Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for this excellent bill.
I am pleased to be speaking in favour of it.
I have appreciated the opportunity to hear from the different members speaking to the bill already. It sounds like there is substantial consensus in this House to move the bill forward to the committee stage. I look forward to the continuing debate at that stage.
There are many provisions in the bill that address the significant problem of impaired driving in this country. I want to focus on one of the provisions, in particular, in my remarks today, one of the provisions that I think is the most transformative about the bill. It is the introduction of mandatory screening.
I know there has been some debate back and forth that I have had informally with members around what the provision means, in terms of public safety, as well as in terms of civil liberties. I am going to argue, today, that a policy of mandatory screening does not violate civil liberties. Frankly, even if it did, it would be justified on the basis of the lives that would be saved by requiring mandatory screening.
Just by way of brief introduction right now, of course, the way the law works is that people can be pulled over, they can be asked if they have been drinking, and they can be asked to take a Breathalyzer if an officer feels that there is some basis to believe that they have been drinking or may be impaired.
There are concerns that this requirement for there to be some kind of an indication of impairment beforehand reduces the deterrence factor, reduces the chances that someone will be caught. There are a number of bills that have been proposed to try to address this. There is a bill before Parliament that I think is an interesting measure, as well, that I am inclined to support if it goes part way, in terms of allowing the use of a passive detection device to determine if there is alcohol in the car and, on that basis, to conduct screening.
However, the simplest way of ensuring the greatest possible deterrence, of catching impaired drivers, is through a system of mandatory screening, which says that anybody who is pulled over can be asked to take a breath test and, on that basis, then an assessment can be made as to whether or not they are impaired.
This is clear, it is simple but, yes, it raises some debate around the question of civil liberties. I want to talk about the issues of civil liberties in the context of mandatory screening and, specifically, make three distinct arguments about the value of mandatory screening.
The first argument I want to highlight is that driving is not a right. The definition of civil liberties, and I looked this up on dictionary.com and I think it is pretty good, is that civil liberties are:
the freedom of a citizen to exercise customary rights, as of speech or assembly, without unwarranted or arbitrary interference by the government.
Civil liberties only exist when they are applied to activities that individuals have a fundamental right to.
Inferring some violation of civil liberties in the context of mandatory screening would be to infer that individuals have a right to drive, which, of course, they do not. I think other colleagues have already made the point that there are many requirements we have associated with driving already that would not be permissible if we inferred that there was some kind of a right to drive.
The argument that brings civil liberties into this particular discussion, the implied idea that there is a right to drive, actually has very dangerous implications for various other aspects of the way our public safety system works around driving.
There is not a right to drive. Inferring a right to drive creates problems and, insofar as there is not a right to drive, then it is reasonable to require, as a condition of driving, that individuals be willing to provide a breath sample. That is not a violation of their civil liberties, again, insofar as there is not a right to drive.
The second point I want to make is that the current system presents greater potential inconveniences to drivers than mandatory screening.
Mandatory screening is very clear. It is very predictable. Individuals know that they can be expected to blow and that at a check-stop, individuals will all then presumably be asked to blow, and it is a quick, it is a clear, it is a predictable process.
The current system is more unpredictable, where individuals are asked questions first and it varies depending on what inference the police officer may draw in that particular case. As much as some individuals may not want to have to blow, the inconvenience factor is, I would argue, lessened in a system of mandatory screening because there is a certainty, there is a predictability, there is a process in place that individuals can rely on, and it really maximizes the deterrence factor. Nobody is going to think they can talk their way out of it or that they can avoid being tested in this way, because there is a certainty there. Therefore, it maximizes deterrence and of course public safety.
The third point that I want to emphasize is that lives are very much at stake in this debate. In the last Parliament, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights studied this issue and recommended the implementation of mandatory screening. The reason it did so, in large part, is that countries which have implemented mandatory screening have witnessed a significant decrease in the number of recorded road deaths every year. Since impaired driving is, in fact, the leading cause of criminal death in Canada, this is particularly important.
We are talking about real lives saved and real lives affected. Part of why I wanted to speak to the bill, in particular, is that, while I was door knocking, I had a lengthy conversation with a family in my riding whose daughter was permanently disabled as a result of the actions of a drunk driver. Of course, we all know these things happen, but it brings it home to all of us in a particular way when we have the opportunity to speak to constituents who have had these kinds of experiences.
Simply knowing that a system of mandatory screening could prevent that kind of suffering, not in every case, perhaps, but for some families in the future, makes me feel very strongly about the importance of having a system of mandatory screening. To balance the potential theoretical concerns, but not really concerns, about civil liberties against the concrete idea of human life and happiness at stake here, we should err on the side of protecting human life and reducing suffering instead of this incorrect assertion of a procedural civil liberty.
In general, when we look at the balance of human life and protection of society versus rights, we have to think about the origin of rights. Rights have, in my view, two possible origins. One origin would be nature and the other would be custom. There are certain rights that come from the very nature of who and what we are, but there are other rights that are the result of custom and social agreement. We agree to accord certain rights to others on the basis of what is conducive to the happiness and good function of society, and generally speaking, though not in every case, our concept of civil liberties would fall into the concept of having their origins in custom as opposed to in nature.
We have the opportunity to describe and define the contours of these customary rights and I would argue that we should not seek to extend the ambit of customary rights in a way that leads to an increase in human suffering. The way we think about and describe rights that emanate not so much from nature but from custom should be with a view to what is good for society, what is good for human happiness and human flourishing. It would be perverse to come up with a doctrine of rights that we knew led to more human suffering, more loss of life, since the very purpose of rights should be with an orientation toward human flourishing.
These are what I see as the substantive arguments in favour of a system of mandatory screening. There is no such thing as a right to drive. Further, the creation of a right to drive creates additional risks to human life and human happiness. A system of mandatory screening provides additional benefits in terms of convenience and predictability for drivers. Also, fundamentally, lives are at stake. By understanding civil liberties as not precluding mandatory screening, Parliament can make a choice to significantly reduce the number of deaths associated with drunk driving.
That is our job first and foremost. Our job is to think about how we can save and protect lives, and the happiness and well-being of Canadians.
I congratulate my colleague on this excellent legislation. I look forward to supporting it.