Madam Speaker, I am pleased to talk about Bill C-46, which was introduced in the House on April 13.
I think a little context is in order. This bill is one component of the government's plan to legalize marijuana. Changes to the rules for drivers are called for because of concerns about more drug-impaired drivers getting behind the wheel once marijuana is legal.
Before I talk about the bill specifically, I would like to share my concerns and some general observations about the government's overarching plan to legalize marijuana.
I just want to point out that I am not a legal expert, so I did not look at Bill C-46 through that lens. I looked at it as a resident of the riding of Mégantic—L'Érable who is concerned about the negative repercussions of legal marijuana. Normalizing drug use is sure to have an impact on our roads.
The two arguments the government has given to justify legalizing marijuana and making it more accessible to Canadians consist in keeping it out of the hands of youth and keeping profits from the sale of marijuana out of the hands of criminals. Those are the two main arguments we kept hearing during the last election campaign. They were also reiterated when that bill was introduced, which was at the same time as this one was introduced. That was a big day, a day on which we had to respond to a whole series of measures. It seemed as though the government was in a hurry to introduce everything at the same time.
I cannot help but question not the government's intentions, but the statements it made when this legislation was announced. Is it any wonder that we on this side of the House are worried?
I spoke with some students at a high school in my riding about plans to legalize marijuana, and even they are worried. At least two-thirds of them are opposed to legalizing marijuana. It is important to remember that. One of my colleagues also had the opportunity to meet with some young people in his riding who oppose it too. What worries me is keeping our kids safe, of course, as well as keeping our roads and workplaces safe.
I believe this is all about normalizing marijuana and if we do that it will have an impact on society as a whole. The marijuana legalization bill and Bill C-46 have one thing in common: there is not a single word on how much it will cost the other levels of government or where their responsibilities lie in implementing these measures.
What will it cost the municipalities to increase monitoring or to train their police officers to be able to detect drug impaired driving? What will it cost the provinces in terms of the application of justice? How will these new laws and new rules be enforced? What will it cost the federal government? We have no answer. We are told that this will take money out of the hands of organized crime, but there is no word on government revenues or how those will be used.
These are legitimate questions that came to my mind when the marijuana legalization process was announced. This process was announced and launched even though the majority of public health stakeholders are opposed to normalizing and legalizing marijuana, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Psychiatric Association.
This bill does not have unanimous support in our ridings, and its intention has even less. When we ask people, those living in rural ridings like mine are firmly opposed to the government's plan to legalize marijuana.
Again, it would no longer be illegal for youth 12 and over to possess a small quantity of marijuana.
Youth 18 years of age and over would be able to legally possess a certain quantity of marijuana and to consume it. People will even be able to grow it in their homes. How is the government going to decide who will have access to it? It is not the same as buying cigarettes at a corner store. If there are cannabis plants all over the place, in every residence, will the parents, neighbours, uncles, or aunts have to oversee access to the drug? We do not know. These are grey areas.
This only makes us more concerned about who is going to have access to marijuana and then make the bad decision, after consuming it, to drive their car, motorcycle, or even their bicycle under the influence of drugs.
The other myth I want to dispel before addressing Bill C-46 is the argument that this will no longer be a revenue stream for organized crime because the government will be pocketing the profits instead. The term “organized crime” is made up of two words: “organized” and “crime”. I can tell you right now that the criminal element has organized to profit even more. That is the most worrisome aspect, because if the criminal world is preparing to make even more profits and not with marijuana, then with what? Will it be with other things?
We have already taken alcohol out of the hands of organized crime. Did organized crime cease to exist? It is still there, and it gave up on alcohol to focus on drugs. What is next? That is what worries me the most, and we have no answer to that question.
Bill C-46 was introduced because the government realized that it had to take action. The government also realized, in light of its promise to legalize and normalize marijuana, that it had to find a way to ensure that this law does not cause even more deaths on our roads, whether it be from alcohol- or drug-impaired driving. The government also used Bill C-46 to add some amendments regarding drunk driving. The government had to act because it knew it would be causing an even bigger problem on our roads. That is what the government did with Bill C-46.
Bill C-46 has two parts. Part 1 amends the provisions of the Criminal Code that deal with offences and procedures relating to drug-impaired driving; enacts new criminal offences for driving with a blood drug concentration that is equal to or higher than the permitted concentration; authorizes the government to establish blood drug concentrations; and authorizes peace officers who suspect a driver has a drug in their body to demand that the driver provide a sample of a bodily substance for analysis by drug screening equipment that is approved by the Attorney General of Canada.
Part 2 is more general, but it also makes a number of amendments, which are likely designed to improve the current situation. We will surely have the opportunity to talk about this in committee. A very active committee that is familiar with legal issues will ask excellent questions. I am sure that, if the government is aware of the situation and is acting in good faith, the suggestions made by the official opposition have a good chance of being incorporated into the next iteration of the bill.
The way we see it, this bill is not quite perfect. We have some questions. Will all of this stand up to court challenges? A law with strict provisions is all well and good, but if it does not hold up in court, that could create even bigger problems. Once this bill is passed and brought into force, the other bill on marijuana legalization will be too.
What we really want to avoid is having these new measures and penalties end up in court and finding ourselves in an unfortunate legal void. Think of the Jordan decision, which is causing serious problems now. I will talk more about that a bit later.
