Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in favour of Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
We have heard moving testimony about this issue, both here in the House and before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Impaired driving impacts us all, and we need to do our part to reduce such preventable deaths and injuries on our roads.
As we have heard already, Bill C-46 proposes many major changes to strengthen the drug-impaired driving laws, as well as a thorough updating of the alcohol-impaired driving provisions. The overarching goal of these changes is to reduce the incidents of impaired driving and to save lives.
One of the main proposals in the bill to achieve this goal is mandatory alcohol screening, a tool used worldwide to deter and detect alcohol-impaired driving. This would authorize an officer to demand a roadside breath sample on an approved screening device without the current requirement of suspicion that the driver has alcohol in his or her system.
Research suggests that up to 50% of drivers with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit are not detected through current practices such as check stops and random traffic stops. This is an unacceptable number of drivers who are impaired and are able to drive away after having interacted with the police.
We heard testimony of this sort at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, including from Dr. Jeff Brubacher, a medical doctor and researcher with the University of British Columbia; and Dr. Douglas Beirness, a subject matter expert on impaired driving with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
Dr. Brubacher said that his study indicated that police officers do not always recognize impairment in drivers in the amount of time they have to interact with the driver, and Dr. Beirness confirmed that police officers vary considerably in their ability to detect alcohol and assign the symptoms of alcohol use. He clarified that this is not because police officers are unable to do their job effectively, but rather that detecting impairment is simply very difficult. It varies from person to person, and some individuals are able to effectively mask their physical symptoms.
Both Dr. Brubacher and Dr. Beirness expressed support of mandatory alcohol screening and asserted their confidence that this measure could help to reduce the number of impaired drivers on our roads.
Mandatory alcohol screening will be a strong deterrent factor for those who drive after drinking. With mandatory alcohol screening, such risky behaviour would be less likely, as every driver would know that he or she could be tested at any time and could not expect to avoid detection by masking or hiding symptoms.
This has proven to be the case in other jurisdictions where mandatory alcohol screening has been implemented. According to MADD Canada, more than 40 countries worldwide authorize mandatory alcohol screening, including several Australian states, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In fact, mandatory alcohol screening was credited with reducing the number of people being killed on Irish roads by almost one-quarter, 23%, in the 11-month period following its introduction compared to the previous 11-month period.
Many concerns were raised relating to the constitutionality of mandatory alcohol screening, both in the House and at committee. I would like to spend the remainder of my time addressing these concerns. Many of the concerns related to the potential for mandatory alcohol screening to violate sections 8 and 9 of the charter.
Mandatory alcohol screening would only apply to a person who is lawfully stopped pursuant to other laws, such as provincial highway traffic acts. The police currently have the power, both in statute and common law, to stop any driver at any time to determine whether that driver is complying with the rules of the road, including to check for sobriety. This power has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada on several occasions.
Furthermore, the information revealed from a breath sample, like the production of a driver's licence, is simply information about whether a driver is complying with one of the conditions imposed in the highly regulated context of driving, including sobriety.
I would also note that a breath sample does not reveal any personal or sensitive information and the taking of the sample is quick and not physically invasive. Furthermore, simply blowing a “fail” on an approved instrument does not in itself constitute an offence. This is just a step that could lead to further testing to determine whether a driver is impaired.
We are all aware that the Minister of Justice tabled a charter statement on May 11, in which she affirmed her confidence that mandatory alcohol screening was compliant with the charter. Many shared the minister's confidence that mandatory alcohol screening would be charter compliant when the bill was studied at committee, including the leading constitutional law expert Dr. Peter Hogg. He expressed an opinion that mandatory alcohol screening would withstand any charter challenges, as it aims to prevent dangerous activities and promote public safety. As such, it was his view that it would be found justifiable under section 1 of the charter, and I agree with this position.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Mr. Daniel Therrien, also testified that after reviewing the charter statement, any concerns he had regarding the proportionality and the necessity of the legislation were satisfied.
Members of the defence bar, as well as civil liberties groups, expressed concern that mandatory alcohol screening would result in an increase in police targeting of visible minorities.
Racial profiling is unacceptable. All law enforcement must exercise their powers in compliance with the charter, including the right to be free of discrimination of any kind. However, as I previously stated, the police already have the power to stop any driver at random to determine their sobriety. Nothing in the mandatory alcohol screening provisions would promote or condone the targeting of racialized individuals. It is restricted to cases where a peace officer is acting “in the course of the lawful exercise of powers.”
There is also nothing in these provisions that alters the current responsibility of police and other law enforcement officials to ensure that the powers of the police are exercised in a fair and equal manner, in accordance with the charter.
At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, we amended the preamble of the bill to reflect that police powers must be exercised in a manner that is consistent with the charter. While it is implicit that all police must always do this, this will be a further signal that racial profiling will not be tolerated.
At committee, we heard testimony from Dr. Barry Watson and the assistant commissioner of road policing command, Doug Fryer, both from Australia, where mandatory alcohol screening has been in place since the 1980s. Both witnesses testified that mandatory alcohol screening was actually a way to overcome any concerns about racial profiling. This is because police officers in Australia have much less discretion to choose who will be tested when the screening is mandatory.
Mandatory alcohol screening has had a strong track record in saving lives in other jurisdictions. Canada continues to have the highest percentage of alcohol-related deaths among 20 high-income countries. It is incumbent on us to do better and mandatory alcohol screening saves lives. Therefore, I am pleased to support Bill C-46 and its proposal to save lives.