Madam Speaker, I look forward to the opportunity today to be able to speak to this bill. I want to acknowledge the great job that my colleague just did on this, particularly in mentioning at the end that drug usage by Canadian teens is actually decreasing.
My colleague across the way, the parliamentary secretary, talked about the fact that because 35% of the students across this country can access marijuana, the solution obviously is to give access to 100%, to find the other 65% and see if we cannot give them that same access. We do not think that is the proper solution.
What we are here to do today is to take a look at one bill and a second piece of legislation as well that is involved with it, which I do not think either Canadians or the Liberals are ready to handle. We have heard words this afternoon from one of my colleagues about how this seems to be done pell-mell, and my other colleague talked about how this looks like a bit of a smokescreen. That describes what we are seeing here, both in Bill C-45, which is the cannabis legalization bill, and in Bill C-46, the impaired driving bill. Both of these bills are tied together, and Canadians need to be paying attention, because that tie is much tighter than most Canadians would first realize.
I want to talk first about legalization and the current government's fixation on it through Bill C-45, and then talk about Bill C-46 and what the Liberals see as some solutions to problems that they would create by bringing in Bill C-45.
Bill C-45 is entitled “An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other acts”. Its summary talks about the objectives being “to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis”—which is a bit of a surprise, given the direction that this legislation goes—“to protect public health and public safety by establishing strict product safety and product quality requirements and to deter criminal activity”. It talks about the act having the power to establish cannabis as a legalized product, basically, and then to try to deal with criminal prohibition, such as the unlawful sale or distribution of it. In addition, it would “[enable] the Minister to authorize the possession, production, distribution, sale, importation and exportation of cannabis”—so the Liberals want to be the drug czars over this product—and then it would “[authorize] persons to possess, sell or distribute cannabis if they are authorized”, and there are a number of other things that the bill would prohibit and provide.
It is a fairly ambitious bill in terms of legalizing cannabis, giving the government authority over cannabis so that it is going to be able to manage cannabis across this country well. I guess we will see whether that happens.
Out of the approval and legalization of cannabis then comes a major concern, which is the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence of cannabis or, as Bill C-46 includes, a number of other drugs. To respond to that challenge that would come out of Bill C-45, the Liberals have recently introduced Bill C-46, which deals directly with offences and procedures that are related to impaired driving, both for alcohol and for cannabis and a number of other drugs.
Bill C-46 is a fairly lengthy bill. It is 78 pages long. It proposes to introduce a new impaired driving regime that would be considerably more complicated than the present laws. It includes new and higher mandatory fines. It includes changes in how and where testing can be done. It changes the timelines on testing, and it sets maximum penalties for impaired driving crimes. It also introduces a new element of mandatory alcohol screening at the roadside, which is expected to become a civil rights concern or issue in this country.
Clearly, our party supports measures that protect Canadians from impaired drivers. I doubt that there is a person in this House who has not been impacted by the stupid and tragic results that come from impaired driving and the incredible human cost that is paid for that. Mandatory fines, maximum penalties, and those kinds of things do send a strong message that Canadians will not tolerate impaired driving, but I am very concerned that the Liberals want to rush these two drug bills through Parliament by July 2018. The Liberals do not seem to be prepared to deal with the consequences of what would come from passing these two bills. I believe this hurried timeline is unrealistic. It puts the health and safety of Canadians at risk.
I want to talk today about this legislation and about some of the other concerns around it. Likely the bills will pass on second reading and go to committee, so I am going to raise a number of questions that need to be asked at committee in order for any responsible legislator to continue to support either bill.
The first question is why the government moved forward with this legislation when there is clearly no consensus on this issue. This afternoon we have heard different statistics back and forth across the House and some very different results. There is no agreement among Canadians on this issue. Polls show an almost schizophrenic understanding of it. One of the latest ones actually demonstrates that a strong majority apparently believe that this will not prevent drug use. Half see this as a gateway drug. A majority believe that this will not lessen crime and that the drunken or impaired driving enforcement will not be effective. Half think the proposed limit for possession and plants is too high. A strong majority believe that the age limit needs to be raised, and two-thirds agree that the health risks are not understood, yet we are told that a majority of Canadians support the legislation. Past surveys have similar confusing statistics and results.
This is all at a time when we are told that teen education drug prevention programs are working and teen usage is declining. The Liberals then come forward with a bill to make cannabis legal in this country. There is a clear conclusion that Canadians are conflicted about this issue.
Another question that has not been answered by the government is what the actual impact on people is, especially young people. We have seen some unexpected results from a couple of states in the United States that have legalized cannabis. What work has the government done on this issue, especially when its own task force identified this as probably one of the most important issues the government will face if it comes forward with this legislation?
Medical evidence indicates that marijuana impacts brain development up to age 25, and we believe it affects brain function after that. The government seems to think that age 18 is okay. The public disagrees. All polls show that. How is the government going to address seriously the issue of young people being exposed to this drug prior to when they should be?
