Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for her constructive input.
At the same time, for the reasons that follow, we will be encouraging all members to vote down the amendment and to vote for the bill in its current form.
I also just want to take a moment to address some of the comments that were raised by my hon. colleagues from the Conservative opposition. I would encourage them to read the bill very carefully, because imbedded within some of those questions were, at a minimum, some inaccurate assumptions about mandatory minimum penalties as they apply to the impaired driving regime, as well as whether or not we have the sufficient technology to test for impairment as we usher in a new era with regard to the strict regulation of cannabis. Obviously by doing so and by reflecting on the language of that bill carefully, my hope is that we will elevate debate in this House, in the interest of keeping our roads safe while at the same time safeguarding individual liberties.
It is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The bill will bring about the most important changes addressing alcohol and drug impaired driving since 1969 when Parliament enacted the offence of driving with a blood alcohol concentration exceeding 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, and authorized the police to demand a breath sample on an approved instrument.
Today, I will focus my remarks on the proposal in the bill that would authorize a police officer to demand a breath sample from any driver without needing to suspect that the driver had alcohol in their body. In Bill C-46, this is called mandatory alcohol screening, as members have heard. The enforcement tool was pioneered by Australia more than 30 years ago. It has now spread to New Zealand, the European Union, and dozens of other countries.
Since then, mandatory alcohol screening has been widely credited with dramatically reducing rates of impaired driving and saving many thousands of lives, as the member herself acknowledged.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights had considered mandatory alcohol screening when it held hearings on alcohol impaired driving in 2008 and 2009. In its 2009 report entitled, “Ending Alcohol-impaired Driving: A common approach”, the standing committee unanimously recommended that random roadside breath testing be put in place.
During its extensive hearings on Bill C-46, the standing committee heard numerous witnesses on the subject of mandatory alcohol screening. Professor Robert Solomon, who has written many articles on mandatory alcohol screening, as well eminent constitutional scholars like Professor Peter Hogg spoke in favour of mandatory alcohol screening.
Representatives of the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressed some concerns with mandatory alcohol screening.
The standing committee also heard from Australian experts about how mandatory alcohol screening works in that country, and its effectiveness in reducing deaths and injuries.
I believe it is fair to say that the arguments of opponents to mandatory alcohol screening were based partly on their claim that it is not needed in Canada, as our current system of roadside screening based on suspicion is just as effective and that mandatory alcohol screening would have a disproportionate effect on visible minorities.
With respect to the effectiveness of Canada's current suspicion-based system, it is important not only to look at the reductions in impaired driving that have occurred in Canada over the past 20 or 30 years, but also to consider Canada's alcohol impaired driving laws and how they fare when compared to other countries. The comparison is grim.
As Professor Solomon told the standing committee:
Our current law has left Canada with one of the worst impaired driving records among comparable countries. Consistent with earlier studies, the United States Centers for Disease Control reported that Canada had the highest percentage of alcohol-related crash deaths among 20 high-income countries in 2013. Although Canadians drink considerably less than their counterparts, they're much more likely to die in an alcohol-related crash. For example, Canada’s per capita rate of alcohol-related crash deaths is almost five times that of Germany, even though Canadians consume 33% less alcohol. They drink more, we die more.
The laws in these other countries do a far better job than the laws in Canada of separating drinking from driving. Not coincidentally, 17 of those 19 countries have comprehensive mandatory alcohol screening programs.
These are the words of Professor Solomon, not any parliamentarian, a respected scholar.
Professor Solomon pointed out to the committee that the experience of other countries shows that going from suspicion-based roadside screening to mandatory screening has had a significant effect in reducing impaired driving deaths and injuries. He stated:
The assertion that there is no direct evidence that mandatory alcohol screening is better than selective breath testing, the system we currently have, is simply false. The sharp decreases in fatal crashes that occurred in Queensland, Western Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland occurred after those jurisdictions moved from selective breath testing to mandatory alcohol screening, exactly what would occur in Canada if the mandatory alcohol screening provisions in Bill C-46 were enacted.
Again, those were the words of Professor Solomon.
The standing committee also heard from Dr. Barry Watson of Queensland University of Technology. Dr. Watson explained the evolution of impaired driving legislation in Queensland and the effect of various countermeasures. Queensland introduced breath testing in the late 1960s, as did Canada. Queensland then introduced a program called reduced impaired driving, or RID. The police could randomly pull over other drivers, but could only breath test those they suspected of drinking. This is the system we currently have in Canada.
Finally, Queensland introduced mandatory alcohol screening in 1988. Dr. Watson's evidence strongly supports that mandatory alcohol screening is more effective than suspicion-based alcohol screening. He told the standing committee, “the introduction of random breath testing was associated with a further 18% decline in fatalities over and above what was the case when the sobriety checkpoint program was in place.” We can and must do better than we are, and I submit we should follow the example of these other jurisdictions that have been most successful in reducing the painful toll taken by alcohol-impaired driving. That means adopting mandatory alcohol screening.
More troubling is the concern expressed by several witnesses that mandatory alcohol screening would lead to racial profiling. This is a concern that we all share. We all know that there have been well-documented cases of police forces disproportionately carding or pulling over persons of colour. As my colleague made mention, there are indeed concerning statistics with respect to the overrepresentation of our indigenous and racialized communities in our jails. Let me be clear. Racial profiling is an abuse of police power. It is unacceptable. However, there is nothing in Bill C-46 that condones or promotes racial profiling.
Our government was aware that this criticism had been levelled at the provision authorizing mandatory alcohol screening in a former private member's bill, Bill C-226. Consequently, our government, in Bill C-46, proposed to specify that a police officer can only make a demand as follows:
in the course of the lawful exercise of powers under an Act of Parliament or an Act of a provincial legislature or arising at common law....
I pause to emphasize that passage, because it underscores that our government places a great value in ensuring that all law enforcement, and indeed all law state actors, exercise their powers in accordance with the law and the charter.
For further clarity, our government supports the introduction of an amendment to the bill's preamble, which serves as an interpretive aid for our courts. The amendment, which was adopted at committee, stated, “it is important that law enforcement officers...exercise investigative powers in a manner that is consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.
Let me take a moment to refer to one last example of how this technology and these standards are working in other jurisdictions. The experience of Ireland supports the opinion of other witnesses who have testified, and other experts. There was an increase of about 10% in charges in the first year after Ireland introduced mandatory alcohol screening, but the number of charges have decreased steadily since then as Irish drivers have become aware of the new law. In fact, the number of charges in Ireland fell by almost 65% in the 10 years following the introduction of mandatory screening.
I believe that our courts will be able to cope with any increase in charges, because many provisions in Bill C-46 would address issues that have been causing delay, particularly with respect to disclosure, proof of blood alcohol concentration, the elimination of the bolus drinking defence, and restriction of the intervening drink defence.
In closing, I want to again thank my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for her remarks. They were thoughtful, careful, and balanced. However, even she conceded that there is a good faith attempt here to strike the balance between the need to keep our roads safe while at the same time respecting an individual's charter rights. I encourage her to support the bill.