Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to speak to the proposed legislation, Bill C-46, regarding impaired driving and amendments to the Criminal Code. This bill examines and alters the procedures and consequences for impaired driving for both cannabis and alcohol. I will comment on a few aspects of the changes regarding alcohol, but the majority of my speech will be focused on the impacts of drug-induced impaired driving.
To begin, I would like to say that several changes proposed in the legislation are encouraging, such as increases in maximum penalties and mandatory fines. Unfortunately, not all the penalty changes seem appropriate. Rather than increasing mandatory minimum prison sentences, the government has decided to change the fines for a first offence, based on blood alcohol content, the BAC. While I can understand the importance of knowing the BAC of an individual behind the wheel, I would want to ensure that a slightly lower BAC would not somehow mean that a person was not penalized for driving under the influence. Alcohol has different effects on different people. Would an officer be able to use his or her discretion in a situation, or would a device be able to determine the accuracy of the BAC? I simply want to ensure that the corresponding fines are appropriate and fair.
One of the proposed changes affecting our law enforcement officers would be the ability to demand breath samples from any driver they lawfully stop. Officers would no longer be required to have a legitimate suspicion that a driver had alcohol in his or her body. Some critics have even stated that this would be unconstitutional, and research shows that most Canadians would oppose giving police these greater powers.
Recently, the CBC reported:
If Canada's new impaired driving laws are passed police could show up on your doorstep — up to two hours after you arrive home — to demand a breath or saliva sample.
How would the government ensure that someone who arrived home safely while sober and then consumed alcohol afterward would not be wrongly accused?
Another concerning change regarding alcohol-impaired driving proposed in Bill C-46 is that it would actually reduce the penalties previously outlined in the Criminal Code with respect to ignition interlock devices. Ignition interlock devices allow offenders to reduce the period of prohibition from driving by opting to use a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device under a provincial program. With the use of these devices, they are able to drive anywhere in Canada during this time.
While it is true that offenders should receive another chance to prove that they are capable of driving, they must first serve the appropriate minimum absolute prohibition period. These wait times have been reasonable: three months for first-time offenders, six months for second-time offenders, and 12 months for third-time offenders. Unfortunately, the Liberals have decided to reduce these wait times to the point where there would be no minimum prohibition at all for first-time offenders. Subsequent offences would be reduced to the following: second-time offenders would be prohibited for only three months, and third-time offenders would be prohibited for only six months. These drastically reduced prohibitions are dangerous. The changes could allow offenders to be behind the wheel before they were ready.
I would ask the government to reconsider some of these changes to ensure that offenders are properly convicted for their actions and that the probationary periods, as currently outlined in the Criminal Code, are maintained.
Moving on to drug-impaired driving now. The Government of Canada website states that:
Bill C-46 proposes to supplement the existing drug-impaired driving offence by creating three new offences for having specified levels of a drug in the blood within two hours of driving. The penalties would depend on the drug type and the levels of drug or the combination of alcohol and drugs. The levels would be set by regulation.
While it is encouraging to see tougher penalties for repeat offenders, some concerns remain about the ability to enforce these new offences based on the specified levels. For example, would officers be able to use discretion for those near the cut-off, or would the measuring devices be able to determine exactly how significant the influence of the drug is? Furthermore, the level of the drug may have a greater impairment on some people, causing their behaviour to be more harmful to the safety of others. My concern is that the punishment may not be congruent for all offenders.
It is of the utmost importance that we seek to protect Canadians from impaired drivers and ensure that there are strict penalties for those who choose to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, it is also critical that those penalties are accompanied with sufficient education and resources for our police officers. The legislation does not include any specifics regarding the process by which police will be trained in order to handle the increased threat of drug-impaired driving upon the legalization of cannabis.
Education on impaired driving is not limited to police officers. It is critical that the Liberal government also emphasizes effective education to deter Canadians from impaired driving. The report and recommendations outlined by the Liberal government's task force recommended extensive education on cannabis and impaired driving awareness before any legislation takes effect. Unfortunately, the government has chosen to ignore that sound advice and is pushing through the legislation.
Impaired driving continues to be one of the leading causes of death in Canada and it is unwise to move forward without effective education and resources for our police forces and for all Canadians. While I find it hypocritical that after 10 years of denouncing the stricter penalties for criminals put forward by the previous Conservative government, the Liberals have opted to impose higher maximum penalties and mandatory fines, it is a good first step to ensuring that our streets are safe.
That said, as I have mentioned throughout my speech, the changes outlined in Bill C-46 are not enough to protect Canadians from the dangers of impaired driving. I hope the government will choose to slow down the legislation and provide relevant education before it chooses to move forward with cannabis legalization. The legislation has been rushed and has been put on an unreasonable timeline. The Liberal government needs to recognize that when passing major legislation such as this, it is far more important to get it right rather than to do it hastily.
I hope the government will consider the concerns I have raised and together we can work to protect Canadians from the devastating realities of impaired driving.