Mr. Speaker, since this is my first intervention in the House since the election campaign in New Brunswick, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Liberal government in New Brunswick and Premier designate, Shawn Graham, and his team.
As partners, we will represent New Brunswick in a new era of relations between the three levels of government.
It is my pleasure today to speak on Bill . It is another one of the bills presented by the new Conservative government.
Once again, with the introduction of this proposed legislation, the does not address the real issue. While he and his government might be playing to another audience, an audience in large municipal centres of rich population, dense population and voters who did not support the government, they are playing to the issues that affect people very much. While the purported message in the bill is to prevent crime and keep communities safe, the real objective of the bill, like all other bills the Minister of Justice has led through the House, is political gain.
Like the hon. member for said earlier, we must look at the issues involved and the real merits of the bill and compare it to other bills, which have been presented in Parliament's past, to give a good review of where we want to go. I submit that this matter be sent to committee for procedural as well as substantive review.
The real issue is the saving of lives before lives are put in danger. Instead of investing time and energy into creating new offences that have a catchy title, such as is the case with Bill , we as a responsible nation and as responsible parliamentarians need to invest in prevention and education to prevent street racing from happening, rather than dealing just with the victims and deaths once street racing has occurred.
It occurred to me that this would be an appropriate time to bring forward the fact that, under the public safety and emergency preparedness cuts of last week, the RCMP cut from its budget $4.6 million to do with the elimination of drug impaired driving programs through its training budget. It seems remarkable to me that on the one hand the government is suggesting our streets will be safer. On the other hand, it takes money away from a program that would have made the streets safer.
I am proud of the fact that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a Canada-wide organization. It has probably met with every member of Parliament. It is very focused. I am very proud that the president of MADD currently is a resident of New Brunswick. It would not be particularly pleased that the first focus of the government, when it comes to driving offences, is street racing. For some time, it has been lobbying for measures such as those cut in the recent budget. It would like to see the penalties meted out to drunk driving offences, which have a long history in the Criminal Code, as severe as those for street racing violations, and they are not under this bill.
We can all agree that street racing is a dangerous activity and has no place in Canadian communities. I am tired of other parties in the House being castigated with the brush, that we are not for the protection of our citizens. I make a non-partisan statement that every member of the House is for public safety and safety in our streets. We will differ on how to get there. My remarks are about that.
How to address this problem is the real issue. The believes that by creating a new series of offences that reference the existing Criminal Code offences, we will have a panacea. Because it is called a street racing bill, I am very concerned that members of the public will now think it will eradicate street racing. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The truth is there are in existence a number of harsh and severe offences, which have to be meted out by the justices and for which this very has absolutely no respect. The Minister of Justice has showed that he does not even know how judges get appointed. He has to know what colour they are in political allegiance, but he has no idea how they get appointed. He has shown so little respect for judges and their discretion that he has held up a long overdue pay increase to them. He has criticized judges as Liberal judges. Today he might have argued that judges have no political stripes. We are waiting for a lot of answers from the Minister of Justice on his view and his level of respect for the judiciary of our country.
Clearly, by these amendments, he has no respect for judicial discretion. This is in a long line of bills that the government has presented. I am not sure the minister has read them all but they all represent one thing: no discretion to be left in the hands of judges, who are probably all Liberal judges, but of course that will gradually change appointment by appointment. The minister has no respect for the discretion of these judges. That is the case with this as well. It would take away discretion.
Mr. Speaker, unlike my hon. friend, I am used to the courtroom and there is decorum in a courtroom.
This bill, like Bill and Bill , takes away the discretion that judges have and instead of sculpting what could be taken from the late Chuck Cadman's bill and Bill as presented, where these factors would be taken into account on sentencing, the , in his marquee cinema like world, wants to name something and pretend that all citizens of Canada will now be safe from street racing. However, that is not the case. The bill, on a technical aspect, would further cloud some issues by creating these new offences.
The definition of street racing itself has been talked about so I will eliminate that from my speech. It is something that can be cleaned up at committee. As members have said, the definition as it relates to at least one other motor vehicle can be made to make sense because there are races that include only one vehicle.
There are also problems with the definition of “public place”. While the bill is primarily oriented toward an urban environment, the and members of the House will know, whether or not they are lawyers, that public places and motor vehicles have been defined and they may include snowmobiles on icy surfaces of lakes in rural Canada. This may be of concern as we go forward in looking at this bill.
On the solo race, the race against time and against oneself, the bill does not address that behaviour. This may be more dangerous than the actual one-on-one racing that occurs in some municipalities.
