Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak in complete support of Motion No. 78, that the government should consider strengthening penalties in those sections of the Criminal Code that deal with impaired driving offences. I am honoured to speak on this motion immediately after the mover, the hon. member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley who gave an excellent speech. I have always been of the firm conviction that if it makes sense I will support it. This motion makes a lot of sense.
I feel it is important to state that this issue goes beyond our party lines. The fact that this motion was introduced by the hon. member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley of the Reform Party, supposedly my opponent, has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that strengthening penalties for those who commit an impaired driving offence is a good idea.
I previously supported the hon. member's bill, Bill C-201, which called for amending the minimum sentence of seven years for impaired driving causing death. Although, unfortunately, that bill was narrowly defeated, I believe this motion will accomplish the same principle.
Drunk driving is a very serious offence. It is high time that our courts have a tool to discipline and deter an offence which often ends in death. People, especially young people, are dying every day due to impaired driving and we have to try to stop it.
Recently the Ontario government attempted to crack down on drunk driving offences by imposing an automatic 90 day licence suspension for drivers who blow over the legal alcohol limit or who refuse a breathalyser test. This is a step in the right direction, but it certainly does not go far enough. These drivers can easily appeal on the grounds of mistaken identity or the inability to give a breath sample for medical reasons. Besides that, a 90 day suspension is an administrative tool for the government and does not act as a real deterrent. We need to impose a sentence which will make an impaired driver think twice about getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.
I come from a rural part of southwestern Ontario and I am sad to say that I often see the reality of impaired driving close to home. Where there is an absence of public transportation or taxi cabs, young and old alike will often get into their vehicles after a night out and attempt to drive the dark, back country roads. I am sad to say that I have often witnessed horrific accidents due to drunk driving right on the corner of my property. That is not to say this is exclusively a rural problem. Nevertheless, without any alternative form of transportation we have to send a clear message to people in rural Canada that driving drunk is dangerous, if not deadly.
It is my belief that the sections of the Criminal Code dealing with impaired driving do not act as a sufficient deterrent. Currently there is a 14 year maximum sentence available for impaired driving causing death. How often is it imposed? It is similar to our old gun laws, some of the toughest in the world, but never enforced by a lenient justice system. Indeed, most sentences are for one or two years, even with a previous conviction. It is a joke.
The hon. member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley once told me of a sad story in his riding where three family members were killed by a drunk driver with previous convictions who was sentenced only to three and a half years. People are justifiably outraged by these kinds of sentences. They do not at all reflect the views and the concerns of average Canadians.
In the United States the transportation research board has suggested a tough crackdown on repeat drunk drivers, which would include impounding vehicles and police stakeouts of people convicted of driving under the influence. The board's committee said that current policies in Canada have been effective in discouraging most people from drinking and driving. However, there remains a group of persistent drunk drivers who do not appear to be deterred by the threat of social disapproval or legal punishment.
According to the report, repeat offenders are four times more likely than other drivers to take part in a fatal traffic accident. Twelve per cent of drivers involved in alcohol related crashes had at least one prior conviction. An interesting study in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 1994 entitled ``The risk of dying in alcohol related automobile crashes among habitual drivers'' came up with some revealing conclusions.
The scientists linked about 3,000 drivers to their driver history files. The study showed that aggressive intervention in the cases of people arrested for driving while impaired may decrease the likelihood of a future fatal alcohol related crash.
In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people between the ages of one to 34. Almost 50 per cent of all traffic fatalities are related to alcohol. Furthermore, 40 per cent of the people in the U.S. will be involved in an alcohol related crash at some time during their lives.
Similar figures are available for Canada. In 1994 87,838 people were charged with impaired driving. More astonishing is that in 1994, 1,414 people were killed as a result of impaired driving, which is three times higher than our murder rate.
The government has fervently committed itself to imposing gun control to help reduce crimes committed using a gun. Unfortunately it is a lot easier to get a driver's licence than to get a gun licence and according to these statistics a car is even more of a lethal weapon.
It seems that the attorney general of Ontario, Mr. Charles Harnick agrees with me. He says: "Drinking and driving is the number one cause of criminal death and injury in our society, and alcohol is the greatest single factor contributing to automobile accidents in Ontario". But this problem goes beyond the borders of Ontario. It is a national issue. Transport Canada found that there were 113,731 injuries as a result of impaired driving accidents. To make it more clear, that means there are 3.8 deaths and 311 injuries per day, due to drunk driving.
Last week the government introduced some tough legislation to crack down on smoking. The principal incentive was the cost to the health system. Everybody knows that smoking inevitably leads to ill health. But if everyone knew that just one fatal drunk driving accident costs the Canadian taxpayer $390,000, I think more people would be up in arms about the high cost of getting behind the wheel after drinking. If this is not a very serious national issue, I do not know what is.
Motion No. 78 is worthy of the support of members of all sides of the House. We are here to represent our constituents as well as the betterment of all Canadians. I truly believe that toughening the Criminal Code to crack down on impaired drivers would benefit every Canadian.
I remind my colleagues that partisan politics have no place in Private Members' Business. This is a votable motion and I will certainly be voting in its favour.
My brother-in-law was in a Scandinavian country, I cannot recall which country it was, but the law there stated that if you are picked up with the smell of alcohol on your breath, it is an automatic one-year suspension of your licence. If you are charged the second time you lose your licence for life. I think our laws, in comparison, are very lenient.
As I mentioned previously, within one mile in my area, more than five people have been killed because of impaired driving. I live on a dead end road where there is very little traffic. However, it is sad to meet the families of these people who were killed in these accidents. It never leaves them.
I appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak on this bill.