Mr. Speaker, nothing could be more important than the bill before the House today, Bill C-46, which deals with changes to the impaired driving laws in Canada to deal with not only drug impairment but increased sanctions on those who drive while impaired by alcohol. The NDP has long stood for improving this through legislation, smarter deterrence to deal with the tragedies taking place on our roadsides every day.
Professor Robert Solomon testified at the justice committee, which I had the honour to sit on during the testimony for most of this. He has long acted for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and put it very well. He said, “It's difficult to see how anyone can credibly make that claim”, the claim that the Criminal Lawyer's Association and others have made that mandatory alcohol testing is not necessary. He says:
...impairment-related crashes kill about 1,000 Canadians a year, injure almost another 60,000 more, a disproportionate percentage of whom are teenagers and young adults....Our current law has left Canada with one of the worst impaired driving records among comparable countries.
The enormity of the problem with which the bill is attempting to grapple is not lost upon us. However, we have great concerns about the mandatory alcohol testing to which Professor Solomon has testified.
The NDP leader, Mr. Jagmeet Singh, has been outspoken during his time in the Ontario legislature about the ability of the police to go after people simply on the basis of their race, be they indigenous, black, or Canadians of other minorities. The discriminatory police practice of carding has been central to his work in the Ontario legislative assembly. Mr. Singh says, “As Prime Minister, I'll enact a Federal Ban on Racial Profiling” to end it once and for all.
I raise this because of the potential of this mandatory alcohol screening that proposed section 320.27 of the bill would implement for the first time in Canada. We heard many witnesses at the committee, and after the break I will go back and talk about this in more detail. As long as the police have the ability to stop someone on a whim, that discretion can and will be abused.
Currently under the law as it exists, one has to have reasonable suspicion before stopping someone. If one no longer has to have that reasonable suspicion, which is what this section at issue would do, then there is the potential, indeed, the certainty that there will be disproportionate targeting of racialized Canadians, indigenous people, youth, and other marginalized groups. That is the nub of the problem and why this is such a difficult bill for the House to deal with.
I am not saying it is not as critical as the member for Niagara Falls has reminded us; it it is. I am not saying that the potential for deaths is not real, because it is there. However, we have to get this balance right. We are not convinced that it has been achieved. We are still studying it and will continue to study it before the vote takes place in the next while.
At the committee, the NDP did manage to get one amendment that would somehow address this issue. That amendment would add the proposed section 31.1 to the bill, which would require that this issue be studied and reported to Parliament within three years of enactment. The committee agreed with that, and I hope the House will accept that final amendment as well. We will see whether the concerns that so many experts have brought to the attention of the committee will prove true in practice.
I had the opportunity at committee to speak to Canada's leading constitutional jurist on this subject. He is the famous Professor Peter Hogg. He indicated that he had done a legal opinion upon which Mothers Against Drunk Driving relied. It basically says that he is in favour of mandatory alcohol testing and of the ability to stop people at random. However, I asked him, “If the evidence were that there were a disproportionate impact on racialized groups and minorities, would that not give you pause in defending this bill under section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?”
If the evidence showed there would be this abuse, as others have predicted, would that give him pause? Professor Hogg, who of course agreed with mandatory alcohol testing, said that “It would give me pause if that were the case...but I think the pause that I would make would be to look at the administration of the law, so that it does get cleansed of any kind of racial bias or anything like that.”
Thus even a leading jurist who supports the initiative of mandatory alcohol screening is saying that it may be subject to defeat under section 1 of the charter if the evidence shows, as so many experts have said, that it would have this effect of racial profiling, that it would allow the police, on a whim, to stop people simply because of the colour of their skin, their age, or the like.
I will resume after question period, but at this stage, Canadians need to know how difficult this balance would be.