Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to speak about a matter that impacts thousands of Canadians every year. Alcohol impaired driving is an issue with devastating effects, and despite the overall decline in impaired driving rates over the past 30 years, drunk driving remains among the leading criminal causes of death in our country.
We can all agree on the need to decrease the number of drunk drivers on our roads and the devastation they cause, so I commend my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for the good intentions, I believe, that underlie his bill. However, legislation addressing impaired driving must strike a balance between public safety on the one hand and our precious charter rights on the other. In my opinion, Bill C-226 tips the scale in the wrong direction.
Because Bill C-226 was submitted as a private member's bill, it did not have the kind of scrutiny that is provided by Department of Justice counsels. It did not have the constitutional review that normally occurs. As a result, it contains certain aspects that I do not believe would pass constitutional muster. I understand that view is shared by the committee that studied this bill earlier.
I will be speaking about its provisions for random breath testing, a practice with immense potential for abuse. I will also discuss the bill's excessively punitive mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.
Bill C-226 is an excessively reactive bill. It focuses on penalties as opposed to prevention. As such, it has a very limited scope for addressing impaired driving, and should not pass through the House.
Currently, under provincial laws, police are able to stop any vehicle on the road to check licencing and insurance. They cannot, however, request a breath sample unless they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver has alcohol in his or her body. Bill C-226 would introduce random breath testing to these stops, allowing police to ask any driver, at any time, to provide a breath sample at the side of the road. Simply put, this policy of random testing raises several significant constitutional issues.
Ms. Abby Deshman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association testified at committee that random breath testing is an unjustifiable violation of section 8, arbitrary search and seizure, and section 9, arbitrary detention, of the charter.
We must also consider the strong precedent for policies of random selection to disproportionately affect visible minorities, including indigenous Canadians. My friend, Ms. Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association stated that there is considerable evidence in Canada of discriminatory policing, particularly based on race.
The disproportionate arrest and charging of visible minorities for cannabis offences demonstrates this point, and this fact alone should be grounds to reassess random breath testing as a just means of addressing the scourge of impaired driving.
The second point I wish to raise concerns the use of mandatory minimum penalties. Bill C-226 follows in the footsteps of the last government's failed tradition of mandatory minimums, which have high economic costs for the accused, the courts, and by extension, Canadian taxpayers. Mandatory minimums place undue burdens on the correctional system, clogging it with time-consuming cases that, due to minimum sentencing laws, result in excessive sentences. Bill C-226 would significantly increase both maximum and minimum penalties, as well as intensify sentences for repeat offenders.
However, one of the most troubling aspects concerns cases that involve multiple losses of life, where a judge could apply consecutive sentences, which would have a compounding effect. This means, for example, that with a mandatory minimum of five years for impaired driving causing death, one accident that tragically results in the deaths of more than one person would result in 10, 15, 20, or more years of mandatory jail time.
A sentence like this leaves little opportunity for rehabilitation or second chances. We need to recognize that these harsh policies do not increase public safety, they only put accused persons at increased risk of injustice. It has been proven time and time again that mandatory minimums simply do not lower the incentive for criminal activity, nor do they reduce crime rates. Harsher penalties are a reactive approach that do little to deter future criminal activities. They devalue the principles of judicial discretion, and force our judges to hand down costly and ineffective sentences that remove the opportunity for their independent thought that we expect of our judiciary.
Mandatory minimums fail to provide deterrents for crime, and instead sacrifice fairness and proportionality in favour of a one size fits all approach for our criminal justice system. This approach simply is ineffective. Abby Deshman went so far as to call it a failed public policy experiment. Under the Harper government, which championed mandatory minimums, there was actually an increase in impaired driving rates. Instead of focusing on longer sentences and measuring progress by how many years people serve in jail, we should concentrate on smarter deterrents and judge success through prevention instead of simply punishment.
Future legislation should consider options such as introducing a mandatory alcohol ignition interlock device in vehicles which would be a proactive solution to prevent drunk drivers from getting on the road in the first place. Legislation to reduce rates of impaired driving is greatly needed, but Bill C-226 takes the wrong approach.
We are now mere days away from the introduction of legislation to legalize cannabis. While alcohol impaired driving rates have been steadily decreasing over the past few decades, drug impaired driving is a growing issue across our country, and one that must be addressed as we take steps toward legalizing cannabis. The onus is now on the government to introduce comprehensive legislation addressing drug and alcohol impaired driving in a just manner. We need to look forward, through this legislation, to the most effective means of preventing impaired driving instead of a backward, and at best, punishing manner to deal with this problem.
As we parliamentarians have the responsibility to hold each bill that passes through the House up to the same rigorous standards, it is my judgment that Bill C-226 falls well short of the mark. I hope we can all agree to take an alternative approach to address impaired driving, and not proceed further with this bill.