Madam Speaker, I rise today to offer my support and congratulations to the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel for bringing this important initiative before the House of Commons. We will be supporting it enthusiastically.
I understand as well that the motion touches on issues that are quite personal for the member and his family, and I join with the member for Brandon—Souris in expressing my sympathy and solidarity with my colleague.
It is certainly my aim to support all measures that reduce the number of impaired driving accidents in Canada and by doing so, spare families the considerable pain and needless difficulties my hon. colleague and his family endured. Frankly, I would be quite surprised if any of my colleagues in the House would not support the motion. I would hope that despite our political differences, we are all united in our desire for the safety of Canadians.
With respect to criminal justice matters, the NDP supports preventative measures. If we can eliminate behaviours, such as impaired driving that precipitates such terrible outcomes, we can save lives and alleviate the heavy burden on our justice system as well.
Furthermore, I would suggest that awareness campaigns target young people before they are old enough to drive. We must instill in young Canadians the knowledge that impaired driving is extremely dangerous and can have dire consequences. We must teach our youth that it is selfish, reckless, anti-social, and immoral to take these risks with the lives of other Canadians. The sooner Canadians of all ages fully understand the devastating impacts of all forms of impaired driving the faster we can reduce the number of these senseless deaths and injuries.
We have seen that awareness campaigns work. Rates of drinking and driving have gone down significantly since such campaigns were launched. According to Stats Canada data, in 2015, the rate of impaired driving was 201 incidents per 100,000 population. That was the lowest rate since data on impaired driving was first collected in 1986, 4% lower than in 2014. Clearly, we are moving in the right direction.
However, in spite of a decline in impaired driving rates over the past 30 years, impaired driving remains one of the most frequent criminal offences and is among the leading criminal causes of death in Canada.
We have made significant strides forward, but alcohol-impaired driving remains a serious issue in our country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Canada had the highest percentage of alcohol-related crash deaths among the 20 high-income countries of the OECD in 2013. This reckless behaviour is unacceptable, given our knowledge about its detrimental effects. One death or serious injury caused by alcohol-impaired driving is one too many.
I had the opportunity, as a member of justice committee, to hear testimony from experts, like Dr. Robert Solomon, during its consideration of Bill C-46. The bill would allow police to administer what are called “mandatory alcohol screening” measures as a way to apprehend all drivers at the stop who are impaired. The bill would allow officers to test every driver at a stop, instead of relying on their subjective discretion, as is currently the case. More people are going to get caught and more people are going to be frightened about being caught. We hope as a result the level of deaths and injuries will go down.
The evidence is unassailable if we look at the European countries. As Dr. Solomon pointed out, this kind of testing will lead to less carnage and mayhem on our roads and highways. He said that when Switzerland enacted mandatory alcohol screening in 2005, the percentage of drivers testing positive for alcohol fell from about 25% to 7.6%. Alcohol-related crash deaths dropped by approximately 25%.
Therefore, along with adopting these sorts of effective practices, we must certainly continue our education campaigns and commitment to support police officers in their work to eliminate alcohol-impaired driving from coast to coast to coast.
I also now want to talk about the misinformation that exists around drug-impaired driving, particularly among Canadian youth. This is very troubling. We all talk about the dangers of impaired driving as if everyone knows it and it is well acknowledged, but there is a lack of awareness about drug-impaired driving among young Canadians, who are still the leading demographic for impaired driving.
It is imperative we take the necessary precautions to ensure Canadians have accurate information. In order to ensure safety, we have to address the misconceptions among young people and some parents that driving stoned, driving under the influence of cannabis, is somehow safer than driving under the influence of alcohol. An alarming percentage of youth actually do not think drugs impair their ability to drive, which of course is categorically false.
A document published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction addresses this persistent misconception head on. Here is what it says:
The challenge is many youth do not consider driving under the influence of marijuana to be risky, unlike driving under the influence of alcohol. Some youth even believe that using marijuana makes them better drivers, but evidence clearly shows that it impairs driving ability.... [M]ore awareness campaigns that centre on youth are needed to deter them from driving while impaired, especially after using marijuana.
The idea that somehow driving stoned is going make someone a better driver is out there and it is a very dangerous idea, so one hopes the government will take the necessary educational measures to increase awareness of this problem.
Nearly one-third of teens do not consider driving under the influence of cannabis to be as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol. That comes from a national study by Partnership for a Drug-Free Canada.
Nearly 25% of parents of teenagers did not consider driving while high on cannabis to be as bad as drinking and driving.
I hope that, by dedicating the third week of March as national impaired driving prevention week, we can reach primarily young people. The timing coincides nicely with spring break in most provinces, and a little reminder about impaired driving at that time is obviously a good thing.
In addition to discussions around alcohol and drug impairment, I understand that Bill C-373 has been brought forward to address distracted driving. According to researchers Robertson, Bowman, and Charles: “In some provinces, distracted driving has reportedly been the cause of even more car accidents than impaired driving.”
With the exception of Nunavut, all provinces and territories currently have their own laws on distracted driving. Ultimately, it is up to the provincial jurisdiction to determine how we are going to implement these laws.
I wish to reiterate, in conclusion, that the NDP is entirely supportive of measures that prevent tragedies that result from impaired driving. If we can educate Canadians about the extreme dangers of all forms of impaired driving, we can reduce the number of people who are doing this and avoid future tragedies for Canadians.