Bill creates another confusion. There is a lot of confusion in every Conservative bill because the Conservatives are in a hurry to leave a strong impression in Canada. It has been well established in law that objectively the offence of dangerous driving is not as serious as criminal negligence. However, this bill establishes an identical system of imprisonment for both offences. That does not make much sense.
It is respectfully submitted that the proper approach to deal with this dangerous conduct is simply to make street racing a mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing.
I heard talk in the House about whether people need to be lawyers but surely they do not. They need to have good sense. However, it does mean that the lawyers in this House need to have common sense too. It does not excuse the lawyers from the requirement for good common sense. The good common sense from having street racing as a mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing means that while we trust judges, and on this side of the House we do, to make proper decisions, we are saying by way of public statement that they shall consider street racing, when it is present, as an aggravating factor. This would remove the issue of having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a street race has occurred.
One could imagine, in very serious circumstances, that the lawyers would spend most of their fighting over the definition of street racing because it has not been provided in the bill. The hon. says that there is a lot of common law on this but common law on racing in Canada would probably be more tuned to horse racing than street racing because Canada has not had a law on street racing, which leaves it as a dog's breakfast. We probably have a whole bunch of Liberal lawyers trying to figure it out.
Instead, we would like some Liberal legislators to make it inevitable that we will not need to deal with the definition of street racing. The and his cohorts can still go out on the bandstands and say that they have cured the issue but the technical aspect is that aggravating factor in sentencing would ensure the judge is just dealing with whether he thinks there was a race, whether there was dangerous operation of a motor vehicle or whether there was criminal negligence. Those are the standards that have been used. Those terms have meaning in law. They have been considered in cases. Those are judicial decisions that judges write.
This would remove the issue of having to deal with street racing, which has not been defined, just as the Liberal's Bill and, as I said before, private member's Bill , proposed by the late Chuck Cadman, proposed to deal with this. I think it is the right way to go. Preferably we will deal with it in committee and, if not, by amendment at third reading stage.
It is suggested that by providing a mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing, the message to the public will be as serious as the marquee name “street racing” and the message would be heard loud and clear. It would be easier at a sentence hearing to argue that the aggravating factors existed.
Members will note in the material supplied by the Library of Parliament that a number of the cases showed that there were other aggravating factors, not mitigating factors. The likes to speak about mitigating factors, the people who got off because of circumstances. We have had plenty of cases where there are multiple increased aggravating factors, such as the use of alcohol, criminal gang activity and lack of remorse. These are aggravating factors that can be combined with the mandatory aggravating factor in sentencing that was in place in Bill .
The difference between a dangerous driving offence and a dangerous driving offence involving a race will be a dog's breakfast before the courts. I think we need to be careful that, while we agree on a goal, which is keeping the streets safer, we give, not only the judges but prosecutors, the tools they need to succeed in getting convictions and not give them loopholes with undefined terms, all for the purpose of political gain.
The bill would increase the available maximum prison terms. Once again, it is a well-established legal principle that the maximum sentence is usually reserved for the worst offender in the worst case. This might give people who are very concerned about street racing offences the false impression that every street racing offence will be charged under a maximum or asked for by charging the maximum.
We know that there are summary conviction methods of proceeding here, which give prosecutors discretion in the way they wish to proceed. We also know that maximum terms are not meted out that frequently.
It is important to tell the truth to the Canadian public, that even this bill, in its form, does not guarantee that every street racing offender will get 10 or 14 years. It is time to be real with the Canadian public. The bill would provide for mandatory orders of prohibition from driving.
At this time I would like to mention again the spectre of MADD. Mothers Against Drunk Driving might very well be at our doors next week or the week after, should we move this on or pass it relatively quickly, to ask where the tough mandatory orders of prohibitions are for longer periods on continued, excessive and repetitive drunk driving offences. The bill is harsher than those infractions are and those infractions were built up over a long period of time.
Though it should be easy to support this initiative with respect to the mandatory orders of prohibition, the manner in which it is addressed is inadequate, specifically when dealing with repeat offenders.
It is important to know the distinction between dangerous driving causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. Let us take ourselves to a situation in an area not unlike the area that my friend from represents, a countryside where there is a known repeat offender with respect to racing. This person is dangerous to the public and to himself or herself. The person is convicted the first time of dangerous driving because the prosecutor and the police, in that case the rural RCMP, say that this will show that person and this will be a deterrent. Hopefully that person is meted out the proper sentence and the proper time is served.
On the second conviction, the police might very well charge that person, because it is a repeat offence, with criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In both cases there could be bodily harm, the same modus operandi, the same facts, but the police authorities and the prosecutor have said that, for deterrent's sake, they must charge the person with the worse offence because the person will get more time.
