moved that Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is my privilege and honour to speak to Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts
I introduce the bill with the ultimate goal of reducing the significant number of deaths and injuries caused by impaired driving, a crime that continues to claim innocent lives and wreak havoc and devastation on Canadian families. No law is adequate comfort for devastating loss, but I want to stress that this proposed legislation was drafted with all victims of impaired driving in mind.
This includes the three Neville-Lake children and their grandfather killed on a Sunday afternoon on their way home from a sleepover in Vaughan, Ontario. This includes the entire Van de Vorst family, a family of four killed by an impaired driver as they crossed an intersection in rural Saskatchewan. This includes the thousands of people injured because someone else chose to get behind the wheel while impaired.
Every year, drivers impaired by drugs and alcohol cause devastation on our roads and highways. Impaired driving continues to be the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. This is completely unacceptable.
That is why I am proud to have proposed legislation to enact an impaired driving regime that would be among the strongest in the world. It would ensure as much as possible that no one has to live through tragedies like those I have just mentioned. Before I discuss the specific proposals in the legislation, I would like to comment briefly on the structure of the bill, as it takes a unique approach.
Part 1 of the bill proposes new tools to detect drug-impaired drivers at the roadside. It would also create three new driving offences of being over a legal drug limit. I will come back to these proposals in a moment. This part of the bill would come into force upon royal assent to ensure that a more robust drug-impaired driving regime is in place before the legalization and regulation of cannabis.
Part 2 of the bill would repeal all of the transportation-related provisions in the Criminal Code and replace them with a clear, coherent structure. Over time, the Criminal Code provisions have become too complex and difficult to understand. Part 2 also proposes substantial reforms to strengthen the law of alcohol-impaired driving and address existing challenges with detection, enforcement, and prosecution.
Given the substantial reforms in part 2, a longer coming into force date of six months is proposed to ensure that provinces and territories, key stakeholders responsible for the administration of justice, have adequate time to prepare. Over all, the bill proposes to strengthen the criminal law approach to both drug-impaired and alcohol-impaired driving. I would like to spend a few moments outlining key proposals to tackle drug-impaired driving.
The bill would authorize police officers for the first time to use roadside drug screeners in situations where they have reasonable suspicion a driver has drugs in his or her body. A positive reading on such a device would not, on its own, lead to a criminal charge. Instead, it would offer to assist an officer in forming the reasonable grounds necessary to take further investigative steps.
The bill also builds on the existing drug-impaired driving offence by proposing new offences for being over a legal drug limit. This offence structure will be familiar to many, as it is similar to the offence that prohibits driving over the legal limit for alcohol, otherwise known as the “over 80” offence.
Although the proposed offences would apply to several impairing drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamines, I intend to focus on the proposed levels of THC. The legal limits would be set by regulation and proven through blood analysis. The bill would authorize the taking of a blood sample from a driver when an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that either a drug-impaired or legal limit offence has occurred.
These proposed drug offences have been developed in recognition of the differences between alcohol and THC, in particular, the difference in the way that they are absorbed, metabolized, and eliminated by the human body.
This bill takes a precautionary approach by establishing a low level, fine only drug offence for THC that would prohibit having between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving. Additionally, Bill C-46 proposes a hybrid offence for a higher level of THC where a driver has five nanograms or more of THC per millilitre of blood.
Finally, I am proposing an offence of low levels of THC in combination with low levels of alcohol. This new offence would convey to Canadians that combining THC and alcohol intensifies impairment. I am proposing that the low level THC offence of between two and five nanograms be punishable by way of a maximum fine of $1,000. The higher drug offence of having five nanograms of THC in the body or more and the combination offence of having a mixture of THC and alcohol in the blood would have escalating penalties that mirror the existing impaired driving penalties: a $1,000 fine for the first offence, 30 days' imprisonment for the second offence, and 120 days' imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence.
It is important to note that drug-impaired driving has been an offence in Canada since 1925. However, our government is committed to strengthening these existing measures before strictly regulating and legalizing cannabis.
The proposed drug levels to be prescribed by regulation are based on the advice of the drugs and driving committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, which has been working tirelessly on a volunteer basis to consolidate existing science on drug-impaired driving and setting legal limits.
In developing this approach, we were mindful of other jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom, where cannabis remains illegal, the legal limit is two nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. In Colorado and Washington where cannabis is legalized, the legal limit is five nanograms. The approach in Bill C-46 to drug-impaired driving would be among the toughest in the world, particularly in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal.
I would now like to turn to the proposals in Bill C-46 which aim to strengthen our approach to alcohol-impaired driving.
One of the key elements is an important new tool known as mandatory alcohol screening. This would permit the police to demand a preliminary breath sample from a driver who is already subject to a legal traffic stop.
Most people will know that police already have the power to stop vehicles under provincial and common law in order to check, for example, for a vehicle's fitness or driver's licensing. These stops have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada on three different occasions, in Dedman v. The Queen from 1985, R. v. Hufsky from 1988, and R. v. Ladouceur from 1990.
After having made a lawful traffic stop, mandatory alcohol screening would simply permit a police officer to demand a preliminary breath sample. Under current law, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion before the officer can demand a breath sample, but research shows that up to as many as 50% of drivers who are over the legal limit are able to escape detection by police.
