Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-247, a private member's bill introduced by the member of Parliament for Mississauga—Streetsville. On February 7, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights decided unanimously to recommend that the House of Commons not proceed further with the bill. I am here today to speak further to that decision as the vice-chair of that committee.
Bill C-247 is seeking to amend section 254 of the Criminal Code to allow police officers to use an approved passive detection device to sample the ambient air in the immediate vicinity of a person they have reasonable grounds to believe is impaired. This would be in advance of the police officer taking a sample using an approved screening device. The bill is also seeking to amend subsections 255(3) and 255(3.1) of the code, which would change the offence of impaired driving causing death to vehicular homicide as a result of impairment.
The purpose of this bill is to act as a further deterrent for drunk drivers and to increase apprehension rates, as a positive reading would provide reasonable grounds to conduct a breath test on an approved screening device, ASD. It has been referred to as a device that would act as an extension of the officer's nose.
I thank the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for putting forward a bill with such commendable objectives. Certainly all of us in this chamber can agree that we should do everything we can to keep Canadians safe and keep drunk drivers off of roads. In politics we disagree on a great deal of things, but I think this is one area where we all share a common goal that extends across all party lines. The intent of Bill C-247 is noble, but on further investigation with the help of expert testimony in the justice and human rights committee, we uncovered some issues in the bill that brought us to unanimously recommend that the House not proceed further with the bill.
Some of the most compelling evidence we came across was introduced by Dr. Daryl Mayers, who testified as chair of the alcohol test committee, known as the ATC, of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. The ATC, the alcohol test committee, has provided advice to the Ministry of Justice about detection and quantification of blood alcohol concentrations for the past 50 years. We learned that the introduction of a passive detection device would need to be tested against the ATC's published standards to determine if it is appropriate to be used in Canadian alcohol testing. This would be costly in both time and resources and, as Dr. Mayers testified, would stretch the ATC's resources well past the breaking point.
The chair of the alcohol test committee brought to our attention concerns regarding the nature of these devices. Because they test ambient air for alcohol molecules, they are subject to numerous environmental factors. These devices are unlike ASDs in that ASDs require a deep-lung air sample. They are also administered away from others and from traffic and in a police vehicle, where environmental conditions are understood and controlled. For example, the dissemination of alcohol molecules through different sizes of cars will be different. The use of a passive device would necessarily introduce elements beyond the control of law enforcement.
There are other environmental factors that could result in an incorrect response from a passive device. Open alcohol in the vicinity or an intoxicated passenger could alter results. We also discovered that methanol in windshield wiper fluid could contribute to a positive result. The recent use of mouthwash could result in a false positive; whereas, a person chewing gum, which increases salivation and diminishes mouth alcohol, could result in a false negative. In our study of Bill C-247, it was unclear whether a response on a passive device indicating no alcohol was present would render the officer unable to investigate further.
Another consideration which is especially relevant here in Canada is that the weather could affect the results of a passive detection device. It has been noted that these devices are less effective in windy conditions. Dr. Mayers also indicated that he would recommend devices that use fuel cell technology as a mechanism for detecting alcohol. We learned, however, that fuel cells can be affected by cold weather and can cause a false negative. Here in Canada we experience extremes in weather conditions and these vary dramatically from coast to coast to coast. The development of region-specific recommendations for calibration, training, and operational procedures would be onerous, to say the least, for the volunteer-led alcohol test committee.
Our committee also questioned the invasiveness of the passive devices. There are many versions of these devices on the market, and while some recommend a distance of six inches between the device and the driver, some recommend as few as two inches. The close proximity between the device and a driver could be seen as quite invasive and consequently negates the subtleness intended in the administration of such a device.
These are all potential intervening factors that arose during the study of Bill C-247, and left us questioning the effectiveness of passive detection devices. We learned that for the alcohol test committee to test new products against the ATC's published standards, to account for all the factors discussed previously, and to develop region-specific recommendations for calibration, training, and operational procedure would be substantial. Even if the committee were provided additional resources, it would still be a lengthy process, and the alcohol test committee would likely need to hire and consult numerous engineers throughout the process.
We also need to consider the capacity for human error in the administration of these devices. Dr. Daryl Mayers said the following before committee:
My experience with police officers, and I mean no disrespect, is that if you give officers a tool with all kinds of caveats attached to it—you have to do it this way, that way, make sure the wind isn't blowing, have your back to the wind, make sure you don't have the window open, check the car for spills—and you expect the officer to do [it] in a very rapid time frame, the more likely it is that one step or two steps will be missed, and that is a very serious thing once we come to litigate that case.
Dr. Mayers also brought to the attention of the committee the possibility of litigation arising from a false positive. The burden of lengthy and complicated litigation cannot be underscored.
I believe this legislation was introduced in an effort to provide law enforcement with additional tools to get more drunk drivers off the road. However, I fear that because of numerous factors that could affect the device, it would actually complicate matters for law enforcement and litigators. I think it is possible, if not likely, that adding this layer could result in even trickier litigation, and potentially result in less drunk driving convictions. I also think a false negative, whether caused by the wind or a stick of gum, could allow for the potential of an impaired person to avoid detection.
In addition, we heard from a Department of Justice official who confirmed that the present threshold for use of an approved screening device is very low. The threshold is simply suspicion of alcohol in a driver's body. That is the way we do things today. That suspicion could be arrived at through things like alcohol odour, glassy eyes, fumbling with documentation, and the like.
It was also confirmed that nothing presently prohibits an officer from using a passive alcohol sensor. In fact, the RCMP is already in possession of such a device. We never heard whether or not RCMP officers use the device regularly, but we know nothing prevents them from doing so.
I believe that as parliamentarians we need to do whatever we can as legislators to protect Canadians from impaired drivers. However, after the study of Bill C-247, I consider the costs and potential litigation complexity to outweigh the potential benefits. In fact, I think there is reason enough to believe that this bill could work against its very objectives. For these reasons, I suggest that the House not proceed further with this bill.