Under this bill as drafted, and I hope we can sort this out at committee, I submit that the repeat offence will not be caught by the mandatory prohibitions and the longer sentences. The reason is that the definition of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, if amended, with or without a street race, is not a repeat if it is charged under criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
These definitions and these legal words certainly have to be worked out at the committee level but there is more than that. It is not good enough for the chief law officer of this nation to sign off on a bill for which homework has yet to be done. It is not fair enough to say that we can fix this at committee. It is a trend. It is trend of the government to present ill-conceived, ill-drafted, hasty and sensational bills to this House, known more for their titles than their substance, and expect the hard-working members of the committee to set it all right.
If I could send one message to the government members it would be that they read the bills, consider them and consider that the Criminal Code of Canada is holistic, it is organic and it should be taken in this context.
When a person is charged with criminal negligence and dangerous driving causing bodily harm, it begs the question of whether this is a repeat offender. Is the criminal negligence a second offence? We would not know. The bill fails to answer those questions. I can tell members that every doubt will be cast in favour of the accused in our courtrooms, as they are constituted.
Many if not all studies have shown that there is no link between more severe, longer and harsher sentences and the diminution of crime rates. While I, as a member of society, might be very willing to go with the government on longer sentences and try the principle of sentence that says deterrence is important, I would need to know and I would need to be able to tell my constituents that it will work, that the thrill-seeking street racer will be deterred by a harsher sentence.
It goes back to our first point. Through education or funding in law enforcement and more cooperation with the provincial law authorities, I think more could be done than just simply getting it out on the five o'clock news that we will cure street racing now because we have a three page bill. That is not good enough.
If the minister uses the word “holistic”, then let us put it into action. Let us work together to make sure that as he convenes meetings with provincial attorneys general and that he sees the good work being done in cities like San Diego and Los Angeles and, if I may for local advertisement, the city of Moncton in enforcing its bylaws, in preventing drive-throughs, and in preventing people from circling certain locations on a habitual basis.
Let us work together with these various levels of government, because the cities and municipalities in this country are the third order of government, and let us try to make a better bill that would save the government money, but more important, would save lives.
Bill would create a new offence punishing people for street racing just as they are already being punished now for street racing. This is already covered in the current Criminal Code. This bill would allow us to arrest people only after they have put other people's lives at risk. We have to look at the big picture. We have to work with other members of other governments to make sure that we make a better law.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege today to speak to Bill respecting street racing.
Today I of course will be speaking in favour of the government's Bill .
We have heard members opposite say there is some magic formula that can be used as a cure-all, but I think Canadians and certainly my constituents in Fundy Royal, contrary to those members, find it extremely refreshing that we finally have a government that is taking criminal justice seriously. We know that for too long there was a Liberal revolving door to the criminal justice system. We saw a lot of fluff come out. We saw programs that did not work.
Frankly, my constituents say to me that they find it refreshing to have a government that takes seriously protecting them, protecting society, protecting their lives and protecting their property. Quite frankly, they were fed up with the talk from the opposite side and are pleased to see some action.
As we know, and as has been said in other speeches, the matter of street racing was one of great importance to the late Chuck Cadman. Chuck was a member of Parliament for Surrey North and had twice brought forward a private member's bill on the issue of street racing, but each time the bill died on the order paper.
The previous government, as was mentioned, also brought forward a government bill, Bill , during the 38th Parliament. That bill, too, died on the order paper. Like Mr. Cadman's bill, Bill C-65 took the approach of making street racing an aggravating factor for the offences of dangerous driving and criminal negligence that involve death or injury. Unlike Mr. Cadman's bill, Bill C-65 did not propose higher minimum driving prohibitions for repeat offences.
The government's Bill does follow Mr. Cadman's approach of bringing in mandatory driving prohibitions that escalate with repeat offences. We know that it is the few who are creating the problem. It is the recidivism and the repeat offenders who need to get the message that we are not going to tolerate serious street racing on Canada's streets.
In order to ensure that police and prosecutors can determine that a person is a repeat offender through the Canadian Police Information Centre, it is necessary to enact a street racing offence rather than simply create an aggravating factor of street racing. This is because CPIC does not record aggravating factors.
Some would say that past proposals to enact a requirement for judges to take into account acts of street racing as an aggravating factor in sentencing were very modest, given the fact that judges, and this is an important point, are already required to take into account all aggravating and mitigating circumstances when sentencing an offender. In this sense, enacting an aggravating factor provision would simply codify what judges already do and what they are quite rightly required to do. If a judge does not consider street racing an aggravating factor in sentencing, one would certainly expect the prosecution to appeal the sentence.