Another question is how allowing possession and growing plants at one's home would achieve the goal, as the legislation says, of preventing young people from accessing cannabis. With increased public awareness, and as people were allowed to grow it at home, what would the impact on young people be? As my colleague mentioned earlier, would people be allowed to smoke this in a vehicle, and if they were, how would that impact children or people in the car with them? The same thing would apply at home.
There are questions about the overall health impact and the impact on the public, especially with respect to the use of vehicles.
The task force report indicates that research shows that youth, in particular, underestimate the risks of cannabis use, and so do others. I would ask if the government has done any homework on overall health impacts. It certainly seems that it has not done that and cannot answer that question.
There are other ongoing questions on the role of medical marijuana and what many people see as the present abuse of it as well. How has it become so simple to access this program, and how does it give us any assurance that future legislation will deal with the real issues around marijuana and other drugs mentioned in the legislation?
Questions arise also about the perception of a very small group of people who are being chosen by the government and stand to become extremely wealthy through this issue.
What about the public education component that was so important to the task force? Officials in both Washington and Colorado have stressed the importance of starting education campaigns as early as possible before legalization The Liberal government's task force recommended extensive marijuana impaired-driving education awareness campaigns before the drug's legalization. Where is that campaign? We have seen nothing of it.
On the issue of driving and education, the Canadian Automobile Association has said that the government needs to launch a public education campaign and provide greater funding to law enforcement authorities to get ready for the new regime. CAA vice-president Jeff Walker said, “It’s clear from the report that work needs to start immediately in these areas, and that the actual legalization should not be rushed”.
Where do we see this education campaign, and since we do not, what will be the cost of it when we do? There are other costs involved as well. We will talk about those a little later. When it comes to the testing being proposed, there is going to be a massive increase in costs to do the testing. I am wondering if the government has any answers as to how that is going to be paid for. Are the Liberals going to stick the provinces with the bill? Is the federal government going to make the commitment necessary to do this in a fashion that will work?
Driver safety is an issue, a big issue, and it brings us to Bill C-46. Two states have introduced recreational marijuana sales, and both have seen significant increases in the proportion of fatal accidents involving drivers who tested positive for the drug. That is in a report in The Globe and Mail. I am concerned that the Liberal government is not taking the proper steps to develop effective education campaigns or to put in place adequate roadside capacity to deter Canadians from driving impaired.
The reality is that impaired driving remains one of the most frequent criminal offences and is among the leading criminal causes of death in Canada. The expectation, probably the reality, from the United States, is that it is only going to increase. Anne McLellan, chair of the task force, said the best solution is to give researchers additional time to not only do the educational campaign but to develop proper detection tools. It is clear that the government needs to ensure that Canadians understand the risks of impaired driving before moving forward with this legislation.
As I mentioned, all of this costs money for education and new legal regimes, especially with the increased participation of the medical profession. What will be the cost to the court system with the increased traffic that will be going through the courts? The government has not been quick to fill vacancies in the court to speed up processing through our court system. Will police have the resources and training required to face the increased threat of impaired driving associated with the legalization of marijuana, and what will be the cost to Canadian taxpayers for this radical change in policy? Canadians do not have answers to any of those questions right now. Testing for impairment is a huge issue. It is probably the major concern of Canadians on this issue.
Part 1 of Bill C-46 would amend the provisions of the Criminal Code that deal with offences and procedures related to drug-impaired driving. Among other things, it would enact new criminal offences for driving with a blood concentration equal to or higher than the permitted concentration. It would authorize the Governor in Council to establish blood drug concentrations and would authorize police to demand that a driver provide a sample of a bodily substance for analysis.
Part 2 would repeal the provisions of the Criminal Code and would repeal and replace transportation offences with a different structure. It would authorize mandatory alcohol screening at the roadside and would increase certain minimum fines and certain maximum penalties. It would do a few other things, such as facilitate investigation and proof of blood alcohol concentration. It would take out some of the defences that encourage risk-taking behaviour and would permit earlier enrolment in the provincial ignition interlock program.
The problem is that the Liberals have brought forward some good initiatives, but this is not actually primarily about alcohol impairment. In many ways, it is being used, as my colleague said earlier, as a smokescreen or a mask to allow the government to divert attention from its inability to test drug impairment. The problem is that as it begins to do that, it will be moving aggressively to restrict the civil liberties of Canadians.
There is no clear way to measure drug impairment. There is no way to measure marijuana, in particular. There are no reliable roadside drug screening devices available to police officers. That is why we see in the legislation that police officers will be allowed to do a breath test, and if that is not good enough to be considered an offence, it has to lead to further testing. It is a very big concern.
My colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable talked in his speech about the fact that screening devices are really not that effective. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction is concerned about that. It said:
Although the accuracy of oral fluid screening devices has been improving, they are not perfect. Some drivers who have used drugs will test negative and there remains a small probability that some drug-free drivers will test positive. When a driver who has used drugs is missed by the screening procedure, it has implications for road safety;
Is the technology there to meet the goals of the Liberal policies? Conservatives are not sure about that.
I should mention that this is not just about alcohol and cannabis. There are a number of other drugs covered as well, which will make the testing regime even more complicated. This is a big challenge. It is not just about alcohol or cannabis but is also about six other types of drugs. It is interesting that the legislation, while complicated, does not seem to be able to deal with these issues.
Marijuana can be tested through breath, saliva, blood, urine, or hair. Officers can detain suspects on the basis of smelling marijuana or noticing physical signs of impairment, at which point they can ask offenders to provide saliva samples. That is fine, except that it is most likely to be used at DUI checkpoints. It is faster and less invasive than a blood test, but there are all kinds of problems, such as that edibles, injections, pills, etc., may not produce results as reliably.
The presence of vapours may not correspond to actual impairment, as very small doses still register, and strong doses that were inhaled longer ago do not register. Blood testing generally registers the presence of THC for up to 12 hours, depending on the dosage, but again, there are problems. It is invasive. There is the question of the civil rights of Canadians. It requires more specialized equipment and sterilization, and test results may not correspond, again, to actual impairment.
Urine and hair tests register marijuana use over a much longer period of time, which poses similar problems, in addition to other privacy issues. There are a lot of issues. They can provide false positives, so even if we prove that a person has used marijuana, we cannot actually easily prove that the person was impaired at the time of the search.
My colleague mentioned earlier the time of testing. There are provisions in the bill for testing two hours after someone has been drinking or taking drugs. Police would have to prove that someone was behind the wheel. I can see a pile of complications from doing that as well.
The government's response to this challenge was to introduce a new section of the Criminal Code that would remove the need for an officer to have reasonable grounds to demand a breath sample. There is a provision in Bill C-46, and the minister talked about this, for mandatory alcohol screening. This part of the legislation would face a court challenge probably immediately, I would say. It is an invasive practice of the state on an individual, and it would specifically be done without reasonable grounds. There are a lot of questions around that section. Proposed subsection 320.27(2) reads:
If a peace officer has in his or her possession an approved screening device, the peace officer may, in the course of the lawful exercise of powers under an Act of Parliament or an Act of a provincial legislature or arising at common law, by demand, require the person who is operating a motor vehicle to immediately provide the samples of breath that, in the peace officer’s opinion, are necessary to enable a proper analysis to be made by means of that device...
It does not mention that the government has said that this is only to happen at a lawful stop, but there is nothing in here about it having to be a lawful stop. We have asked the government for more information to confirm that. It has not done that. Canadians need to be concerned about this, in my opinion. Is it done at a lawful stop? Is it done at an officer's discretion? The one thing that is clear is that it has taken out reasonable grounds, reasonable suspicion, as something that has to be in place before the testing can be done. Reasonable grounds are mentioned all over the rest of the bill, but I would argue that this section would basically render that useless.
The government has indicated that this will be used only as part of a lawful stop, but as I mentioned, when we asked about that, the Liberals were not able to clarify that. The minister talked about how she has her legal opinion that this will fit within the charter rights. It is pretty clear, from listening and looking up anything the defence lawyers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have said that this will be challenged very quickly. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has been a proponent of medical marijuana. It opposes invasive searches.
When we go online, there are people such as Sean May, an attorney specializing in DUIs, who has said that these cases are often difficult to prosecute due to problems with evidence, false positives, and other factors.
Another defence lawyer questioned that data and called giving police unfettered power to demand a breath test dangerous. He said, “It allows for police abuse. Now, police for whatever reason they want, can make you do a breathalyzer. If you talk back to them or they feel you're disrespecting them, they have the power to do that. I don't know there is a lot of solid research linking impairment to the level of drugs in a person's system”. Unlike the breathalyzer, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion the driver has consumed drugs before asking for a sample.
A number of lawyers have come forward and said that this is not charter-proof. This will be challenged immediately. The U.S. based National Institute on Drug Abuse has suggested that there is no adequate way to measure THC levels or determine just how drugged a person is in a roadside test, so we will face all kinds of problems with that.
Just to wrap up, there are many questions about the bill. The main concerns focus primarily on the removal of reasonable grounds, the reasonable suspicion provisions, which have protected Canadians for decades. The minister claims to have a charter opinion on the issue, but it is certain to end up in court. It should be worrying Canadians. This entire framework is colossally complicated.
There are a ton of questions that remain unanswered, not just on Bill C-46 but also on Bill C-45. The government has not answered questions on education costs, health impacts, and a number of other issues, and especially on law enforcement, including the important issue of impaired driving.