moved that Bill C-338, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to rise today to debate the private member's bill I have brought forward on behalf of the citizens of Surrey North.
The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the activity commonly referred to as street racing. It was introduced because Canadians want the federal government to address the problem.
Street racing is killing or seriously injuring innocent people. The carnage caused by this reckless behaviour is on the rise in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and other cities.
Bill C-338 proposes to do something about it and today I ask the government to take action to stop street racing by supporting its passage.
Bill C-338 would amend the Criminal Code to provide that street racing is to be considered an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing a person convicted of an offence committed by means of a motor vehicle under section 220, criminal negligence causing death; or section 221, criminal negligence causing bodily harm; or subsection 249(3), dangerous operation causing bodily harm; or subsection 249(4) dangerous operation causing death.
The bill also provides for mandatory nationwide driving prohibitions to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.
On a first offence, a judge must suspend driving privileges for a period of one to three years; for a second offence, two to five years; and for subsequent offences, three years to life. Also, if death was caused on the first or second offence, a lifetime prohibition will be imposed on the second conviction.
Canadians want anyone who seriously injures or kills as a result of street racing to be prohibited from operating a motor vehicle for a significant period of time. They do not want individuals convicted of this carnage to serve a sentence and then be allowed to immediately get behind the wheel of a car. Neither do they want such individuals to simply move to another province to obtain a driver's licence.
Letters, phone calls and e-mails to my office from across Canada have expressed outrage over the carnage caused by street racing and lenient sentences being imposed, including conditional sentences. The victims do not support using house arrest for anyone convicted of being responsible for a street race crash that has either killed or seriously injured someone.
The British Columbia Automobile Association has advised me that its members are clearly in favour of swift and severe penalties for street racers. In its 2002 member opinion survey, its members expressed support for all penalties used to punish racers, including two year driver's licence suspensions, vehicle impoundment, fines and demerit points.
Last February 6 I received an e-mail from Margaret-Ann Blaney, minister of justice for New Brunswick. She has forwarded my bill and accompanying information to her officials in the justice department. She said that the suspension of driving privileges was of particular interest to her officials.
On February 4, Gord Mackintosh, minister of justice and attorney general of Manitoba, wrote me an e-mail concerning Bill C-338. He said the following:
Since the current Government of Manitoba was elected in 1999, it has introduced strong new measures to deal with dangerous drivers such as tougher driver's licence suspension provisions, including lifetime suspensions, and vehicle forfeiture for the most serious offenders. Amendments made to our Highway Traffic Act this past session have given our provincial street racing offence the highest maximum fine and the highest demerit point level available for provincial driving offences under that legislation.
I agree that it is important to ensure that there are appropriate measures to deter individuals from engaging in reckless driving behaviour that puts others at risk. I perceive that the challenge in pursuing Criminal Code changes is to weigh the effect of what may be inconsistencies in treatment between impaired driving and street racing offenders and to ensure that they are all workable.
You have raised an important issue.
In a January 21 letter to me, Robert Runciman, the then minister of public safety and security in Ontario, declared the following:
Street racing is a serious offence that puts all road users at risk and we must not tolerate it on our roadways. I am pleased that your proposed amendment to the Code would address the issue of street racing during the sentencing process. Mandatory driving prohibitions need to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed by the courts. I hope your initiative will succeed.
Ontario responded to street racing by proposing legislation empowering police officers to immediately seize a vehicle and suspend a driver's licence for 48 hours. It also proposed to prohibit the use of equipment and substances, such as nitrous oxide, used to boost the performance of engines for the purpose of racing. Unfortunately, the legislation was not enacted due to the recent election. Hopefully the new Ontario minister of transport will reintroduce this legislation.
Jamie Muir, minister of justice for Nova Scotia, wrote to me on January 22 stating:
Although the police have not reported any particular problem enforcing the Provincial prohibition of street racing in this area, this appears to be an effective tool for helping to control the problem where it exists.
Dave Hancock, the minister of justice for Alberta, wrote on January 9 to say:
Street racing is a dangerous practice, which should be an aggravating factor for sentencing certain offenders.
He reminded me that Alberta has significantly increased the penalty for the provincial offence of street racing in the traffic safety act.
The Alberta justice minister went on to suggest that Bill C-338 could be amended to include impaired driving cases. I would have no problem considering amending Bill C-338 to apply to anyone convicted of impaired driving causing death or bodily harm where it can be established that street racing was a factor.
In my home province of British Columbia, Surrey-Green Timbers MLA, Brenda Locke, called on the federal government to crack down on street racers in a motion she introduced in the B.C. legislature.
With the passage of her motion on April 7 of this year, B.C. sent a strong message. Locke's motion calls on Ottawa to remove conditional sentencing for street racers who kill or maim innocent victims. An amendment was introduced to encompass all criminals convicted of a serious violent crime. Both the amendment and the motion passed in the B.C. legislature.
The motion was brought forward in honour of the lives of innocent victims of street racing: Jerry Kithithee, Constable Jimmy Ng and Irene Thorpe. Those three individuals were brutally killed by young men whose reckless, selfish, irresponsible and deliberate actions stole their lives and broke many hearts. There have been more since.