New street racing offences carrying mandatory driving prohibitions will send street racers a very clear message. It is a message that has to be sent on behalf of all Canadians. Racing on public streets is not going to be tolerated. I would point out that I am not, of course, speaking here of officially sanctioned road rallies but about those who commit the offence of dangerous driving or criminal negligence coupled with street racing. We did hear some members speaking today about legal racing, racing on racetracks, which is perfectly legitimate and which the bill does not touch on.
To those who do not heed the message sent by these new offences, Bill will deliver serious consequences.
Let me speak for a minute about those who engage in street racing. In many cases, they risk not only their own lives but the lives of others and pedestrians, innocent third parties who have in no way consented to any form of speed contest on the streets of our cities and towns.
My hat is off to police officers and others who work very hard with motorsport shops and organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving to find safe, closed circuit venues for drivers to experience the thrill of racing. Those kinds of efforts, along with strong federal and provincial legislation, are exactly what is needed to eradicate street racing in Canada.
In my view, specific federal legislation on street racing is needed now more than ever. The evidence is quite clear on that. The existing dangerous driving and criminal negligence offences that can apply to street racing go some distance to preventing street racing by right thinking drivers, but there are still too many that will risk the lives pedestrians and other motorists in order to engage in street racing on busy city streets.
Where Parliament can do something more than what is already in place to improve the Criminal Code measures directed against street racing or any other serious offence for that matter, it ought to do so. Bill gives parliamentarians the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the combined federal, provincial and municipal efforts aimed at street racing.
Bill will enact five new offences related to street racing. Three of these relate to the existing offence of dangerous driving. The other two relate to the existing offence of criminal negligence. For all five offences within Bill C-19, the key distinguishing feature will be the commission of the underlying offence plus the act of street racing on a street, road, highway or other place to which the public has access.
Another distinguishing feature of the five street racing offences is that they will each carry a mandatory prohibition from driving in Canada. These Criminal Code driving prohibitions will escalate for repeat offenders.
I will ask the indulgence of my colleagues in the House while I briefly sketch out the mandatory driving prohibitions.
For a first offence of dangerous driving with no death or injury accompanied by street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be one year and the maximum driving prohibition will be three years.
For a second offence of dangerous driving with no death or injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be two years and the maximum driving prohibition will be five years.
For a third offence of dangerous driving, again with no death or injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be three years and the maximum driving prohibition will be a lifetime driving ban.
Where there is a first conviction for dangerous driving with injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition will be a minimum of one year and a maximum of 10 years.
Where there is a second conviction for dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be two years and the maximum driving prohibition 10 years.
Where there is a third dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be three years and the maximum again would be a lifetime ban.
Where there is a first conviction for criminal negligence with death and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be one year and the maximum would be a lifetime ban.
Where there is a first conviction for dangerous driving with death and street racing, the minimum driving prohibition would be one year and the maximum driving prohibition would be 10 years.
On a second conviction involving dangerous driving and street racing or criminal negligence street racing involving death or injury, and either the first or the second conviction involved a death, there would be a mandatory lifetime driving ban.
I hasten to note that these driving prohibitions are in addition to a driving ban during any period in which drivers are imprisoned. There will be no case where convicted drivers are sitting in jail, not prohibited from driving or having the driving prohibition period running down while they are incarcerated.
I turn now to the provisions in Bill for imprisonment.
For dangerous driving with street racing where there is no death or injury, the prosecution has the choice to proceed summarily, where the maximum period of incarceration is six months imprisonment, or the prosecution in a more serious case may choose to proceed by way of indictment, in which case the maximum period of imprisonment is five years.
For dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury and street racing, the maximum period of incarceration is 14 years under Bill . The current Criminal Code provisions do not speak to street racing and the present maximum for dangerous driving or criminal negligence with injury is 10 years imprisonment.
For both dangerous driving and criminal negligence with death and street racing, the maximum period of incarceration is life under Bill . The current Criminal Code provisions again do not speak to street racing and the present maximum for dangerous driving with death is 14 years imprisonment and for criminal negligence with death the maximum is currently life imprisonment.
I think that Bill is a balanced approach to dealing with the dangers posed by street racing. The ranges of imprisonment and mandatory driving prohibitions that escalate with repeat offences reflect the serious nature of the proposed street racing offences.
Although there may be the very rare case where there are drivers who repeat a street racing offence that involves bodily harm or death, the police information system, CPIC, will track the repeat offence and it will be certain that these persons will receive harsher sanctions. This is an improvement over prior street racing bills given that the police information system does not show that there was an aggravating factor of street racing in a prior conviction, but would show prior street racing offences that are proposed by Bill .
