Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour for me to rise in the House today on behalf of the people of Alfred-Pellan in Laval, whom I have represented for four years, to talk about a private member's bill, Bill C-590, An Act to amend the Criminal Code provisions on blood alcohol content.
I would like to begin by telling my colleague who introduced this bill in the House that I will support it at third reading, and I will explain why we on this side have taken this stance.
In light of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights' recent study of this bill, New Democrats believe that Bill C-590 is a step in the right direction to combat the scourge of drunk driving.
In essence, Bill C-590 amends section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish the possibility of imposing more severe penalties for offences committed under section 253 in circumstances where the offender has a blood alcohol content that exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, which is double the amount that now constitutes an offence. It also raises the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.
As a young mother of a two-year-old little girl, as a woman and as a New Democrat, I truly believe that drinking and driving is a very important issue. I also think that all parliamentarians in the House care deeply about this issue.
I do not mean to speak on behalf of all parents here, but I am sure that every father, every mother and every grandparent cares a great deal about the health and safety of their children, their family, their fellow citizens and the general public.
I am quite confident that everyone here in the House wants to address the problem of drinking and driving, and Bill C-590 is a step in the right direction.
I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. However, I do have some wonderful colleagues, like the member for Gatineau and the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who are members of that committee. I looked at their work and the work done by my other colleagues, because I am always interested in what is happening at committee, and everyone wanted to ensure that these new measures were designed to eliminate the scourge that claims too many Canadians' lives every year.
I support the bill, but I know that it has some shortcomings, which is rather unfortunate. However, as I said, it is a step in the right direction.
Although Canada has very tough laws and penalties for impaired driving, more than 750 motorists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists were killed every year between 2003 and 2005 in traffic accidents involving drunk drivers. Even one death is one too many, but this is more than two people per day. That is far too many, and we need to implement measures to address this problem.
This is a relatively conservative estimate, since in some cases it was not possible to determine whether the driver had a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. Some road safety organizations estimate that the number of victims is actually much higher.
Although the exact number of victims is in question, no one doubts that impaired driving causes a large number of injuries and deaths that could be avoided.
My colleague's bill, Bill C-590, seeks to decrease the number of injuries and deaths by amending section 255 of the Criminal Code to establish more severe penalties for offences committed under the Criminal Code in circumstances where the offender's blood alcohol content exceeds 160 milligrams of alcohol.
As I mentioned previously, the bill also seeks to raise the minimum penalties that apply to convictions for impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.
I sincerely believe that we need to do more to combat impaired driving.
The NDP examined the measures proposed by the member for Prince Albert, and saw that they were a step in the right direction towards effectively fighting the scourge of drunk driving.
However, there remain some questions about minimum sentences, even though we had already raised them. The minimum sentences in this bill are substantially shorter than the current sentences that are imposed for these offences. I mentioned a few of this bill's flaws, including these shorter minimum sentences. I will talk later about why this matters.
For example, in 2011-12, the mean length of imprisonment was 277 days for impaired driving causing bodily harm, and 959 days for impaired driving causing death. Why are the proposed minimum sentences important and why do we need to discuss them? There is a tendency for a minimum sentence to become the default sentence, except in the worst cases. In other words, the minimum sentence ends up being the norm rather than a sentence reserved for less serious crimes. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that defence lawyers will ask for the minimum sentence, unless the Crown can prove that their client's crime warrants a special punishment.
As I said, we absolutely must do more to address drunk driving. There are a number of things we can do as parliamentarians, but also as citizens in our communities.
I want to reiterate the question my NDP colleague asked about the type of consultations that were done with regard to the bill introduced by my colleague from Prince Albert. I would have liked more details on who was consulted on the bill. I know that MADD Canada works very hard on the issue of drunk driving. Everyone acknowledges the exemplary work that it does, but it would be good to know how MADD feels about this bill. It would also be good to get feedback from the many stakeholders across Canada who work on this issue that is so very important to our constituents. This is important input if we want to have leadership and crack down on drunk driving.
This bill deals with sentences for offenders, but we cannot forget that there is work to be done before things get to that point. I cannot stress this enough, but when it comes to topics that are this sensitive, it is often important to educate people. Whether we are talking about young drivers taking the wheel, starting their classes or applying for a licence, it is preferable for parents to get them started with good habits. We need to look at everything we can possibly do. We also need to ensure that people who already have a licence understand the negative impact that drinking and driving can have as well as all the potential consequences for our society. We cannot forget that education plays an important role in this issue.
I also want to mention that I am a young mother and that I have since become more interested in these issues. I think that is how it normally works. We all want to ensure that we do a good job of raising our family. As a young mother I must say that I really sympathize with all the victims and families of victims of drunk driving. It is never an easy thing. No one can understand what it means to lose a loved one, regardless of the circumstances.
I think that a fairly funded justice system would truly help them through the process. We can never forget the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of drunk driving.
I would like to make something clear. This bill does not specifically target young people. We need to avoid stereotypes here. It is very important that we not stereotype our youth. In this case, I think we really need to be careful. We need to remember that the statistics on young people and drunk driving have improved a lot in recent years. I think that is the result of the great work being done by parents and society in general.
In closing, I would like to thank all those who worked on this bill when it was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as well as my colleague from Prince Albert. I also want to acknowledge the incredible work done by our justice critic, my colleague from Gatineau, and her deputy critic, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. They worked very hard on this issue.