Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House this evening to speak to Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts. This bill was introduced in conjunction with Bill C-45, the cannabis act, and aims to update Canada's impaired driving laws.
Updates to these laws are welcomed and there is unfortunately much to be improved on in Canada regarding impaired driving. Over the past three decades, all provinces have seen significant decreases in their impaired driving rates.
For a significant majority of Canadians, a group that is growing larger each year, gone are the days when drinking and driving was totally socially acceptable or even something that was excusable once in a while. This has been a very important shift in culture that has saved countless lives.
The year 2015 marked the lowest rates of impaired driving incidents since data on this had been collected, starting in 1986. Since 1986, incidents have decreased by 65%, with a 4% drop from 2014 to 2015. However, there is still work to be done. In 2015, police reported 72,039 impaired driving incidents, representing a rate of 201 incidents per 10,000 of population. This is significant.
Impaired driving is still one of the leading causes of criminal death in Canada, and Canada continues to have one of the worst impaired driving records in the OECD. It is clear that we need to keep making progress on this front.
Criminal penalties for impaired driving, while an important component of restorative justice as a signal that our society condemns a behaviour and as a deterrent from committing an act, will not alone prevent a behaviour from occurring.
Simply put, if someone is being charged with an impaired driving offence, the damage is already done. In the worst situations, it means an innocent life has already been lost. Once someone is impaired, be it due to illegal drugs, legal narcotics, or alcohol, it represents a failure in our duty to properly educate the public about the dangers of this behaviour.
Given that government is moving forward with legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, now is a crucially important time to embark on public outreach, awareness, and education programs to inform Canadians. Canadians need to be informed, not just about legalization, not just about new criminal sentences for this or that, but about what constitutes impairment, what the dangers of impairment driving are, and alternatives to impaired driving.
The NDP, from the outset of this initiative, has been calling on the government to take the lead on public awareness campaigns that promote deterrence before anyone gets behind the wheel. The statistics show that campaigns and programs like these have resulted in a decline inn alcohol-related incidents, so these efforts should be continued and expanded, given the current context.
The campaigns have helped Canadian contextualize impaired driving to understand it better for themselves and to intervene when others might be about to engage in it. Education as simple as one glass of wine has a similar amount of alcohol as one beer and one shot helps dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings of impairment.
Unfortunately, thus far, the government has not held that leadership role in helping contextualize what constitutes what constitutes drug impairment. In fact, the government has shown a lack of leadership by leaving the legal limits up to regulation to be set later.
The government has made recommendations around two nanograms, five nanograms, and a hybrid offence for those with alcohol and drugs in their system, but these are not set. It has also not taken the lead on explaining to Canadians how a person reaches those levels of impairment, for how long they can expect to be impaired, and other important aspects of conceptualizing this new legal landscape.
It also is not clear that the limits suggested will not result in the arrest of individuals who are not impaired. The Canadian Medical Association has stated, “A clear and reliable process for identifying, testing and imposing consequences on individuals who use marijuana and drive absolutely needs to be in place nationally prior to legalization.”
This is because, like alcohol, consumption method, consumption frequency, and personal metabolism can impact the level of impairment. Some experts are questioning using nanograms as a result. We need to ensure we are making evidence-based decisions, decisions based on science.
Canadians need to be able to make informed decisions. In the absence of information, there will be misinformation, and that would be a serious failure on the government's initiative should that occur.
The goal should be to create the social conditions where the criminal penalties being brought in by Bill C-46 are used as little as possible. People are not getting behind the wheel in the first place.
Like my other colleagues who have spoken on the bill, I am supportive of updating our impaired driving laws to reflect the changing realities and severity of these offences. However, like my colleagues, I am concerned with striking the correct balance regarding the civil liberties of Canadians.
Civil liberties groups and the legal community have expressed serious concern about the removal of the need for reasonable suspicion to conduct a roadside breath or saliva test. The concern stems not only from the potential infringement on civil liberties, but also that it will be disproportionately applied to certain visible minority groups.
It has been spoken about in the House that random and mandatory breath tests for alcohol screening could be challenged under section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. It has also been mentioned that it could be challenged under section 9, the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has stated quite clearly in the past on mandatory breath testing that “Giving police power to act on a whim is not something we want in an open democratic society.”
It is my hope that at the committee stage the government takes the study of the bill very seriously. It will be imperative to hear from civil liberty experts, constitutional law experts, and health care experts. We need to understand the science of the testing. We need to ensure there is a robust educational program for Canadians so they know about this law, they know and learn about what the consequences are so they are responsible for their actions.
I sincerely hope the government will be open to amendments, even significant ones, should the evidence suggest that they are needed. This is simply too important to get wrong.
There are the outstanding questions.
Earlier I asked about the possibility of someone being in a room where there was a lot of marijuana smoking and whether that could get into the person's bloodstream even though that person was not actively smoking marijuana. In those cases, how would that be dealt with? Do we have the science in place to ensure people are protected in those circumstances?
With alcohol, for example, we have designated drivers. If people are in a crowd with people who are drinking but they are not, they will not be impacted. However, it may not be the case with marijuana.
My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway, the NDP health critic, raised some very critical questions, particularly for those who would use medicinal marijuana. When they consume the substance, and some of them may have to consume a lot because of a medical condition, what does that mean for them with respect to these implications? The THC could be stored in their bodies for an extended period. It theoretically could be the case that they did not smoke while driving. How would that be dealt with and are what are the implications? Does it mean in those instances they would still be liable?
There needs to be a lot of clarification with respect to that and there needs to be public education. People need to know and understand that. People in the medical community who are prescribing medicinal marijuana need to let the patients know the risks and what impairment might mean.
I am, at this stage, not sure where the science is. There are a lot of questions out there. The science has to be solid as we move forward.
Finally, we do not ever want to see tragedies. We do not want to see anyone's life lost because someone was behind the wheel impaired, whether it be from alcohol or any other substance. That has to be paramount. We have to move forward to bring in laws to ensure that it takes place through education, through enforcement, and most important of all, through our own self-imposed responsibility for our own actions. People need to be clear about what those laws are so that they can make sure they do not do what is so wrong. Once it is done, they cannot take it back.