I also want to set the record straight on a couple of issues. Some media articles have suggested there is nothing useful to be found in Bill or that it is simply politically motivated. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is clear that the bill will bring in mandatory driving prohibitions that will escalate with repeat offences. The existing driving prohibition in dangerous driving and criminal negligence cases is discretionary. It is hard to imagine that even some legal commentators do not seem to grasp this very significant proposal for change.
With the number of street racing offences involving death or injury, there will be an increase in the penalty range from that which exists for the current offences of dangerous driving and of criminal negligence. This is not a cynical political attempt to grab headlines. It is a valid response to a real problem which does what the Criminal Code can logically do in order to contribute to existing combined efforts of provincial governments, police, municipal governments, and other stakeholders to eliminate street racing and its attendant dangers from Canadian roads.
While it is true that higher maximum penalties under Bill , like all maximum penalties, are reserved for the worst offender and the worst factual circumstances, raising a maximum penalty is Parliament's signal to the courts that Parliament sees the problem as more serious and that a shift to higher sentences is warranted even in those cases that do not involve the worst offender and the worst factual circumstances.
Some critics have even suggested that prosecutors would shy away from a dangerous driving street racing charge and prosecute a dangerous driving charge instead. This is nonsensical. The street racing offence will carry a mandatory driving prohibition while a conviction for dangerous driving without street racing carries a discretionary driving prohibition. There is a clear advantage to the street racing charge and with the passage of Bill an additional tool for the prosecutor's toolbox.
Finally, some critics charge that the problem is one which is either small or trifling. Try telling that to ordinary Canadians who experience street racers dodging in and out of traffic, putting road users at risk, or to families who are attending funerals and hospital emergency rooms as a result of a street racing accident. We cannot give street racing the ostrich treatment and simply stick our heads in the sand saying it is not a big problem.
No member of the government side of the House is saying that Bill alone is going to end street racing. However, it is an important part of the combination of countermeasures that are needed to confront the problem. Not to bring forward these measures would be irresponsible.
Where Parliament can do something proactive and logical about street racing, it ought to do exactly that. Bill proposes measures that are logical and that can be implemented by police and prosecutors. The measures proposed are neither pie in the sky nor Draconian. They are balanced and measured. They are calculated to contribute to the elimination of dangerous driving and criminal negligence combined with street racing. Anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong in their assessment of what the bill proposes.
In closing, I want to congratulate the for fending off unjustifiable criticism in bringing this bill forward. I think it builds on the work done by the late Mr. Cadman and even on the street racing bill of the previous government. It does so in a very non-partisan way.
Bill is not about locking offenders and throwing away the key. It is balanced but it is firm. It is not a single solution to street racing, but it joins in the combination of measures that are needed to eradicate the dangers on the street.
I will be supporting Bill and I invite all members of the House to put aside partisan politics and pass this bill at second reading to send it to the legislative committee review stage.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.
The Bloc Québécois supports the bill, because it considers it to be a step forward. Of course, some changes could have been suggested. We will do that when it gets to committee.
The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill, the purpose of which is to impose tougher penalties on people who participate in street racing, in order to deter people from engaging in practices like these that endanger the safety of the public.
We are very aware that this bill will not be sufficient in itself to put an end to the tragedies that are caused by street racing. However, sending a clear message that street racing will not be tolerated and will result in severe sentences will perhaps mean saving lives, by persuading some individuals to give up this dangerous activity that puts other people’s lives at risk.
This bill provides an opportunity to steer speed aficionados toward legal racetracks that have been set up for this purpose, and to make them aware of the terrible tragedies that racing on public streets can lead to.
First, I must point out that the previous government introduced Bill , in September 2005, and that in October 2005 we supported it at second reading. It will be recalled that it died on the Order Paper, at committee stage on the dissolution of the 38th Parliament on November 29, 2005.
Unlike Bill , Bill did not create new street racing offences. It simply treated participating in street racing as an aggravating circumstances for sentencing purposes in cases involving dangerous driving or criminal negligence.
The present Bill therefore goes farther. However, when we pass a bill, will it have an impact on provincial laws, for example? We must always respect jurisdictions. We know that each province and territory has its own motor vehicle and highway safety legislation.
In Quebec, the maximum fine for a driver who engages in street racing is $600. In Ontario, an offender convicted of engaging in street racing may have his or her driver’s licence suspended for a maximum of two years.
Bill does not infringe on provincial legislation, because it requires that there be criminal intent. Criminal law is clearly under federal jurisdiction.
