Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate and thank the hon. member for his commitment to ensuring that Canadians are kept safe and deterred from drinking and driving.
I too believe that we must continue to ensure that Canadians do not drink and drive while protecting them against having to experience what it is like to be injured or lose loved ones due to a drunk driver.
I am also a victim of drunk driving. I sympathize with other Canadians who have lost family and loved ones to drunk driving. In 1972, my father and four other family members and friends were killed by a drunk driver in India. My father was a young successful businessman, who to this day is remembered throughout the country. When he was killed, our family's future was thrown into uncertainty. Our grief was at times unbearable. I had lost one of the most important people in my life. I do not want any Canadian to have to experience this loss and pain. However, this legislation does not do much to address my concerns.
I agree that there needs to be more strategic enforcement and educational campaigns to make sure that we protect Canadians, their families, and friends, but our approach must be based on evidence or we will have done little to prevent future suffering. I am sure that the bill will succeed at one thing, which is that it would put too many Canadians in prison.
I recognize that the bill provides hope to some victims that it will prevent impaired driving. From what I know, the only thing that the bill will provide is hope. It will have little impact on the future prevention of impaired driving.
According to this legislation, the accused would face an automatic mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days imprisonment for a first offence, 120 days for a second offence, one year for a third offence, and two years for any subsequent offences. The bill outlines that these sentences would apply to anyone who is found to have operated a vehicle while impaired in any degree, by alcohol or a drug or a combination of both. The decision for a conviction teeters on the ability to prove a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood.
I will begin with why the bill is not the solution that we need to protect Canadians against the potentially traumatic outcomes from drinking and driving.
First, the bill proposes persecution of suspected impaired drivers by using mandatory minimum sentences. We must not forget that it is clearly stated in subsection 11(d), “Proceedings in criminal and penal matters” of the charter, that:
Any person charged with an offence has the right:
(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.
The mandatory minimums that Bill C-226 would impose will remove the ability of our judiciary to ensure that the accused is provided with a fair and public hearing by an independent tribunal. Instead, conclusive proof would be taken out of the hands of a judge, and all evidence for conviction will be replaced by outcomes of a breathalyzer and the peace officer or technician who is operating it.
The use of breathalyzers is known to have provided less than 100% proof of impaired driving. A 2011 study in British Columbia found that roadside breathalyzers were wrong in 14 out of 174 roadside suspensions. This would mean under the bill that these fourteen persons would have little recourse, as the device reading would be the only conclusive evidence needed to brand them instantly guilty.
Second, this legislation fails to ensure that the rights of Canadians are upheld according to the charter. The fact is that the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that mandatory minimums like those proposed here are unconstitutional and would endanger our justice system.
According to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of R. v. Nur, on April 14, 2015, mandatory minimums were challenged under Section 12 of the charter, which states:
Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
This is because using mandatory minimums will set the precedent for reasonably foreseeable applications in other cases unrelated to impaired driving that would result in cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.
We should be wary of mandatary minimums because, as the Supreme Court stated, “Imposing such a sentence would 'undermine society’s expectations of fairness in the administration of justice'”.
There is further evidence provided by the Canadian Department of Justice in its study titled “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures” that mandatory minimums are ineffective specifically as a deterrent, especially against impaired driving.
The report states that:
Overall, the evidence in this area holds out more hope for vigorous law enforcement and the certainty of punishment than for tough sentences. Studies indicate that [mandatory minimums] and sanctions of increasing severity do not reduce recidivism rates or alcohol-related accidents.
The proposed use of mandatory minimums by this bill is only a Band-Aid solution that does not take into account the whole picture. Instead of helping Canadians, it would jeopardize the fundamental rights of everyone and do nothing to prevent future impaired driving or recidivism. We should be focusing on bringing impaired drivers to justice through more vigilant oversight and using the most effective means based on evidence.
Through the continued evaluation of legal and social approaches, along with educational campaigns to prevent impaired driving, we can continue to save lives while maintaining justice.
I speak in this House to ensure that we are doing our best for Canada and Canadians. Unfortunately, this bill falls short of our best. I ask my colleagues and fellow members of this House to continue to work together to create evidence-based laws that will bring impaired drivers to justice and ensure a safer future for all Canadians.
After the tragedy in our family in 1972, to this day, I struggle to understand why an individual gets behind the wheel after drinking, to cause enormous suffering for the family and friends of innocent victims. I stand with other Canadians who have had to suffer, but I can support this bill with amendments.