Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-226, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. I want to thank him and congratulate him. He has a great passion for fighting impaired driving in our country. That was very evident in his comments today before the House. I am very honoured to get up and say a few words on his behalf and on behalf of the legislation.
I also want to thank him for mentioning our colleague, the Hon. Peter MacKay, who was moving forward on a number of these things. The justice agenda is always very busy and very challenging, but certainly that was one of the issues that he was dealing with as well.
I am glad my colleague now has the bill before the House. The bill would amend the Criminal Code on offences in relation to conveyances and would be known as the impaired driving act.
As we are aware, drinking and driving remains a serious social problem in this country. As has already been indicated, approximately 1,200 to 1,500 motorists, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians are killed annually as a result of impaired driving.
In addition to that, there is a tremendous human and social cost of impaired driving. It is estimated that an additional 70,000 lives per year are affected by drinking and driving. Factors such as property damage, physical injuries, and psychological injuries such as PTSD cost an estimated $20 billion a year.
It is not just the statistics that we are talking about or worried about; it is the individual tragedies that take place when people are victims of impaired driving. Many of us can recall loved ones or friends who have lost their lives at the hands of a drunk driver. I know many will remember the heart-rending story of 20-year-old Francis Pesa, who had his young life cut tragically short on New Year's Day in 2014 when an impaired driver crossed the centre line and sideswiped his vehicle.
Francis was an aspiring accountant who had just returned to Calgary two hours earlier from travelling to his native Philippines. He had gone there to help the victims of the devastating typhoon that had ravaged that country. This young man was deprived of realizing his goal of having a rewarding, successful career through which he could contribute to his community and to his nation. He will never know the joy of having a spouse, children, or grandchildren. His family and friends have been robbed of a loved one and will be forever affected by this tragedy. Canada lost a productive citizen whose hopes and dreams will never be fulfilled.
According to Professor Robert Solomon, a law professor at Western University, the national director of legal policy at MADD, and an individual I met on a number of occasions, drunk driving is the number one criminal cause of death in the country. We are all affected by it.
I remember very clearly years ago when very early one morning there was a knock at our front door. It turned out the woman at the door was my wife's cousin. She was in tears, and conveyed to us the terrible news that my wife's aunt, Armida McIntosh, had been killed by a drunk driver. She was on the Niagara Parkway returning home one night when her car was slammed head-on by a car that was filled with a number of young men who had been drinking and were now driving. There are very few people in the country who could say they are not touched one way or another by impaired driving.
The House has a duty to send a message and a warning to those who choose to drink and drive, and that is simply, “Do not do it. Do not take the chance, because there is legislation in place that increases the penalties and the consequences.” The measure we have today, Bill C-226, would carry with it a mandatory five-year sentence for impaired driving causing death, with a maximum sentence of 25 years. In cases where more than one life was lost, justices would be able to apply consecutive sentences.
I am very much appreciative of that provision, which would ensure that no victim is left unanswered or unaccounted for.
I am pleased as well to see the maximum sentence for impaired driving would increase from 10 years to 14 years. These are deterrents. They send out a clear message that I believe would result in fewer Canadians losing their lives at the hands of drunk drivers.
I noticed that the parliamentary secretary mentioned in his comments one of the aspects of the Tackling Violent Crime Act of 2008. I was very honoured to be justice minister at the time that measure was introduced.
One of the issues that was directly tackled was, again, the two-beer defence. This was a defence that was becoming more and more common and more and more challenging. In the two-beer defence, individuals would bring a couple of their friends into court to testify that their colleague only had two beers, so the test must be wrong. I was very pleased that this was something that we curbed at that time.
It was a step in the right direction, and I believe that what we are talking about here is a step in the right direction because, as I pointed out, 1,200 to 1,500 people lose their lives in this country, and the number of people who are affected by drunk driving and hurt by it is exponential to that number.
We have a solemn responsibility as lawmakers to protect the citizens of this great nation of ours and to make sure there are serious consequences for those who risk the lives of others by drinking and driving, so I ask my colleagues in the House to band together in sober thought and take action again to deter drinking and driving in Canada by further strengthening the present legislation and supporting Bill C-226.