Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this motion to refer to committee Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code (drugs and impaired driving) and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.
I am convinced that all members of this House want to pass the best possible legislation to fight the problem of drug-impaired driving. We know that the government's proposal is intended to amend the Criminal Code to give police the authority to demand that a person suspected of having drugs in his or her system submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, or SFST.
If that person fails these tests, the police officer will have reason to believe that the person's faculties are impaired by drugs or by the combined effects of drugs and alcohol, and thus will be empowered to demand that the person accompany the officer to the police station, where the person will have to undergo other tests administered by a specially trained drug recognition expert, known as a DRE.
If the expert believes that the impairment is linked to a particular category of drugs, he or she will be authorized to require the person to furnish a sample of bodily fluids for analysis to confirm or refute the expert's opinion.
In one sense, this bill does not create a revolution. SFSTs and DREs are already being used in Canada. I understand that currently there are over 100 police officers trained as drug recognition experts. This phenomenon started in British Columbia in 1995 and now there are DREs in most provinces.
The RCMP is giving the training in conjunction with other police forces, and it is reasonable to expect that there will be DREs across the country within one or two years. Moreover, trial courts have accepted DREs' testimony in cases resulting in convictions.
Canada is not the only country to use DREs. As a matter of fact the first DREs were introduced in California in the early 1980s. Nowadays, they can be found in over 30 U.S. states as well as in Australia, New Zealand and several European countries. Training has been standardized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police over the past 10 years.
So if the program is already well in place in several Canadian provinces why do we need this bill? The answer is simple: We need it because currently a person suspected of drug-impaired driving is not obliged to take the tests.
In its report, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs devoted a chapter to driving under the influence of cannabis. The explanation given there applies to any police report of drug-impaired driving.
The Senate Committee summed up the situation as follows:
The typical scenario for driving under the influence of psychoactive substances other than alcohol is as follows: a vehicle attracts the attention of a police officer, who pulls the vehicle over and questions the driver; if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is intoxicated, a breathalyzer test is administered; however, when the test yields a result below the legal limit, the police officer may still not be convinced that the driver is capable of driving, but how is this to be proven? Before, more often than not, the police officer had to release the driver.
When the Senate committee says that “before the police officer had to release the driver” it refers to the situation that prevailed in the United States and in other countries before the law was amended to oblige suspected drivers to take the test.
Unfortunately, between now and when this bill is passed, we will continue to be in the same frustrating situation. The police officer suspects that the driver is impaired and presents a danger on the road, but since the impairment is not alcohol-related, which could be verified with an approved screening device or an approved breath test at the police station, he has to let the driver go and possibly kill or harm others. He can only detain the driver if he has solid evidence to arrest him and lay charges.
Bill C-32 will give police officers the tools they need to certify driving impaired by alcohol. First, the officer will be able to require the driver to take an SFST. This test takes roughly five minutes and is conducted on the spot. It consists in looking at the driver's eyes while slowly moving an object, such as a pen, in front of him and watching to see whether the eye movement is jerky. The driver is then asked to walk a straight line, heel to toe, and then turn around and come back. Then the person has to stand on one leg and hold the other leg straight, 15 centimetres from the ground, while counting to 30. Hon. members should try these tests. They will see that they are not difficult. Clearly, if the suspect has a handicap or a health problem that would prevent them from doing the test, they can refuse to do it. The legislation allows for the possibility of “reasonable excuse”. Otherwise, police officers have reasonable grounds to believe that a driver who has failed to pass these tests is impaired. That is the prerequisite for requiring tests to be conducted by DREs.
The evaluation is carried out by an officer trained in drug recognition. The drug-detection tests are based on medical and scientific knowledge. They are designed to identify the presence of seven classes of drugs: central nervous system depressants, better known as tranquilizers; inhalants, including solvents, aerosols and anesthetic gases; PCP, phencyclidine, a dissociative anesthetic; cannabis; central nervous system stimulants, such as speed or cocaine; hallucinogens such as LSD and ecstasy; and narcotics or opiates, like heroin and morphine.
Officers trained in drug recognition can also recognize characteristics of consumption of various drugs.
The DRE evaluation consists of 12 steps. There are three tests of eye movement: horizontal nystagmus, vertical nystagmus and convergence. Nystagmus is an involuntary but observable jerk of the eyeball. Horizontal nystagmus is a jerk that occurs while a person is watching an object move from left to right and back again.
The DRE also administers a modified Romberg balance test, a walk-and-turn test, a one-leg stand, and finger-to-nose test. The DRE then takes three vital signs: blood pressure, body temperature and pulse.