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.