Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this important bill, which deals with impaired driving. Impaired driving is a major problem on our roads and a very serious issue that we must consider.
That is why the NDP chose to support Bill C-46 at second reading, even though we still have some unanswered questions. Personally, I must admit that I have not yet decided what my final vote will be after report stage and third reading.
Second reading is often the step where members decide whether the underlying principle of the bill is important. This bill deals with impaired driving. It seeks to do more to prevent impaired driving and to go after those who choose to drive while under the influence. There is no doubt that the underlying principle of this bill is important. At third reading and report stage, members must determine whether the bill really supports that principle. Right now, I have my doubts, and I will explain why by talking about the medical concept of drug tolerance.
For instance, when one drinks alcohol, one's body becomes habituated, but it does not develop a tolerance. We cannot say, for example, that if someone does not drink alcohol and then starts drinking every day, he will be able to drink 40 times more without any effect because he is habituated.
Alcohol does not produce a tolerance effect; the same dose will always have the same effect. For example, we can expect someone who drinks three beers to present certain symptoms, and we can expect someone who drinks five or six alcoholic beverages to display other symptoms. The clinical picture is pretty clear. There can be small variations from one person to the next, but they are minor.
Some drugs, however, can produce a tolerance effect. This means that the body becomes habituated and that larger and larger doses are needed to produce the same effect. Morphine and fentanyl patches are good examples of these types of drugs. A cancer patient will be given a certain dose, a fentanyl patch, and this should relieve the symptoms. However, as the illness progresses and the patient takes the drug over a longer period of time, the body becomes habituated and the patient needs larger and larger doses to obtain the same relief.
A test was conducted on a cancer patient. He was given fentanyl patches until he felt relief. If he was still in pain, he was given a larger dose. Eventually, he was able to tolerate 140 fentanyl patches. I can assure the House that if anyone here were given a dose that size, he or she would die on the spot. That is an example of the tolerance effect.
That is why it is difficult to establish a dose of medication or any other substance that produces a tolerance effect because the results change depending on the person, the dose, the time and the causes. It is extremely difficult to establish dosage limits to determine at what point a person will be impaired or at what point it would be dangerous to increase the dose, because the tolerance effect changes for the patient during treatment.
Marijuana appears to have somewhat of a tolerance effect, which means that its effect will be completely different depending on the person.
So, even if you set serum level limits, a person who took a legal dose may be completely unaffected, while another person who took the same dose may be totally dysfunctional and impaired. Some people could take a quarter of the legal dose and be extremely dangerous on the road. So, if we set an arbitrary limit, we might not be able to convict drivers who did not exceed the legal dose but who are still impaired and in no condition to drive. We also risk convicting drivers who are not impaired because their body has developed a tolerance.
By establishing a serum level limit, I think this bill will cause problems with cases that go to court. I spoke with a few defence attorneys, and they told me that no scientific studies have been able to establish a specific dose that can determine whether a person is impaired.
In my opinion, if we want to prove that a person is impaired, we might have to consider other avenues with respect to drugs such as marijuana that produce a tolerance effect. For example, we could use the same tests and tools police officers use to detect the presence of drugs. That is a good test. If we suspect that a person has used marijuana, we could administer the test and determine if we are correct.
In this case, the level does not matter. We would merely have to detect the presence of drugs, which we could prove, then we could administer standardized tests like the ones used for drunk drivers. For example, we could ask the person to walk a straight line or recite the alphabet backwards. There are a number of similar tests that we could use to prove that the person is impaired.
If we relied more heavily on these tests, which, incidentally, can be filmed using body cameras, we would be able to prove that a person is impaired because he or she does not have the cognitive or physical ability to perform certain tasks that a person who is not impaired could. This might be an option that would carry more weight in court.
That is why I question this bill, because it appears obvious that we cannot pass a bill without knowing whether the cases that make it to court will lead to accusations and convictions. There is no point in passing a law if we are going to get clobbered in court. We are in a situation where cannabis is legal and we do not have the tools we need to get convictions when someone is caught driving under the influence.
These questions are the reason I still do not know how I am going to vote in the end. We cannot ignore the fact that THC effects individuals differently. We must also consider the fact that people are already using marijuana for medicinal purposes and that regardless of whether or not legalization occurs, we still do not know how to determine whether a medicinal marijuana user is impaired. It is clear that blood levels are not a reliable measure. We need to consider other tools that would more effectively help determine if a person is impaired and would give crown prosecutors a better chance of getting convictions.
We have a lot of work to do to get a better grasp of this issue and I think we need to base our decisions on science, as with anything else. So far, the science is telling us that there is no blood test that can determine with 100% accuracy that a person is impaired by marijuana since there are too many interindividual variations. We have to find another way to determine whether a person is impaired.