While a new proposal for Canada, mandatory alcohol screening is already law in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and many European countries. It has led to a significant reduction in the number of deaths and injuries related to impaired driving. I am expecting that it will have the same effect in Canada. The reason is simple. Mandatory alcohol screening will change the mindset of drivers. No longer will drivers be able to convince themselves they can evade police detection of their alcohol consumption if stopped.
As Andrew Murie, the chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, has said, mandatory alcohol screening “is going to make the biggest impact. It will drive down the number of deaths and injuries. People will know that they can't play around with officers.”
Ireland presents one of the most compelling examples. In the four years following the enactment of mandatory alcohol screening, fatalities on Irish roads decreased by 40%, and total charges for impaired driving diminished at a similar rate. In short, drivers quit thinking they could beat the system and simply gave up on driving while impaired.
In the face of such compelling evidence, I feel I have an obligation to all Canadians to propose this approach for Canada.
I would like to move on to discuss some of the proposed changes to the existing over 80 offence. One of the most significant changes proposed in this offence relates to the time frame. Currently, the offence is committed while driving. The proposals in Bill C-46 would stretch the time frame so that it would be an offence to be over the legal limit within two hours of driving. This is a common formulation used in many states in the U.S. Its primary purpose is to eliminate risky behaviour associated with bolus drinking, sometimes referred to as drinking and dashing.
Members may be surprised to learn that some people drink, or claim to drink, a significant amount of alcohol immediately before driving in the hopes of arriving at their destination before the alcohol fully absorbs and therefore before they are over the legal limit. The proposed formulation of “within two hours” would capture this reprehensible conduct. It also has the benefit of eliminating what is known as the intervening drink defence. This arises when a driver takes a drink of alcohol after being stopped by the police but before providing a breath sample primarily to frustrate the investigative process.
I understand there are many concerns that the proposed offences would criminalize people who have done nothing wrong. I share this concern, and that is why the bill proposes an exception that is intended to apply in cases of innocent intervening drinking. This could apply in cases where a driver consumes alcohol after driving but has no reason to expect he or she would be asked to provide a breath sample. If the results of the driver's breath test are consistent with the individual having a blood alcohol concentration under the legal limit at the time of driving, the offence would not be made out and the driver would not be convicted. I feel very strongly that this proposed offence structure would reduce the incentive of people to mix alcohol and driving.
Finally, Bill C-46 also proposes a formula to calculate blood alcohol concentration at the time of the offence where the driver's breath is tested outside of the two-hour period. The formula would be the concentration at the time of testing, plus five milligrams per complete half hour. This is a very conservative dissipation rate for alcohol and so would not be unfair to the driver. It is supported by the alcohol test committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science and would eliminate the need to call an expert toxicologist at trial.
I would now like to discuss some of the proposals in Bill C-46 which would strengthen the law, while also creating much needed court efficiencies. Impaired driving is one of the most litigated offences in the Criminal Code and takes up a disproportionate amount of time in courts. This is all the more important since the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Jordan last July.
One proposal is to limit crown disclosure obligations to scientifically relevant information about breathalyzers and blood alcohol concentration without unfairly limiting access to relevant disclosure. Another is to simplify proof of blood alcohol concentration by setting out in the code what the crown must specifically prove.
I would like to turn briefly to the penalties proposed in the bill. The mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving would not change where there is no death or injury. Those are a $1,000 fine for the first offence, 30 days' imprisonment for a second offence, and 120 days' imprisonment for the third or subsequent offence. While the minimums would not change, the bill proposes to raise the mandatory fines for first-time offenders with high blood alcohol concentrations and for refusing a breath test.
I want to be clear that I have carefully reviewed the mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving. I am confident that they are charter compliant and necessary. The mandatory terms of imprisonment for repeat drunk drivers have been shown to serve a deterrent function. A first-time impaired driver leaves the criminal justice system knowing that if he or she reoffends, the next stop is jail. This has a real, psychological impact.
The bill would also increase the maximum sentences for these offences from 18 months to two years for a summary conviction, and from five years to 10 years for more serious indictable offences. The maximum for dangerous driving causing death would be raised to life, as is already the case in impaired driving causing death.
The impaired driving causing bodily harm offence would also be amended. Currently, it can only be prosecuted by indictment. The bill proposes to hybridize it to allow the crown, in appropriate cases, to proceed summarily, such as for minor injuries.
The bill would also respond to calls to shorten the time an offender must wait before driving within the Criminal Code's driving prohibition period, where the driver uses an ignition interlock device under a provincial program. Allowing this earlier access has been shown to reduce recidivism and save lives.
Since the introduction of this bill last month, there has been a lot of commentary regarding the constitutionality of some of the proposals, with particular attention being paid to mandatory alcohol screening. I am confident that all the proposals in Bill C-46 will withstand charter scrutiny, as explained in the charter statement I was pleased to introduce on May 11.
In conclusion, it is my hope and expectation that the combined effects of the many reforms proposed in Bill C-46 will be enormously effective in deterring drug and alcohol impaired driving. No more Canadian families should have to suffer the devastation caused by impaired driving.
I ask all members to consider the benefits in terms of the effectiveness and efficiency this major reform to the criminal law would achieve. I ask all members to join me in supporting Bill C-46.