Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the enforcement of drug impaired driving offences in Canada.
On November 4, 2004, the former justice minister under the Liberal government introduced Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This new legislation builds on Bill C-16 but includes stronger penalties than our bill had proposed.
Bill C-32, the Conservatives' proposed reforms to the Criminal Code, include increasing penalties. Drivers would be charged if in possession of illicit drugs. Drivers with blood alcohol levels exceeding .08 would face a life sentence penalty in the case of causing death and a maximum 10 year sentence in the case of causing bodily harm. These provisions are in addition to existing provisions that hold an alcohol or drug impaired driving offence that causes bodily harm to be punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and that such an offence that causes death is punishable by life imprisonment.
Impaired drivers would face higher mandatory minimum penalties. For a first offence, the fine would increase from $600 to $1000. For a second offence, sentences would increase from 14 days mandatory prison to 30 days minimum. For a third offence, prison sentences would increase from 90 days minimum to 120 days minimum. When the offence is punishable on summary conviction, the maximum term of imprisonment would increase from 6 months to 18 months.
The bill would also provide more tools for the police. Police would be able to demand that a person suspected of driving while impaired by alcohol or a drug participate in a sobriety test at the roadside and police would be able to demand that a person suspected of driving while impaired by a drug participate in physical tests and bodily fluid sample tests.
The Criminal Code currently makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle when one's ability is impaired by alcohol or a drug, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. There is a further offence with respect to alcohol while driving while one's blood alcohol limit exceeds the legal limit of .08%.
The anomaly is that currently there is no legal drug limit. There are non-quantifiable tests such as erratic driving and witness testimony. If the driver voluntarily participates, results of a drug test are admissible but this a very rare occurrence. As a consequence, police powers for obtaining evidence of drug impaired driving are very limited.
It is urgent that Parliament address drug impaired driving. The 2002 Senate special committee report on illegal drugs, “Cannabis: Our position for Canadian Public Policy”, found that between 5% and 12% of drivers may operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. Further, a survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation revealed that in 2002 almost 20% of Canadian drivers had taken the wheel less than two hours after consuming a potentially impairing drug. This included both legal and illegal drugs. These statistics and findings must be reversed.
In 1999, I chaired the justice committee when we studied the issue of impaired driving and prepared a report entitled, “Toward Eliminating Impaired Driving”. The committee was very frustrated with the appreciation that drugs play a contributing role in motor vehicle accidents but that there were no practical legal limits to test for drugs.
There is no scientific consensus on the threshold drug concentration levels in the body that cause impairment making driving hazardous. Unlike the Breathalyzer tests used for alcohol, there is no objective test to measure drug impairment. Further, there is no measurable link between drug impairment and drug quantity. In addition, traces of some drugs could remain in the body for weeks. For instance, the active ingredient in cannabis can be detected for up to four weeks, although its impairing effects do not last. Because there is no scientifically proven threshold, it is not possible to propose a legal limit.
Because there is no clear drug limit testing, a drug recognition expert, DRE, is acknowledged as a necessity.
The lack of authority for police to make a demand for drug testing was a concern that was raised in a number of credible submissions to our committee, such as the Canadian Bar Association, the Province of Ontario, the Canadian Automobile Association and others, who called for expansion of police powers to allow a demand for drug testing.
The committee had concerns about drafting such provisions. Parliament would need to provide legislative guidance on what would constitute reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the offence has occurred. Further, the power to demand bodily samples for drug testing, such as blood, would be intrusive and require consideration of potential violations of the Charter of Rights.
Notwithstanding that, the committee in recommendation 12 suggested a Criminal Code amendment to allow a judge to authorize the taking of a blood sample to test for the presence of alcohol or drugs based on reasonable and probable grounds that an impaired driving offence has been committed. The committee also recommended consultation with the provinces and territories to develop legislation aimed at better obtaining evidence against suspected drug impaired drivers.
