Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis and thanking him for his work on this issue. It is an extremely important issue and we obviously support the intent of this bill.
I am pleased to join the second reading debate on private member's Bill C-226.
Bill C-226 proposes significant reforms to the Criminal Code provisions related to impaired driving.
Sadly, impaired driving remains the leading criminal cause of death in Canada. It has been a plague on society for nearly a century. The recent case in Toronto, in which Mr. Muzzo was sentenced to 10 years after killing three children and their grandfather, once again focused attention on impaired driving and the devastation it causes.
I believe that we can all agree that Parliament must do what we can in order to combat this crime, which continues to kill more than 1,000 Canadians every year and to injure many thousands more, often inflicting catastrophic injuries.
To end impaired driving, we need a concerted effort on the part of individuals, families, provinces and territories, the hospitality industry, advocacy organizations, schools, health professionals, and addiction service providers. I submit that Parliament needs to be a part of this effort. Therefore, I thank the hon. member for bringing this issue to the attention of the House through Bill C-226.
This is a very complex bill. The proposals represent a significant change to the laws on impaired driving and driving offences in general.
Under Bill C-226, the Criminal Code driving provisions, including impaired driving and over-80 driving offences, would be repealed and reintroduced in a brand new part of the Criminal Code.
This would not be the first time that Parliament has considered the problem of impaired driving. In fact, Parliament has a long history of trying to deal with the problem of drinking and driving.
In 1921, Parliament first addressed the issue by enacting the crime of driving while intoxicated. In 1925, Parliament enacted the offence of driving while impaired by a drug. In 1951, Parliament replaced the offence of driving while intoxicated with driving while impaired. Later, in 1969, Parliament enacted a new offence that reflected developments in the area of forensic breath testing. This is the offence of driving with a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
This offence is commonly called “driving over 80”. It is a criminal offence separate and distinct from the crime of driving while impaired. It applies whether or not the driver exhibits bad driving or signs of impairment.
The actual measurement of blood alcohol content is carried out on an approved instrument, often referred to as a breathalyzer, typically at the police station. The breath testing is done by a police officer who is specially trained as a qualified technician to operate the approved instrument.
The Attorney General of Canada lists new approved instruments in a ministerial order after considering the advice of the Alcohol Test Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. The Canadian Society of Forensic Science is a non-governmental scientific body, and its committee is composed of very dedicated forensic scientists who, voluntarily and without remuneration, evaluate breath-testing equipment against the committee's published standards. The Alcohol Test Committee then provides its advice to the Attorney General of Canada for her consideration.
In 1979, Parliament authorized the use of the approved screening device at the roadside. The roadside screening device permits police officers to screen drivers for alcohol consumption. If a driver registers a fail on the roadside screening device, the police officer would have reasonable grounds to believe an over-80 crime has been committed. This belief is required in order to make the demand for a test on the approved instrument back at the police station.
It is only the result on the approved instrument that can be used in court to prove the over-80 offence. Despite Parliament's efforts to bring clarity to this area of the law, the impaired driving regime remains the most heavily litigated area of criminal law.
One of the areas that receives significant court attention relates to the issue of proving blood alcohol content. Parliament enacted a rebuttable presumption that the blood alcohol concentration at the time of testing is presumed to be the same at the time of driving in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. The courts came to accept a defence strategy whereby the accused and one or two friends would testify to minimal consumption of alcohol. The defence would then ask an expert to calculate what the blood alcohol concentration would have been at the time of driving based on the testimony of the accused. This calculation, unsurprisingly, would be under 80, and therefore, it rebutted the presumption, leaving the prosecution no other way to prove the over-80 offence. This stratagem became known as the two-beer defence.
This defence was severely limited in 2008 by the Tackling Violent Crime Act. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of the R. v. St-Onge Lamoureux, upheld the key elements of that legislation. Now, in order to raise the defence, the accused must first show that the approved instrument was not working correctly or that it was not operated properly. Evidence of the amount a person drank is not by itself evidence that the approved instrument was malfunctioning.
This has had the effect of greatly reducing trial time by reducing the number of cases where the defence challenges the accuracy of the approved instrument's analysis of blood alcohol concentration. It is important to note that modern approved instruments are very sophisticated with internal checks that ensure they are working properly.
Despite these changes in 2008, I am given to understand that there remain significant challenges with proving blood alcohol concentration in the courts. I wish, therefore, to focus my remarks on the measures proposed by Bill C-226 with respect to proving blood alcohol concentration, which I believe respond to the St-Onge decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Bill C-226 proposes to replace the current rebuttable presumption with respect to blood alcohol concentration with a provision that states that blood alcohol concentration is conclusively proven if three conditions are met: the approved instrument was in proper working order; there were two tests 15 minutes apart; and the two tests had results within 20 milligrams of one another.
Of course, this raises the question: How is it proven that the approved instrument was in proper working order? Bill C-226 proposes that the instrument is considered to be in proper working order if the qualified technician complied with the operational procedures recommended from time to time by the Alcohol Test Committee.
I note as well that the bill seeks to eliminate the defence of bolus drinking, sometimes called the drinking and dashing defence, where the driver consumes a large amount of alcohol just before driving and claims that although his or her blood alcohol concentration was over 80 at the time of testing, the alcohol was still being absorbed at the time of driving and he or she was under 80 when driving.
The bill also proposes to limit the intervening drink defence, where the driver drinks after being stopped by the police but before the driver provides a breath sample. In that situation, the driver claims he or she was under 80 at the time of driving and it is the post-driving drinking that put the driver over the limit. Bill C-226 would limit this defence to situations where the driver has no objective reason to think that the police would make a demand for a breath sample.
There is much more in this bill than I am able to convey in my allotted time. It is a significant piece of legislation proposing substantial reforms to the area of impaired driving and transportation offences in general. I look forward to listening to the continued debate on the bill and for a discussion of many of the other elements which are proposed.