sentences, not because we think that criminals should not receive punishments that fit their crimes, but because the government has repeatedly gone down the wrong track by failing to put faith in our justice system. Once again, I want to make it clear that all of us in the House, or at least those of us on this side, believe that drunk driving is a serious criminal offence that often endangers the lives of others. I imagine those on the government side agree.

I would like to comment on another point raised by my colleague from Gatineau, who knows what she is talking about. Even if we had the strictest justice system in the world, if the government does not give the forces of law and order the resources they need, it will be very difficult to ensure compliance with Parliament's intention. If the RCMP and our police forces in general lack resources, if our legal system and our courts lack resources, we will have a flawed system that does not work well and does not have the technical means to enforce the sentences that fit the crimes.

The typical example that was raised by my colleague from Gatineau is the 50 or so cases where drivers were charged with impaired driving but then let off without ever going to court. Why? Too much time had passed between the time they were arrested and charged and their trial, so the case was thrown out. Is that responsible? No. These people were charged with a serious crime and society did not even have the chance to hear the cases and impose sanctions.

It is all well and good to say that we have tough laws and we want to make them even tougher, but if the legal system does not have the resources it needs, then tougher laws will be completely useless. This looks good on paper. On the surface, we seem to be doing our job, but when it comes right down to it, society is no better off.

Like the member for Prince Albert and the other members who spoke about this bill, I realize that there need to be tougher penalties for impaired drivers and that it should be left to our judges' discretion to impose those penalties. I agree that a person's faculties can be impaired by substances other than alcohol, and that is an issue we could consider.

I truly hope that, as much as possible, the legal system will continue to consider the serious consequences and harm caused by impaired driving in our communities and that sentences for these offences will serve more and more as examples. That is why I will be voting in favour of this bill at third reading.

However, I would have much preferred this bill to come from the government. We have so many private members' bills that should be part of the government's concerted law and order strategy, and impaired driving should be included in that in order to increase prevention and ensure that the issue of sentencing and harsher penalties is part of that established strategy.

I applaud the initiative of the member in question, but I would like to see a more elaborate strategy from the government on this issue. I have not seen that so far, which is unfortunate. Since I applaud the member's initiative, I will be pleased to vote in favour of the bill at third reading.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:18 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)