The motion was an important step in urging the federal government to make the necessary changes to the Criminal Code to make our roads safer. It was a de facto endorsement of Bill C-338, which I introduced in this place months earlier. Bill C-338 proposes the Criminal Code changes that B.C. seeks.
Street racing is the height of recklessness and a deliberate endangerment to communities. British Columbians understand the magnitude and the consequences of this activity and question why the courts treat it so lightly and ineffectively.
British Columbians seek justice for street racers and their victims. There have been numerous incidents where victims simply do not see justice.
A number of support groups in British Columbia support a crackdown on street racing. They include Family Survivors Against Street Racers, Our Angels in Heaven and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
B.C.'s solicitor general and minister of public safety, Rich Coleman, confirms that 60 vehicles involved in street racing have been seized and 180 driver's licences were suspended since amendments were made to provincial legislation in 2002.
Mr. Coleman stated the following:
This government has for some time been telling the federal government that in cases of offences involving violence, death and sexual assault, we don't believe there should be the opportunity for conditional sentences within the law. We have taken that to the table of the federal justice ministers.
Geoff Plant, the attorney general of British Columbia, says that conditional sentences have no role to play in street racing offences. He states:
The Criminal Code needs to be tightened up in the area of conditional sentencing so that conditional sentences are rarely, if ever, available for a crime of this nature.
MLA Locke concluded her remarks on the passage of her motion by saying:
It has been my privilege to work alongside Nina and her family as well as the Member of Parliament for Surrey North and other volunteers. I want to thank the Member of Parliament for Surrey North for aggressively raising this issue in the Parliament of Canada.
I should point out that the Nina referred to in this case is Nina Rivet who is a sister of Irene Thorpe, the woman who was run down by a street racer while out for a walk one evening.
What is the position of the Liberal government?
In response to a letter from me late last year, the Minister of Justice does not appear to be interested in helping to stop street racing. He says that mandatory minimum criminal penalties “do not work from the point of view of general deterrence and recidivism”.
There is no empirical evidence linking deterrence and recidivism as they relate to street racing. In fact, in a recent B.C. case, the driver who was eventually convicted for the street racing crash that caused the death of Irene Thorpe was arrested for speeding while he was out on bail, even though his licence was suspended as a condition of that bail. This counters the minister's contention because it shows clearly that there is a need for legal deterrence. There is a recidivism problem.
The minister also says that driving prohibitions should remain discretionary. He says that sometimes they may not be necessary because of long terms of punishment handed down to street racers who kill or seriously injure. The problem with the minister's contention is that no one has ever received any of these long prison terms for convictions resulting from street racing.
House arrest is being used for street racers who kill or injure people. This is inappropriate from the standpoint of the victims or their survivors and the protection and safety of communities that have a serious street racing problem.
The government also maintains that there are only a few minimum sentences provided for in the Criminal Code and that it is not willing to add more, such as the mandatory drivers' licence suspensions called for in this bill, but there are many areas in the Criminal Code that provide minimum sentences. I counted 26 offences in the 2004 Martin's Annual Criminal Code that carry a minimum sentence upon conviction. And many Canadians agree that there should be more minimum sentences for many more offences in the Criminal Code. Our criminal justice system needs more teeth.
The government also believes that taking account of aggravating circumstances for the purposes of sentencing is a very rare tool provided for in the Criminal Code. The justice minister suggested that aggravating circumstances for sentencing are virtually limited to hate motivated crimes, abuse of position of trust and authority, spousal and child abuse, criminal organization and terrorism.
In fact, there are other examples. Bill C-15A, passed in June 2002, made home invasion an aggravating factor in sentencing for certain offences. A judge sentencing a person for unlawful confinement, robbery, extortion or break and enter must consider it an aggravating circumstance if the offence was committed in an occupied dwelling where the offender was either aware that it was occupied or was reckless in this regard, and where he or she used violence or threats of violence against a person or property.
I point out that when I presented a motion to that effect at the justice committee a year or more earlier, government members called me silly, and yet they enacted it themselves a year later.
Bill C-46, currently before the justice committee, in clause 3 sets out four aggravating factors for sentencing purposes with respect to fraudulent manipulation of the public markets.
The minister's lame excuses betray a lack of serious consideration being given to this issue by this government. There is no requirement to equate street racing with other crimes in order to allow it to be considered as an aggravating circumstance.
I expect that the government will hang its argument against my bill on its refusal to consider minimum sentences and the use of aggravating circumstances when sentencing. Those are not good enough grounds for the government to fail to address the problem of street racing.
Sanctions should reflect the fact that street racing is an activity that goes beyond the regular criminal activities involving motor vehicles that are covered by the Criminal Code. Driving prohibitions must be nationwide to prevent anyone convicted of causing death or serious injury while street racing from simply moving to another province and continuing to drive.
As street racing incidents causing death and serious injury continue to occur in our major cities, passage of Bill C-338 would serve as a deterrent. This is a proactive legislative measure that would provide one step in the fight to stop street racing.
Today the government has the opportunity to support Bill C-338. It has an opportunity to stand up for the victims and to hold the perpetrators properly accountable.