Mr. Speaker, today I will be speaking in favour of Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code, regarding offences relating to conveyances, and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Before I actually get into my speech, I think we all have a story to tell. When I was five, a drunk driver hit my parents. My mom was in the hospital for a year. My dad was gravely injured as well. Our whole family was split up to different multiple homes, and that has had far-reaching consequences throughout my life. Being here today allows me the opportunity to help do the right thing.
Bill C-46 is a non-partisan proposal to hit back hard against impaired driving, an issue all too familiar for many Canadians. We all want our roads to be clear of drug-impaired and alcohol-impaired drivers, and Bill C-46 would help to deliver just that. The bill contains a package of reforms that would make it far more difficult to escape detection and to avoid conviction. Bill C-46 addresses numerous elements found in the 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 would address drug-impaired driving and would come into force on royal assent. The second part would 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 following 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.
I would like to expand on those provisions that would streamline the procedures surrounding impaired driving, both in and out of court.
In regard to proving blood alcohol concentration, I begin by noting that trials for the offence of driving over the legal limit for alcohol take up a disproportionate amount of trial time at the provincial court level. This occurs in part because of defence efforts to raise a reasonable doubt about the validity of the blood alcohol concentration. Bill C-46 proposes to address this in a manner consistent with current science by setting out that a driver's BAC, blood alcohol concentration, will be conclusively proven if the police have taken the following steps.
First, the 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 actually quite important; otherwise, the court could not be certain that the approved instrument detected only the alcohol that was in the driver's breath.
Second, qualified technicians must ensure that the approved instrument is calibrated correctly. They 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, qualified technicians must take two breath samples at least 15 minutes apart. If there is agreement between the samples, meaning the results are within 20 milligrams, 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 conditions, a lower reading typically would avoid a fine above the minimum fine.
If the qualified technicians take these three steps, the resulting blood alcohol concentration will be conclusively proven. The result is an 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 would ensure 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 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 U.S.A. already have such a formulation. It eliminates the bolus drinking defence, also known as the “drink and dash defence”. This consists of a driver claiming that they were under 80 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 has actually occurred, it is then argued in court that the effects of the alcohol did not make the driver drunk until the driver was stopped. This is very dangerous behaviour that should not be condoned by the law. This is a loophole that allows people to get out of the responsibilities of their actions.
The new offence also limits the “intervening drink defence” by tackling a strategy employed after driving but before testing at the police station. The driver either openly drinks alcohol once the police have stopped him, or they drink alcohol that was hidden, for example, in a pocket flask while they are waiting in the police car or at the station. This behaviour typically is aimed at interfering with the police investigation of an impaired driving offence. Again, if we look around and we look at the science and what has been happening out there, Bill C-46 aims to address these issues.
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 where 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.
For example, the driver 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, in this rare scenario the driver could still 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 the relevance of the requested information. This disclosure provision is intended to ensure that police are not obliged to disclose material, such as historical approved instrument maintenance records, which 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 record materials to 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 reading that is a valid statement of a driver's blood alcohol concentration. Defence will be given full and complete disclosure of the steps taken to ensure the scientific validity of a driver's blood alcohol concentration result on the approved instrument. 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 and it will ensure that time is not spent addressing irrelevant disclosure applications.
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 been the subject of extensive discussions with provinces and territories and are eagerly awaited by them.
I ask that all hon. members join in voting to pass Bill C-46 at second reading and send it to the legislative committee for review.