It appears that Bill will do nothing to alter the power that Quebec and the provinces have to regulate street racing. Here is an excerpt from an analysis of the bill by Dominique Valiquet of the Law and Government Division of the Library of Parliament:
|| An act during a sporting event may lead to criminal charges, even though the sport is provincially regulated. A parallel can be drawn with hockey. In Quebec, a regulation has been made, under the act respecting safety in sports, about hockey safety. Such a regulation does not prevent criminal charges from being laid against a player who committed an act that is an offence under the Criminal Code. An example would be assault causing bodily harm.
|| In the case of street racing, the act of a driver (even during a regulated event) can give rise to criminal charges if:
||the driver has the required criminal intent;
||the act represents a hazard that goes beyond the acceptable risks of the sport.
Dominique Valiquet continues:
|| However, it is important to note that Bill C-19 applies only to street racing in a public place. The first clause of the bill uses the wording “on a street, road, highway or other public place”.
|Consequently, Bill C-19 does not apply to car races held on a track to which the public does not have access. However, in that case, criminal charges could be laid under the provisions of the Criminal Code on dangerous driving or criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death.
This opinion from Dominique Valiquet of the Law and Government Division of the Library of Parliament is clear as to the legal aspect of the bill.
We can summarize the bill by saying that it amends the Criminal Code by defining street racing and creating five new offences related to street racing. This is what distinguishes it from Bill , for example, which was introduced by the other government. For three of these new offences, Bill C-19 provides for maximum sentences that are stiffer than those currently in effect for dangerous driving or criminal negligence while operating a motor vehicle. It introduces mandatory orders prohibiting offenders from driving for a minimum period, with a gradual increase in the duration of the order for repeat offences.
There is a huge difference between this bill and Bill , because Bill goes further.
Let us take a closer look at this. For example, under current legislation, the courts must turn to the provisions related to dangerous driving or criminal negligence to punish those who engage in street racing. At present, the Criminal Code specifies four offences that could apply to street racing in case of death or injury: criminal negligence causing death, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm.
Under current legislation, the fact that criminal negligence or dangerous driving was committed in the context of street racing has no bearing. That is what we hope to change.
As for mandatory driving prohibitions, the Criminal Code currently compels judges to suspend the driver's licence of any individual convicted of impaired driving. For offences of criminal negligence and dangerous driving, such a suspension is currently at the judge's discretion. The difference under the proposed legislation is that it would not be left to the judge's discretion; rather, there would be mandatory minimum sentences.
Let us first look at clause 1 of the bill. The bill defines street racing as:
||—operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place.
The expression “operating a motor vehicle in a race” does not seem to include a timed race involving only one motor vehicle. That would have to be added and defined at committee.
The definition of “motor vehicle” is found in section 2 of the Criminal Code. It includes motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. This is very important because races often take place among these kinds of vehicles.
The definition of street racing applies to organized street races as well as those improvised in inappropriate locations not intended for this purpose.
As for offences pertaining to street racing, it is important to talk about the five new offences created by this legislation. In addition to participation in street racing, an element of negligence must be present. What is the difference between criminal negligence and dangerous operation? What defines dangerous operation is that the driver's behaviour must be markedly different in terms of due diligence compared to that of a reasonable person in the same situation. In the case of criminal negligence, the driver must be found to have acted with wanton and careless disregard for the lives or safety of others. There is a distinct difference. Also, it must be shown that there was criminal negligence or dangerous operation in order for the participant to be found guilty of one of the five new street racing offences.
Whoever assists or encourages a street racer may also be considered to have participated in the offence.
This is important because there are promoters of these races on the Internet, who will not be charged unless they are included. Those who organize such races, not just the participants, must also be held responsible.
Bill adds the five following street racing offences to the Criminal Code: dangerous operation of a motor vehicle; dangerous operation causing bodily harm; dangerous operation causing death; causing bodily harm by criminal negligence; and causing death by criminal negligence. This is very clear.
For three of these new offences, Bill provides maximum sentences that are longer than those currently set for dangerous driving or criminal negligence in operating a motor vehicle. In the case of dangerous operation causing bodily harm, the sentence is 14 years compared to 10. For dangerous operation causing death, the sentence is imprisonment for life compared to 14 years. The difference in sentencing and the new offences being added are significant.
Judges can also order driving prohibitions. The Criminal Code currently requires the judge to suspend the driver's licence in cases where an individual is convicted of having the care or control of a vehicle while impaired.
For criminal negligence and dangerous driving offences, such an order is currently at the judge's discretion. When an individual is found guilty of criminal negligence causing death, the licence may be suspended for life. Bill removes the judge's discretion by setting out a one-year mandatory minimum driving prohibition the first time an individual is convicted of dangerous driving or criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death while participating in street racing.
