Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join in this debate on the justice committee's recommendation to the House. I do so as the second vice-chair of that committee. Before I start, I would like to commend the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville because I believe his intent behind the bill was very noble.
Bill C-247 was designed to allow police officers to use passive ambient air alcohol detection devices to basically detect alcohol in the air near a driver's mouth during roadside sobriety checks. The detection of alcohol by the sensor would then provide officers with reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver had consumed alcohol and allow them to then request a Breathalyzer test to check for impairment.
I was not on the committee when it was deliberating on the bill. There were two committee meetings on October 18 and October 20, and I was preceded by the hon. member for Victoria who was then a member of that committee. The bill was referred to committee on September 28, before those two meetings.
We fundamentally believe that we need to support effective measures against impaired driving, because each and every year we lose far too many lives in Canada, and indeed, as has been mentioned many times in this place, it is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. The proposed devices in the bill would have several benefits if they were to show that they could work as effectively as the claims say.
The committee has made a recommendation to the House of Commons, and while the committee felt that the intent behind Bill C-247 was commendable, the committee concluded that based on the evidence gathered during its study, the costs of introducing such devices and the time and resources required for developing the appropriate testing mechanisms outweighed the potential benefits. We feel strongly that the government needs to consider taking this on with the resources of the Department of Justice and introducing legislation on this topic at the earliest opportunity.
We had a chance to talk to stakeholders. Law enforcement has suggested that, if this device were effective, it could be a potentially useful addition to the tool kit, but it is certainly not the one that is most urgently needed. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, which was supportive of the use of effective devices, wanted Parliament to make sure that we did not displace the more pressing questions of how to effectively deter impaired drivers and detect drug impairment.
During the witness testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, some of the witnesses clarified the issues that these detection devices have. Of particular note, it was the chair for the Alcohol Test Committee who stated that the bill asks us to enact legislation using approved passive detection devices. If we enact the bill now, it requires the Alcohol Test Committee to develop standards and procedures for the evaluations.
We would have to perform evaluations on the new equipment proposed as passive devices, and we would have to develop operational recommendations. We would need best practices relating to the maintenance and use of these devices, and this means that the scientific aspect of the approval process would be extremely costly in both time and resources. The potential influx of numerous new devices seeking approval as passive detection devices would stretch its current resources past the breaking point. Even after this approval process was finally finished, there would still need to be recommendations from individual forensic laboratories to create region-specific recommendations for calibration, training, and operational procedures.
Even the introduction of a newly approved instrument can be challenging in and for our courts. The introduction of a novel type of testing with completely unfamiliar devices would undoubtedly be the subject of lengthy litigation involving scientific staff from all the forensic laboratories across the country.
We know from questions that have been raised in the House and from media reports and indeed from across the country that the court system is already quite burdened and quite strained.
There are already serious criminal charges that are either being stayed or withdrawn in the wake of the Jordan decision, which has fundamentally altered the legal landscape. It is something that I hope the federal government and our provincial governments finally take note of and put in the resources that we need in the system.
We want to stop impaired driving, but we do not want to do it at the expense of clogging the very judicial system that is meant to operate efficiently to make sure we are actually delivering justice for those who do harm. If we are going to burden the justice system with even more litigation against devices, that is not going to solve the main problem. Defence lawyers would probably have a field day challenging these devices because of their reliability.
We look at the climate issues, because that was one of the main things that was brought forward in witness testimony. Canada is a country that is affected by cold temperatures and humidity in the winter. Unfortunately, I live in a section of the country that is certainly affected by the humidity, Vancouver Island. It is not known just as the west coast, but indeed the wet coast.
The testimony indicated that the devices may not be appropriate for our climate. We can go to the testimony of Dr. Daryl Mayers, the chair of the Alcohol Test Committee, who laid it out completely for all of us. If the weather is windy, excessively damp, or even below 8° Celsius, the reliability of these passive detection devices is brought into question. The Winnipeg police department did a test in the early 2000s that found that these devices did not work very effectively in the winter. Devices whose function is inhibited in either cold weather or by excessive amounts of precipitation in the air are simply too problematic for us to go forward, and we certainly need a lot more study to make sure these devices can actually do what they are supposed to do.
In light of these findings, I do agree with the committee's report that we need a comprehensive solution to this problem and that the government should consider introducing legislation on this topic at the earliest opportunity.
I would like to compliment the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, because I believe his intent was noble. He really does want to do the right thing, but we had a unanimously backed recommendation that we not proceed with this bill. There are Liberals, Conservatives, and our NDP member on committee. We listened to the evidence, and I agree with that report. I hope all hon. members will pay attention to the hard work that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights did.