Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill S-230.
I would like to begin by expressing my very sincere appreciation to the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska for sponsoring this bill in the House to bring impaired driving to the attention of members for this important discussion. I would also like to express my respect and gratitude to the senator for Mille Isles, who sponsored the bill in the other place.
We can all agree that drug impaired driving is a serious and growing problem. Like alcohol and driving, drug driving is present in all age groups and socio-economic groups. It is seen particularly, but not exclusively, in young males in their twenties who are driving after smoking cannabis. Frequently, they combine this activity with the consumption of alcohol. The scientific evidence indicates this to be significantly more dangerous than driving after consuming alcohol alone or cannabis alone.
Impaired driving, whether by drugs or alcohol, is a serious crime. We are all too aware of the cases of death, injury, and property damage resulting from people who make the decision to drive while impaired. This is not a victimless crime but a crime that can quickly victimize other drivers on the road and the innocent without warning. The difficulty is that too many people seem to think that this will not happen to them and they go ahead and drive while impaired by a drug, or alcohol, or both. We need to become a society in which the attitude is to never drive while impaired by a drug or alcohol.
On that note, I am pleased to advise that our government is firmly committed to strengthening appropriate laws and enforcement measures to deter and punish serious offenders on the road.
While we support the intentions behind the Senate public bill, I know my friend from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford will be pleased to hear that the government will be bringing forward its own comprehensive response to the issue of drug-impaired driving as part of its approach to the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis, which we will bring forward in the spring of 2017.
The issues to be resolved in developing a comprehensive strategy to combat drug-impaired driving are complex, and it is far too difficult to address through amendments to the non-government Senate public bill.
On that note, the Department of Justice has requested the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, which is its scientific advisor on drug-impaired driving, to assess the validity of oral fluid drug screening technology. The drugs and driving committee has reported that the technology reliably detects tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis, as well as for cocaine, methamphetamines, and several opioids. The DDC is in the process of establishing evaluation standards that would be used to evaluate drug screening equipment submitted by manufacturers for the approval of the Attorney General of Canada for use by police across the country. The DDC's research and advice will help guide the government in designing a system of regulation built upon evidence-based policies and science.
However, oral fluid drug screeners alone are not a sufficient response, and Bill S-230 is simply not sufficiently comprehensive to address the very complex drug driving problem in a significant way. The final report of the federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation indicated that drug-impaired driving was a major concern for witnesses who appeared before the task force and suggested that the government address the matter of a cannabis “legal limit” for driving.
The difficulty is that Bill S-230 only proposes authorization for police to use an oral fluid drug screener at the roadside as a tool to investigate the existing crime of driving while impaired by a drug or a drug-alcohol combination.
Currently, there is no legal limit in the Criminal Code for a drug other than alcohol, and Bill S-230 proposes no drug legal limit offence. If enacted, this bill would provide police with a new drug screening tool that would only be used to investigate the existing offence of driving while impaired by a drug.
It is quite understandable that this bill, in its limitations, does not propose any drug legal limits for driving. The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation itself chose to defer to the work being done by the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.
Therefore, I respectfully question the sense of Bill S-230 proposing oral fluid drug screeners without proposing some mechanism to create legal limit offences for drugs, at least for the most prevalent drugs found in drivers, which of course includes THC, the psychoactive ingredient that is present in cannabis.
The drug screener has a disposable, oral fluid collection kit and an analyzer phase. It checks for the presence of particular drugs in the oral fluid and not for impairment. The oral fluid drug screener would be used by police at the roadside under Bill S-230 for the sole and limited purpose of investigating the current drug impaired driving offence.
By contrast, in 2016 the United Kingdom adopted legislation that created legal limits for drugs and introduced oral fluid drug screeners at the same time that would aid in the investigation of the THC and cocaine legal limit offences. The media have reported that drug driving charges in the U.K. have increased about tenfold in the year following the implementation of that far more comprehensive and effective legislation.
In the U.K., as implied earlier, only two drugs are in the panel of drugs searched for by the oral fluid drug screener. They are THC, which is the active chemical in cannabis, and cocaine. These are the two drugs most prevalent as impairing drugs found in drivers.
Even if THC or cocaine is detected by the oral fluid drug screen, there is no criminal charge based on that evidence alone. What happens is that the UK police will demand a blood sample from the driver and it will be analyzed in a laboratory for drug concentration levels, including some drugs that are not detected by the drug screener. Only if blood analysis shows that the driver exceeded a UK drug “legal limit” will there be a “legal limit” charge.
Now, we all know that there is a vast array of other impairing drugs besides tetrahydrocannabinol and cocaine. Therefore, other investigative methods are needed for the drugs that are not searched for by the drug screener.
In Canada, Parliament enacted its Criminal Code reforms in 2008, which gave police a roadside drug screening tool that was used to investigate the offence of driving while impaired by a drug. If police officers have a reasonable suspicion of a drug in a driver's body, they may demand that the driver participate in standardized field sobriety testing, or SFST. This is physical testing and includes, for example, walking a line, turning, and doing a one-leg stand at the roadside.
After the SFST, if the driver has performed poorly, the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the driver committed the offence of driving while impaired by a drug, or a drug-alcohol combination. The police can then demand that the driver participate in a drug recognition evaluation, or DRE as it is commonly referred to in our country, conducted by a specially trained evaluating officer.
This officer checks vital signs, performance of physical tests, observations of eye movement and pupil size, and an alcohol breath test on an approved instrument. When I say approved instrument, that is approved and listed in regulations approved by the drugs and driving committee. If the evaluating officer identifies a class of drug as causing impairment, the driver is then given a demand to provide a bodily substance to be analyzed in a laboratory for the presence of a drug, either blood or urine.
Bill S-230 has an aspect that parallels the SFST because a positive result on the drug screener could lead to a demand that the driver participate in DRE at the police station. However, I do not believe that enacting authority for police to use a drug screener is sufficient, by itself, to address adequately the very serious problem of drug-impaired driving. It would be far more effective if coupled with legal limits of drugs in the system.
Hence, the government is firmly committed to bringing forward a comprehensive response to drug-impaired driving. I think we can all agree that Canadians would be better protected from impaired drivers, including those impaired by drugs, by this more comprehensive approach.
Unfortunately, Bill S-230, though well-intentioned, does not provide a workable, new, legal framework to address drug-impaired driving. Therefore, l would encourage all members to await the introduction of that more comprehensive bill, so this Parliament can bring forward a more adequate response.
In my experience, and I have considerable experience in keeping our roadways safe in the policing community, what the police and our prosecutors need is the legislation, technology, training, and resources necessary to keep our roads safe. We need to invest as well in greater public education so all our citizens can make safer and more socially responsible choices not to drink or use drugs and drive.