Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to mention that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
I will be speaking in favour of Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Bill C-46 is a non-partisan proposal to hit back against impaired driving, an issue all too familiar to many citizens in my riding of St. Catharines and throughout Canada.
We all want roads that are clear of drug- and alcohol-impaired drivers, and Bill C-46 would help deliver this. The bill contains a package of reforms that will make it far more difficult to escape detection and avoid conviction. The bill addresses numerous elements found in earlier bills, but it is, in my view, a more comprehensive approach to impaired driving and includes new elements to deal with drug-impaired driving in advance of cannabis legislation.
This comprehensive bill has two parts. The first part addresses drug-impaired driving and will come into force on royal assent. The second part will combine the new drug-impaired driving provisions with other transportation offences, including amendments to the alcohol-impaired driving provisions within a new part of the Criminal Code. This part would come into force 180 days after royal assent.
The proposals in Bill C-46 are aimed at making our streets safer and at the same time are intended to boost efficiency and reduce delays in the criminal justice system, which I, as a lawyer in St. Catharines, saw far too often.
I would like to expand on the provisions that would streamline the procedures surrounding impaired driving, both in and out of court.
I begin by noting trials for the offence of driving over the legal limit for alcohol take up a disproportionate amount of trial time at the provincial and superior court levels. This occurs in part because of defence efforts to raise a reasonable doubt about the validity of the blood alcohol concentration analysis. Bill C-46 proposes to address this in a manner consistent with current science, by setting out that a driver's BAC will be conclusively proven if the police have taken the steps I will now describe.
First, a qualified technician who is a police officer trained to operate an approved instrument must ensure that the approved instrument is not registering any alcohol that is in the room air. This is done by an air blank test. This is important. Otherwise, the court could not be certain that the approved instrument detected only alcohol that was in the driver's breath.
Second, the qualified technician must ensure that the approved instrument is calibrated correctly. Technicians do this by testing a standard alcohol solution that is certified by an analyst to contain a specific concentration of alcohol. If the approved instrument produces a result that is within 10% of the target value, then the approved instrument is correctly calibrated.
Third, the qualified technician must take two breath samples at least 15 minutes apart. If there is agreement between the samples, meaning the results are within 20 milligrams of each other, the agreement requirement is met, and the lower of the two readings will be the reading that forms the basis of any criminal charge for driving while over the legal limit. For an offender with no prior impaired driving convictions, a lower reading typically would avoid a fine above the minimum fine.
If the qualified technician takes these three steps, then the resulting blood alcohol concentration will be conclusively proven. The result is enhanced trial efficiency, given that no court time is taken up by efforts to question the validity of the blood alcohol concentration analysis. This proposed change is based on the best available scientific evidence and ensures trial fairness while preventing time-consuming challenges to reliable testing procedures.
There is another important change proposed in Bill C-46 that works hand in hand with the proof of blood alcohol concentration. This is the proposal to reformulate the offence from driving while over 80 milligrams to the new formulation proposed in Bill C-46, which is having a blood alcohol concentration at or over 80 milligrams of alcohol within two hours of driving.
A number of states in the United States already have such a formulation. It eliminates the bolus drinking defence, also known as the drink-and-dash defence. This defence consists of a driver claiming that they were under 80 milligrams at the time of driving because the alcohol, which they drank quickly and just before driving, was not fully absorbed into the blood. However, by the time they were tested on the approved instrument at the police station, the alcohol was absorbed and the reading on the approved instrument was over 80.
Assuming this pattern of behaviour actually occurred, it is then argued in court that the effects of the alcohol did not make the driver drunk until after the driver was stopped. This is very dangerous behaviour that should not be condoned in law.
The new offence also limits the intervening drink defence by tackling a strategy employed after driving but before testing at the police station. A driver either openly drinks alcohol once the police have stopped him or her, or he or she drinks alcohol that was hidden, for example, in a pocket flask while they are awaiting the police in the police car or at the station. This behaviour typically is aimed at interfering with the police investigation of an impaired driving offence.
The Supreme Court of Canada indicated in 2012 that the bolus drinking defence and the intervening drink defence encourage behaviour that is dangerous or contrary to public policy. Bill C-46 would eliminate the bolus drinking defence and restrict the intervening drink defence to situations in which the post-driving alcohol consumption occurred innocently, meaning that the driver had no reasonable expectation that a demand for a breath sample would be made by the police. An example would be a driver who arrives home and begins drinking at home. There is no reason to expect the police to arrive and make a demand for a breath sample. However, if the police receive a complaint that the driver was driving while drunk and they investigate, which is a rare scenario, the driver could still in that case raise the intervening drink defence.
Another efficiency measure in Bill C-46 is the clarification of the crown's disclosure requirements. The bill clearly and concisely specifies what the prosecution must provide to the defence with respect to a driver's testing on the approved instrument. If the defence wishes to obtain more, it can apply to the court but must show relevance of the information requested. This disclosure provision is intended to ensure that police are not obliged to disclose material, such as historical approved instrument maintenance records, that is irrelevant to the scientific validity of the driver's breath test results.
Given that the disclosure phase is frequently a bottleneck in the process, these clarifications are expected to result in significant improvements in prosecutorial efficiency. This includes time and resources saved on locating, copying, collating, organizing, or otherwise providing scientifically irrelevant maintenance records to the defence.
I am confident that the proposed changes in Bill C-46 will make the investigation and prosecution of impaired driving crimes a lot simpler. The approved instrument, when used by a qualified technician who first ensures that it is operating correctly, is scientifically reliable. It produces a valid statement of a driver's blood alcohol concentration. Defence will be given full and complete disclosure. Defence will be able to see for itself whether the appropriate steps that are prerequisite to the conclusive proof of blood alcohol concentration were taken.
Through Bill C-46, efficiencies in the criminal justice system for impaired driving matters will be gained not only at the police investigation stage but also at the trial stage. The impaired driving provisions have also been subject to extensive discussions with the provinces and territories and are eagerly awaited by them.
I ask all hon. members to join in voting to pass Bill C-46 at second reading and send it to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for review.