The bill provides that the minimum driving prohibition period will be increased for subsequent offences. It is important to read the driving prohibition provision very carefully. It prohibits the offender from operating a motor vehicle on any street, road, highway or other public place for a minimum period plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment. This is in addition to any other sentence the court may impose. An offender may appeal a driving prohibition order before the National Parole Board to cancel or vary such an order. Driving during the prohibition period is punishable by up to five years imprisonment. This bill would make major changes to the Criminal Code.
Bill 's proposed system of gradually increasing the length of prohibition for repeat offences would have to be reviewed. For dangerous driving that does not cause bodily harm, the increasing length of the prohibition is identical to the provisions in the Criminal Code for offences involving drinking and driving. This seems reasonable to us.
However, the minimum lengths seem more problematic for repeat offences of dangerous driving and criminal negligence causing death. For example, if a person has already been found guilty of dangerous driving cause bodily harm and they cause another person's death as a result of dangerous driving, they will automatically be banned from driving for life. In that example, the fact that a judge is forced to ban the offender from driving for life could create adverse effects, effects we have gone over a number of times during discussions on minimum sentences.
Let us review the reasons that have always prompted us to be extremely cautious in using minimum sentences. Minimum sentences restrict the judges, who are in the best position to determine the most appropriate sentence in light of all the facts in each case.
The Bloc Québécois defends a model of justice based on a personalized process, with a case-by-case approach and with the principle of rehabilitation in mind. Minimum sentences can have adverse effects and lead to plea bargaining by lawyers wanting to have their clients charged with offences that do not have minimum sentences.
Minimum sentences could also compel a judge to acquit an individual rather than impose a sentence that he or she feels is too strict, in light of any particular circumstances. For example, a suspension for life, while the appropriate sentence might be a suspended licence for five years. Hence, the amendments and questions proposed by the Bloc Québécois regarding this bill.
I would remind the House that my colleague, the hon. member from , gave an eloquent address regarding Bill and I would like to quote from it:
|| The message we want to send to our young men and women is that there are places to engage in racing. That is what race tracks are for. So we do not want to discourage them or deny them the full enjoyment of their vehicles. Many young people put time and money into fine vehicles which are often very powerful. This is very much the fashion, and we do not want to discourage them from it.
|| What we are saying to them is that, when they do this, there are places for running their automobile trials. It is quite obvious that, for a young person who has spent a lot of money, it is always important to determine in the field whether the goods have been delivered. The message that we want to send our young people is that the only way to do this is on the race track and in those places where this type of racing is permitted.
I will also quote the member for , who had this to say about the Montreal police forces:
|| The Montreal police forces have gone to considerable lengths to try to prevent this while maintaining a respectful posture. There is station No. 24 in Montreal...which has done wonders in this regard. I think now, though, that the law needs to be toughened. These sentences, which used to be at a judge's discretion, need to be made mandatory
In closing, I will also quote the member for , who said, “Efforts have to be made in terms of prevention, education, information and so on”.
In his speech, the hon. member talked about the need to go further. The discretionary powers of judges have allowed this phenomenon to expand over time. It is spreading more and more in cities, but also, as the member for said, “in rural and other areas in Quebec and Canada”.
In closing, I will quote the Library of Parliament again:
|| Although there are supervised locations where speed lovers can test their vehicles completely legally, street racing is still popular. Street racers are often looking for thrills, and some feel that the thrills are heightened in the street, in traffic, where the unexpected may happen and racers risk meeting a patrol car.
Street racing is becoming a new challenge and is expanding, according to the research by the Library of Parliament.
|| Indeed, a variant of this activity has been invented — the “hat race” or “cannonball run”: money is put into a hat, which is put in a location that is kept secret until just before the race starts, and the first participant to get there wins the money. No holds are barred: the drivers run red lights and ignore stop signs. These races are a clear reflection of the general attitude of recklessness that prevails among street racing participants.
That is what the Library of Parliament researcher has to say.
In my opinion, this is one more reason to vote for this bill, which is a step in the right direction. We have to put an end to street races and put them back where they belong: on race tracks and in places that are legally designated for racing.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take this opportunity to speak to .
Criminalizing street racing is an obvious and appropriate complement to the current provisions of the Criminal Code governing dangerous driving, as well as to the legislative efforts of certain provinces to strengthen their traffic laws. The proposed changes target serious criminal behaviour.
The Government of Canada made a clear commitment to Canadians that it would tackle this crime, as indicated in recent months by many announcements regarding the financing of municipal and provincial programs. These crime prevention programs target youth at risk with the assistance of the National Crime Prevention Centre. These local prevention programs complement our financial commitment to help assist the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their training and recruitment efforts.