The Department of Justice consulted extensively with the provinces and territories, following which the Liberal government introduced two identical pieces of legislation in two subsequent parliaments to deal with this problem. Indeed, the Liberal Party takes impaired driving very seriously. Unfortunately, both Bill C-32 and Bill C-16 died on the order paper when elections were called in November 2004 and 2005 respectively. The Conservatives have reintroduced very similar legislation, with stronger penalties, however.
Passage of the new Bill C-32 will be a significant step toward making roads safer and protecting the public. It will give the police the authority to demand standardized field sobriety tests at the roadside. The officer must have reasonable suspicion of alcohol or a drug in the body before making the demand. The standard test involves walking heel to toe, following with the eyes the officer's hand movement, and balancing on one leg with the other leg held in front about six inches off the ground.
These roadside tests take about 10 minutes. If the driver fails the roadside test, the officer then would have reasonable grounds to demand a breath test on an approved instrument in the case of alcohol. In the case of a drug, the officer would have reasonable grounds to demand an evaluation by an officer certified to do drug recognition expert or DRE tests back at the police station.
The purpose of the evaluation is to identify the class of drugs, if any, that is causing impairment. The evaluation further involves physical tests and checking of vital signs. This evaluation takes about 45 minutes. Following the identification of a class of drugs, the officer could then demand a sample of a bodily fluid, urine, blood or saliva, to test for the presence of a drug.
Refusal to comply with a police order to submit to a roadside sobriety test or to an evaluation at the police station, or to provide a bodily fluid sample, would constitute a criminal offence, just as it is now an offence to refuse a police order to submit to an alcohol breath test.
The idea with the drug impaired driving investigation is not to prove that a concentration of a particular drug is exceeded and that therefore the person is impaired. As previously indicated, there would be few drugs for which there would be a scientific consensus on the concentration level at which there would be impairment for the general population of drivers.
The bill proposes no legal limits for the wide range of drugs. Instead, the idea is to provide for the investigation of a driver's drug impairment by observing physiological symptoms that are unique to a particular class of drugs, and then to confirm with a bodily fluid sample whether the drug was indeed present.
If the tests do not show impairment, the driver is free to go. If the officers see a medical condition, they can obtain medical help.
The combination of steps, that is, the police officer observing the driver's ability to perform the simple tasks of the roadside standardized field sobriety test, the results of the more comprehensive testing by the drug recognition expert, and the confirmation by the independent laboratory analysis of the presence of the drug identified by the DRE as causing the impairment, will provide the necessary checks and balances.
Let us consider the charter considerations. We know that the demands for alcohol breath tests on approved screening devices at roadside, without a right to contact counsel, have been found justifiable by the courts under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, pursuant to the section 1 demonstrable justification limitation on a right.
The right to counsel must be given following the demand for an alcohol breath test on an approved instrument back at the station and before the approved instrument testing is done. It is anticipated that the same practice would prevail for the DRE evaluations envisaged under Bill C-32.
I would suggest that there are aspects of the bill that need further consideration. I do express reservations regarding the new offence of driving while in possession of an illegal drug, where any person found in possession of a controlled substance while operating or in the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or sailing equipment is guilty of an offence. This provision would apply whether the person is in personal possession of the drug or the drug is simply in the vehicle, provided that the individual knowingly had possession of the drug without lawful excuse for such possession.
I agree with those who claim that this new offence does not belong within Bill C-32 as there is no connection between possession of a drug and impairment and possession of a drug that is already prohibited under section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Of necessity there will have to be an educational component of this new impaired driving strategy, under either the justice or the health department. Individuals using marijuana may or may not know that they could be impaired and should take this legislation very seriously. Individuals taking prescription or off the shelf drugs may not understand that they could come within the boundaries of this legislation and must ensure that they do not operate a motor vehicle while influenced by such drugs.
I have every confidence that NGOs such as MADD will continue to put out relevant and compelling information in this respect. The federal government should either do the same thing or provide funding assistance to organizations such as MADD to do so.
Impaired driving continues to be a scourge on our society. I will continue to support legislation that will help not only to reduce it but to eventually and ultimately eradicate such conduct.