Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address such a complex and pressing initiative, as my friend the parliamentary secretary has also indicated.
Let me say at the outset that we firmly believe there needs to be future consideration of the bill, and I look forward to working with members of all parties to advance the debate on the need for a comprehensive, effective response to impaired driving that all of our communities so desperately need.
I stand with my colleague, the member for Jonquière. She and the Lac-Saint-Jean community have also seen preventable tragedies.
She told me the story of Johanny Simard, who was killed by a repeat drunk driver one month before her 16th birthday. She also told me the story of Mathieu Perron and Vanessa Viger. This young married couple in their twenties were expecting their second child when they were killed instantly by a repeat drunk driver who was behind the wheel of a speeding truck. Their son Patrick, who was in the back seat, was only two years old. He died in hospital shortly thereafter.
I would like to thank my colleague from Jonquière for her help on this file. I would also like to thank her for seeking justice, finding solutions for the future, and helping me to understand what her community has gone through.
However, they are not alone. Far too many Canadians have friends or family members who have been injured or even killed by impaired drivers. Just last month, in a case to which the parliamentary secretary also made reference, there was a case involving a gentleman north of Toronto. Justice Michelle Fuerst wrote in her decision something I wish to quote:
The sad reality is that the sentence I impose today will not make whole the families who lost three children and their grandfather, nor will it return a grandmother and great-grandmother to good health. While the criminal justice system can deter and denounce, it is ill-suited to make reparation for harm of the magnitude involved in this case.
Neither judges nor lawmakers can make these families whole again. However, as parliamentarians we can and must work against the next tragedy. Somewhere in our communities is the next victim of impaired driving.
We owe it to them and to their families to rededicate ourselves to the task of finding the most effective measures to finally put an end to impaired driving on our roads. They are counting on us not to give in to the temptation to simply talk tough in the wake of these tragedies. They are counting on us to stop the next crash, the next injury, the next death. That means having the debate our country needs, founded on the evidence, guided by the lessons of other jurisdictions, and focused on effective deterrence. It is time we measured our progress not in years served but in lives saved.
Let us consider some facts.
Successive federal governments have increased the penalties for impaired driving offenses: in 1985, 1999, 2000 and 2008.
For 16 years, the law has set life imprisonment as the maximum punishment for impaired driving causing death, and 10 years imprisonment for causing bodily harm. The average prison term for such crimes has lengthened, and the percentage of offenders receiving custodial sentences has risen.
What effect has this had on the rate of impaired driving? If we look at the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, we see that Canada made incredible strides between 1985 and 2000, cutting the rate of impaired driving incidents in half. However, after 2000 progress stalled.
Six years ago, the Standing Committee on Justice completed its study on impaired driving. It showed that in 2006, the latest year for which data is available, saw more Canadians killed by impaired driving than in any year since 1998 and the third consecutive annual increase in fatalities.
That report stated:
...impaired driving remains the number one criminal cause of death in Canada...despite our collective best efforts and intentions, it is apparent that the problem of impaired driving is worsening in Canada and we are losing ground in our efforts to eliminate the problem.
Those words remain true today.
More recent data available to us now shows that the problem continued to worsen after 2009. Why is this so?
Let me turn to a review of the evidence by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for answers. They say the media, politicians, and others often argue for increased sentences as a means of deterring both the offender and others who might otherwise engage in the conduct. However, research during the last 35 years establishes that increasing penalties for impaired driving does not, in itself, have a significant specific or general deterrence impact. Rather, the evidence indicates that the risk of apprehension and, to a lesser extent, the swiftness with which the sanction is imposed are the key factors in deterrence.
This seems counterintuitive to many, but consider this: people drive impaired, even though they know it could kill them. If they can ignore that ultimate penalty, what chance does the distant threat of a jail term stand?
The evidence marshalled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, based on numerous studies from Canada and abroad over a span of decades, led to this stark conclusion:
...lengthy prison terms cannot be justified in the name of specific or general deterrence and may even be counterproductive in terms of recidivism.
This evidence raises specific concerns about efficacy of the sentencing reforms proposed by my colleague in the bill, not to mention the vulnerability of new mandatory minimums to charter challenge.
However, the bill has two other goals, and it is for these and the urgency of its basic objective that I support further debate and study of the bill.
First, the bill would restrict some of the more dubious legal defences that contribute to Canada's distressingly low charge and conviction rate for impaired driving. My colleagues have spoken about those.
The second is that the bill would introduce random breath testing for drivers. This is a measure that has been proposed before in this House and adopted by many OECD countries, reportedly with considerable success in reducing the incidence of impaired driving. I know from my own discussions with legal and law enforcement communities that it has its supporters but also its critics. However, in the face of continuing tragedies like what we have heard about in Lac Saint-Jean, I cannot justify denying further study in this House of that potential successful measure.
These and other provisions deserve study because we know that simply raising the penalties for the fifth time in three decades is not enough, and it will not do it. We need more than new laws that happen to be appearing in our Criminal Code. We need well-trained, well-supported police officers on our roads. We need collaboration with the provinces and territories. We need smarter investigative tools, so that families are not denied justice by a technicality. We need to study the penalties that are already in place to see what works and what does not. We need to assess the technology to detect drug-impaired driving as well.
In closing, I know that every member shares our commitment to the objective of the bill, which is to save lives by deterring and ending impaired driving. This has been the goal of many studies, bills, and laws that have been passed in this place before.
I look forward to working with all members to study the bill and measure it against the standards of comprehensiveness, practicality, efficacy, and constitutionality. We owe it to the families I spoke of when I began, and countless others across Canada, who have suffered a tragic and preventable loss, to hold ourselves to high standards, to move past half measures, and to find the most effective solutions to regain the ground we have lost over the last decade in the fight to end impaired driving.