In addition to this important and tangible crime prevention effort at the local level, we should note this government's commitment to giving more bite to our criminal laws. This government has promised to get tough on crime and that is exactly what it is doing.
We proposed reforms in several areas: strengthening the laws dealing with the national DNA data bank; making it harder to be granted bail in the case of crimes involving a firearm; increased minimum sentences for this type of crime; and limited recourse to conditional sentences for serious and violent offences.
This holistic approach has been in response to renewed calls for all levels of government to reassess existing practices and responses in fighting crime. The government's response clearly reflects our understanding of the importance of keeping our streets and communities safe for all Canadians.
Bill is part of this government's overall program to tackle crime. It is in my opinion a welcome and important piece of legislation which will contribute to raising the safety and quality of life for our citizens to a level that they deserve and rightfully expect from their government.
Those who exploit and abuse their privilege to drive a motor vehicle by engaging in street racing demonstrate contempt for our laws, and more significantly, contempt for their fellow citizens. Cars can be dangerous at the best of times. When operating with such wanton recklessness and disregard for the safety of others, they too can be come lethal.
A driver's licence carries with it great responsibility. I strongly feel that drivers must be held accountable for their actions behind the wheel when, for a cheap thrill, they show no regard for that responsibility.
The streets and roads in our cities and provinces are a shared public resource, to be used and enjoyed by all of our citizens. The increasing incidence of street racing is turning the pavement into race tracks, but without all of the necessary elements that are found at all legal racing facilities. As a result, too many innocent bystanders are dying or being seriously injured.
Although we do not yet have any comprehensive statistics on the prevalence of street racing in Canada, or on the exact number of related deaths or injuries, there is sufficient evidence to confirm the seriousness of the situation. Such incidents causing death or serious injury are happening across the country. Just in the past three months, for example, we have read:
In June near Campbell River, British Columbia, two 18-year-old girls were allegedly involved in a street race which ended in the death of one of the drivers and serious injuries to two of her passengers.
Also in June in Merritt, British Columbia, two 24-year-old men died and two innocent motorists were seriously injured in what is a suspected case of street racing.
In July in Winnipeg, Manitoba, two drivers were charged with street racing and had their vehicles impounded when they were caught racing at speeds of more than 165 kilometres per hour.
Just a few weeks ago in Mississauga, Ontario, a foreign exchange student was killed when the vehicle he was driving careened into a hydro pole after it was hit from behind, allegedly as a direct result of street racing.
Those are only some of the most recent examples. Innocent victims who have died as a result of street racing in the past several years include a couple strolling on the sidewalk after celebrating their wedding anniversary, an RCMP constable on patrol, a 29-year-old mother out driving, and an immigrant taxi driver just days away from his citizenship ceremony.
I for one am saddened and outraged by these incidents, the reckless trend that is behind them and the frightening prospect of more to come. These senseless tragic deaths and serious injuries were all preventable and together make clear the call for a tough response. We simply cannot allow such carnage to continue.
These crimes continue to occur and the current government is determined to give more leverage to those responsible for law enforcement in order that they may respond to this crime effectively. The provinces have sentences in their jurisdictions, including fines, licence suspensions and impounding vehicles, which hit the wallets of the offenders. Nonetheless, when money is not a driving force, such measures do little to deter street racers from adopting this irresponsible and often deadly behaviour.
I think it is important to send a strong message about the seriousness of this offence, by criminalizing such behaviour and creating serious consequences for the crime. The consequences in this bill establish a system for determining a fair and appropriate sentence based on the seriousness of these crimes, namely a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for bodily harm and a maximum of life in prison for causing death.
This sentencing system is enhanced in an appropriate manner by gradually increased mandatory driving suspensions, starting with a minimum suspension of one year for a first offence up to a life suspension for three convictions for street racing not resulting in death or bodily harm.
I believe that these measures are necessary given the frequency and serious outcome of tragic accidents that could be avoided and too often are the result of street racing. Enhancing and protecting public safety are among the most important responsibilities of government. Bill is about enhancing public safety. It sends a clear and strong message to those who wish to engage in street racing by establishing appropriate and proportional sentences for individuals who use our streets as their personal race courses, without any regard for their own safety or that of others.
The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, as well as other government initiatives to tackle crime, will improve the safety of our streets by putting citizens more at ease when exercising their right to use our public spaces without fear of bodily harm or death caused by behaviour completely lacking in common sense.
In closing, street racing kills. Bill is important and will make our streets safer. I urge the honourable members to join me in supporting Bill and ensuring that it is passed quickly.