I will begin by offering congratulations to the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for his passion and commitment to this very significant problem in our society.
He and I have had the privilege of having a number of conversations about the various approaches and concerns he had with respect to impaired driving. He has shared with me some of the stories, as he did today about Kassandra's death, but other things have compelled him to respond with this private member's bill, and I want to commend him for his passion and commitment in bringing this important issue forward.
The social impact of impaired driving in Canada cannot be overstated. We have heard a number of statistics, but it is important to actually break those down into the impact it is having on families and communities across this country.
Each year, on average, nearly 1,500 Canadians lose their lives as a direct result of a decision some Canadian has made to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. That means, on average, that each and every day in this country nearly four people lose their lives, and there are very few families and no communities that have not been impacted by this terrible crime. As has already been stated, impaired driving is the number one leading cause of criminal death in Canada.
As my colleague the member for St. Albert—Edmonton has indicated, we have seen some improvement over the past number of decades in societal condemnation and in the number of impaired drivers we see; but there is so much more work to be done.
It is important to reflect on why we have seen some of those reductions. I was actually a young police officer in 1979 when the first roadside screening program was established in the city of Toronto, the RIDE program, which is now “reduce impaired driving everywhere” but began as “reduce impaired driving in Etobicoke”. As young police officers, we were sent out with the task of randomly pulling over vehicles on the street to determine if their drivers had been drinking and driving.
That program had two very important purposes. The first purpose was to detect the people who were driving impaired and to hold them responsible for their conduct. However, perhaps most importantly and most impactfully, it had the effect of sending a very clear message about society's condemnation of impaired driving, the seriousness with which we as a society and our police and courts took this offence. It also created a stronger impression among the population that this was a crime, a crime that would be dealt with effectively, a crime where we would increase the likelihood of detection, where there was a greater certainty of consequences and that those consequences would be significant and serious enough to deter that criminal behaviour.
We have also seen some additional tools and technologies that have enhanced our ability to be more effective in those roadside stops. For example, many years ago, roadside screening devices were developed that enabled police officers to administer a test on the basis of reasonable suspicion of those people who we believed had been consuming alcohol prior to operating a motor vehicle.
If I may, I will explain to my colleagues a little bit how that is done. I actually got a fair bit of experience at roadside RIDE spot checks as a police officer in Toronto. I think for the last 20 years, I have spent every New Year's Eve standing along the roadway with a number of other police officers pulling over cars.
When we do that, as a car is going through the spot check, the police officer will stop the driver and make certain observations and certain inquiries. Among the observations, the officer will will try to detect the scent of alcohol on the driver or glassy eyes or slurred speech. We would ask those drivers if they had been drinking alcohol.
If we make observations that cause us to be suspicious that the driver has been consuming alcohol—and it has to be a reasonable suspicion, not a mere suspicion but not at the level of reasonable, probable grounds—police officers are empowered in law to make a demand for the driver to submit to a roadside screening test, the consequences of which can lead to other things I will speak of. However, because we stop literally thousands of cars in an evening in this way, the opportunity to detect if the individual has been consuming alcohol is somewhat limited.
The experience of police officers across this country in conducting those all important random stops has been that people do not not admit to having consumed alcohol or the signs of consumption are not obvious. We know that many people avoid detection, notwithstanding the enormous amount of resources and effort being put into making a difference in our communities. It is quite obvious to those of us who have worked out on the streets in our communities and seen the carnage, seen the impact it has on families, seen the literally thousands of people who have lost loved ones to impaired driving, that we must do more.
Our current court system is processing nearly 60,000 criminal cases each and every year related to impaired driving. In addition to that, there are literally tens of thousands of injuries as a result of the decision that some people make to drink and drive. We must do more. The private member's bill brought forward by my friend from Mississauga—Streetsville gives the police authorities one more tool to enable them to do their job.
Bill C-247 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to specifically authorize the police to use a device referred to as a passive detection device, often referred to as a passive alcohol sensor, at the roadside in an effort to better detect impaired drivers. These sensors are able to detect alcohol in the ambient air. It does not require that the driver blow into a machine. It can provide police officers with a reasonable suspicion that would enable them to make a demand for a roadside screening device to be administered.
Not two weeks ago there was another private member's bill brought forward in this House by the hon. member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. In that bill, he made a number of very important proposals. Many members, representing all parties, stood in this House to express their concern about the need to do more with respect to impaired driving. I would submit that the private member's bill that we are speaking to today is along very similar lines. It is one additional and important tool that may enable us to keep our communities safe.
Historically, there have been a number of things that we know can make a difference in preventing crime in our society. One of the most significant things that we can do as a society is to increase the likelihood of detection and conviction for those who would choose to commit a crime. We know that the offence of impaired driving often goes undetected even at roadside screening sites where the police are randomly stopping cars. We know that the proposed private member's bill would increase the likelihood of detection.
We also know it is important to reinforce societal condemnation of impaired driving. We can do that through public education. We can do it by advising people of the risks and consequences of driving impaired. I can give an example of when the increased likelihood of detection and consequences made a real difference to the safety of our communities.
In many jurisdictions across this country, drivers under the age of 21 are required to drive free of all alcohol and are subject to administrative suspension if they choose to drink and drive. The likelihood of consequences at the roadside screening events has had a very significant effect on drivers under 21 right across this country choosing not to drink and drive. It has changed the societal attitudes among those young people about drinking and driving and has made our roadways safer. Anything that we can do to improve the decisions that people make about not drinking and driving will make our roadways safer.
In the limited time that I have, I also want to make some reference to the other important element of Bill C-247, which proposes to change the name of two impaired driving offences. This bill proposes to rename two impaired driving offences, specifically the offence of impaired driving causing death and the offence of “over 80” causing death, to vehicular homicide as a result of impairment. I think there is cause to consider both of these recommendations. I look forward to having the opportunity to bring this matter before the justice committee for further discussion.
I believe it is very important that this House do everything possible to respond to the tragedies that families and communities have experienced as a result of impaired driving.
I want to take a final opportunity to commend the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for his commitment, and I want to assure him of all our commitment to do everything possible to make our roadways safer for all of our citizens.