Part 2 repeals the transportation-related offences and replaces them with a structure that is supposedly modern, simpler, and coherent. It authorizes mandatory roadside screening for alcohol once a police officer has stopped a driver. It increases certain minimum fines and certain maximum penalties. It also facilitates detection of blood alcohol concentration and the ensuing investigation. Lastly, it eliminates or limits defences that promote risky conduct and that frustrate the enforcement of drunk driving laws. There are also other measures.
At first glace, these measures are designed to discourage people from getting behind the wheel while drunk or high. I am sure all members on this side of the House agree that we must put an end to this scourge that causes hundreds of deaths every year in this country.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the government's coming marijuana legislation will probably create more opportunities for people to drive while impaired not by alcohol but by marijuana.
Let me share some reactions from those in the know. The Canadian Automobile Association issued some comments on marijuana legalization and the impaired driving regulations:
CAA believes three issues need to be addressed for an effective drugs driving regime: clear law, tools for law enforcement and public education. Today’s announcement deals with the law but leaves questions around funding and public education.
The vice president of public affairs at CAA National said, “We’re still waiting for the details on additional funding to make the legislation enforceable. This needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
This article came out on April 13, 2017, and we still have no answers to CAA's very legitimate questions. The article goes on:
The government also reiterated a Budget 2017 commitment to spend less than $2 million a year over five years on public education—a sum that is clearly inadequate, given the misconceptions about marijuana’s effect on driving.
Here is another passage, for information:
CAA polling has found almost two thirds of Canadians (63 per cent) are concerned that roads will become more dangerous with the legalization of marijuana, and that 26 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 believe a driver is either the same or better on the road under the influence of marijuana.
While 26% of young Canadians do not believe that marijuana negatively affects their driving, the government is saying that it will invest $2 million a year to educate them. There is a serious problem here. If the government really wants the opposition parties' support, it needs to present us with a clear plan to promote public awareness immediately, so that we will know what Canadians can expect on July 1, 2018, the deadline that has been set for legalizing marijuana. The government must not wait until then to announce prevention and awareness programs. We need to know this now, because Canadians are worried.
Here is one last quotation regarding CAA's concerns. According to Jeff Walker, “...law enforcement is not sufficiently equipped to enforce the law and the cost to train them is high.”
The other reaction I would like to highlight comes from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, and it specifically concerns the screening devices mentioned in Bill C-46:
At present, there is a limited number of drugs that can be accurately detected by oral fluid screening devices: cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids.
...Although the accuracy of oral fluid screening devices has been improving, they are not perfect. Some drivers who have used drugs will test negative and there remains a small probability that some drug-free drivers will test positive. When a driver who has used drugs is missed by the screening procedure, it has implications for road safety [and for all Canadians].
Is the technology ready for the implementation of Bill C-46? That is a question from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
I have other sources. On April 28, 2017, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also commented on impaired driving: “A primary concern of policing in Canada is impaired driving. This is an issue today. It will become an even greater issue with legalization.”
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police went on to say:
Will adequate and ongoing funding be provided in advance of the stated goal of legalization ... [as I mentioned earlier] to train officers and drug recognition evaluators (DREs), purchase and maintain [oral fluid] devices, increase forensic laboratory capacity to process bodily fluids and sustain our ability to enforce this legislation?
Are the per se limits supported by scientific evidence and will they stand up to potential challenges within our judicial system [so we do not find ourselves once more with a legal void that would allow criminals to take to the road, because henceforth they will be criminals]?
Will the provinces/territories be introducing complimentary enforcement regimes to discourage drug impaired driving...
These are very legitimate questions. I believe that we should listen to these people. Some of these people enforce the law and some are automobile experts. In short, these are comments and questions that we will surely have an opportunity to address, and I hope that the government will have answers when we study this bill in committee.
However, Bill C-46 will not do any good if the courts cannot enforce the law. I am referring to the Jordan decision. Here are a few statistics. In nine months, no fewer than 134 accused whose cases have been taking too long to filter through the Quebec court system were released before being tried, not at their own request, but at the request of the crown. Another 59 accused were released after their defence filed a request with the crown. That means 193 people did not stand trial. According to Annick Murphy, the director of criminal and penal prosecutions in Quebec, the majority of the cases that were dropped had to do with impaired driving. We are talking about 100 out of 193 cases. These 100 people got behind the wheel and endangered their own lives and the lives of others. All that because the government is taking too long to appoint judges in Quebec and to stop the Jordan decision from unfairly favouring criminals.
The government could do something about this, but unfortunately it is not doing so. Instead, it is going to ask the Quebec justice system to deal with more cases. The government is going to ask the Quebec justice system to do even more, when it does not even have the resources to deal with the cases currently before its courts. That is worrisome.
The director of criminal and penal prosecutions for Quebec stated the following: “We are certainly prioritizing cases...involving crimes against persons, which we see as the most serious.”
I understand that all crimes against the person are serious, but we need to talk to victims who have lost a loved one in a car accident because someone was driving while impaired, and not just once, but perhaps for the second or third time. We need to ask those victims whether impaired driving is a serious crime. Personally, I see it as a very serious crime, and we cannot pretend that being impaired is not a serious factor. We would be making the problem worse.
In closing, I still do not trust this government's process for legalizing marijuana. The measures presented might seem fine at first glance, but they do include any means or budget to promote prevention, to train police officers, or to support prevention among young people. We will support this bill so that it can be sent to committee for further study. I would hope that the government will find some way to properly enforce this legislation once it passes.