Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to a subject that has admittedly attracted a lot of attention in recent days, weeks, and months.
Obviously, the legalization of cannabis, or marijuana, was a hot but sensitive topic during the election campaign, and so it is important to open a dialogue with Quebeckers and Canadians to discuss it.
As a mother of four children, two girls and two boys, aged 17 to 25, I am well aware of the arguments for and against the legalization of cannabis. However, one thing is certain. We need to reconsider our current approach.
As part of its commitment, our government recognizes that the existing approach is not working and seems outdated. The rate of cannabis use among young people is higher in Canada than anywhere else in the world. That is not an enviable record, even though we are, as the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien was fond of saying, “the best country in the world”. I truly believe that.
In 2015, the rate of cannabis use was 21% among young people aged 15 to 19 and 30% among adults aged 20 to 24. In other words, one in three people use cannabis on a regular basis. If we add in the people who use it occasionally, the number only increases. Obviously, our bill addresses a real problem. It will protect our children from drugs and from the underground network that supplies them.
Recently, our government introduced two bills to carry out and complete the legalization of cannabis and the associated regulations. However, many people only want to hear the first term, namely, legalization.
When I talk to people in my riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, very few of them are aware of the second bill, Bill C-46, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
In other words, this bill seeks to make several amendments to the Criminal Code to address cannabis-impaired driving. The prohibition on cannabis must be lifted safely, everywhere, and in every sector of our society, including on our roads.
Unfortunately, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. That is why our government is committed to enacting new, more stringent laws, to punish people who drive under the influence of drugs, including cannabis, more severely.
I firmly believe that enacting this bill will deter people from getting behind the wheel when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The media often tend to say that it is our young people who are more reckless and who drive while impaired. However, I know that my children and their friends do not consider impaired driving, or not having a plan for getting home, to be even remotely cool. In fact, most of the time, young people and those who are not so young already have a plan for getting home. This is an approach that I strongly encourage. There are also many alternatives available now, including drive-home services, taxis, public transit, ride-sharing, parents, and so forth.
This bill has two parts. In part 1, the amendments proposed in Bill C-46 include a new legal limit for drug-related offences and new tools to allow for better detection of impaired drivers.
To make it all possible, the bill provides for the use of roadside screening devices using oral fluid samples. This is a first in Canada when it comes to drug screening. This type of device is already used in a number of countries, including the G7 countries, such as France.
As we speak, the police have few if any ways of immediately determining the blood concentration of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, for drivers stopped at the roadside.
We must take action, and bill C-46 will enable police officers who legally stop drivers at the side of the road to ask them to provide an oral fluid sample, if they have reasonable suspicions and believe that drugs are present in a driver’s body.
A positive reading would then help establish reasonable grounds to believe that an offence had been committed. This is an important key measure in the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis.
This important bill will allow an officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed to contact an “evaluating officer”. The “evaluating officer” will then conduct an evaluation of the drug use by taking a blood sample. Next, the bill will create three new offences based on specified levels of a drug in a person’s blood within two hours after driving.
Obviously, the penalties would depend on the drug type and the levels or the combination of drugs and alcohol. These offences will be considered on the basis of the levels of active ingredients in the blood, but will also be harsher and will be “hybrid offences” where a driver has a combination of alcohol and cannabis. For example, a hybrid offence will be punishable by a mandatory fine of $1,000 and the penalty will escalate, including days of imprisonment for repeat offenders.
In part 2, Bill C-46 would reform the entire Criminal Code regime dealing with conveyances and create a new, modern system that is simplified and more coherent, in order to better prevent alcohol- or drug-impaired driving. In other words, this part of the bill provides for mandatory roadside alcohol screening, increases in minimum fines and certain maximum penalties, and a host of measures to simplify and update the existing law.
In conclusion, I have full confidence in Bill C-46, and that the coherent, clear, and sufficiently coercive measures it contains will make our roads safer for everyone. Obviously, to support these measures, our government will undertake a robust public awareness campaign, so that Canadians are well informed about the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis or other drugs. I am also committed to doing that in my community of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, to educate people and raise their awareness, to ensure that there is good communication, and to work on prevention with young people and the public as a whole.