Mr. Speaker, yesterday there was very good debate on the bill. It is a bill that seeks to create five new offences under the legislation with regard to street racing.
If members perhaps did not have an opportunity to follow much of the debate because of other responsibilities, I commend to them a speech by the member for who did an extraordinary amount of work to highlight for the information of all hon. members some of the areas in which there are some concerns and in which more consideration should be given. I really thought those comments were very helpful.
There is no question that the matter of street racing is an extremely serious issue. It is an issue which is important to Canadians and it is an issue which the House should give some careful consideration.
In the Criminal Code right now there are four offences dealing with the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. They include dangerous operation causing bodily harm, dangerous operation causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing death.
This bill would add another dimension to the consideration of a charge being laid, and that is whether or not there is the additional consideration and that is that the particular offence under the Criminal Code also was exacerbated by the incidence of street racing.
If members have followed the debate they will know that even with regard to the definition of street racing it is not entirely black and white. It is basically any two cars. As was pointed out by the member for and by the member for , even rally racing may inadvertently be covered under the definition. There are a couple of other examples. For instance, let us take two people at a traffic light who do not know each other and have nothing planned, but if they happen to look at each other through their windows and all of a sudden start pumping their gas pedal a bit, we have to wonder, when the light turns green and they take off, whether they are street racing or just getting up to speed. There is some discretion I suppose.
The point is that a number of members raised concerns about whether or not the definition was clear enough and comprehensive enough to ensure legitimate sporting events, for instance, were excluded or exempted from the provisions of the proposed act.
The member for also raised the issue of whether or not there was a time trial type of situation where there were not two cars involved simultaneously but perhaps consecutively and they were trying to get from destination a to b within the shortest period of time. Effectively, it is a timed issue. In a sense, it is a race against the clock and I suppose there are some interesting possibilities. Therefore, the definition has to be clear.
Probably one of the most salient points that was raised in the debate by the member for had to do with the fact that the courts now have a number of aspects to consider in terms of determining the penalties exigible to a particular circumstance. If we were to now add the circumstance of street racing, the problem would no longer be two dimensional but it could be three dimensional. We need to look at the experience of the courts as to whether or not, under the existing laws, there already is some strain on the courts and perhaps the latitude of the judges to be able to apply sentences.
The bill would increase sentences and, in some cases, increase maximums and progressive penalties with regard to incarceration and to the prohibition for driving. However, by adding these five new offences, it appears that the bill may add another element that may impact the latitude of the judiciary to determine appropriate proportional sentences.
When I looked back at some of the debate on this, I noticed an interesting quote in the speech by the . He said:
|| The criminal law can be, and in this case should be, a tool for shifting public perception.
I am not sure whether we should simply take that out of the context of everything else that the criminal law should be. By simply saying that we have street racing and that we have done the job because we now have harsher sentences in there, brings us to the same question about whether harsher and more convoluted sentences with some other things, such as the issue of deterrence, it is really a question that the House has wrestled with in many cases.
Is dealing with criminal activity solely a matter of deterrence? In at least half a dozen speeches yesterday people made some very extraordinary pleas for looking at a more comprehensive approach to the problem of street racing. I understand that in the first six months of 2006 there were 10 deaths attributed to street racing incidents. There is no question that one death is too much, especially when such an irresponsible activity as street racing is going on, but demographic studies have shown who is involved.
This is interesting and it comes from the Library of Parliament in the legislative summary. With regard to the demographics, it indicates that the participants can be classified, as a general rule, into one of three distinctive categories: first, young people aged 18-24 who usually live at home and, in most cases, have low incomes. I am not sure if it is the parents or the 18-24 year olds who have low incomes, but I would suspect we are probably talking about the individuals who have committed the offence.
The second category are individuals aged 25-40 who generally modify and use muscle cars such as Cameros, Corvettes and Mustangs. The third category are individuals of varying ages who drive imported vehicles such as late model Acuras, Hondas, Mitsubishis or Nissans.
I might add an additional item here. The study also shows that some participants use stolen vehicles, which is a whole other problem in terms of criminal activity within our society. However, there is a demographic, a prevalence in certain circumstances. In terms of amendments to the Criminal Code and in terms of doing as parliamentarians what we ask for in our prayer every morning, that we make good laws and wise decisions, is it a good law if it just simply says that we should keep ratcheting up sentences and keep throwing people into jail and that will take care of it?
The question then becomes the deterrence issue. We have had the debate in the House many times before about whether or not stiffer sentences will be a deterrent to those who do it. I am not so sure that an 18-24 year old will be too concerned. I think the hormones are jumping, the friends are there and, in some cases, alcohol is probably involved. This is something that is done simply because it is cool.
Then there are others in the 25 to 40 range who probably have a little money to throw away and who probably can afford to buy some of these cars, soup them up, such as installing special nitrous oxide burners. Again, this is almost like a yuppie type of thing where people want to do certain things.
A car cannot be modified without getting some very specialized equipment. We have to wonder whether there is any way in which we can communicate with those who are in the business of producing, marketing, retailing and modifying these parts to potential street racers. This has to do with a comprehensive and maybe a balanced approach toward the problem of street racing. I have often thought that, for every social problem we address in this place, public education is a big part of the solution. Prevention is a big part of the solution.
When I became a member of Parliament in 1993, the very first meeting I was ever at was a health committee meeting. The officials told us at the time that 75% of the dollars were being spent on remedial care; that is after there is the problem the health care system, we will try to address the problem, and only 25% was spent on prevention. The conclusion was that the model of 75% on fixing problems and only 25% on prevention was unsustainable.
Over the last decade, we have discovered very clearly that we cannot ignore the value of prevention. In fact, in the health model, it turned out that for every one dollar spent on prevention, we would save in the long term hundreds of dollars. It makes a great deal of sense. However, we do not apply those kinds of principles to the judiciary.
If we provide very specific conditions, whether it be mandatory minimums or increased maximums, and work them into the Criminal Code, we tend to build up a system which has absolutely no flexibility nor latitude.
I am aware of some work that has been done with regard to mitigating circumstances. This has to do with fetal alcohol syndrome or now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have done some studies. About a couple of years ago, those provinces announced that half the people in provincial jails suffered from alcohol related birth defects. If those people get into situations where they have broken the law, where do the courts have the latitude to consider the penalties in that specific circumstance? Do we have sufficient breadth of factors, which should be properly taken into account, when sentencing is considered? Should people who have mental health problems be incarcerated in prisons that are dedicated toward rehabilitation when rehabilitation is not applicable to them? Those are some interesting questions.
I wonder whether people with FAS, who for some odd reason finds themselves charged with street racing, may receive the same penalty as someone who had a cognizance or a criminal mind? I am sure the would agree that in some cases they do not have criminal minds. Where do courts have latitude in this? I have some concern about that. I am sure there are a number of other cases.
I am concerned about maybe tying the hands of the courts and the judicial system even further. As well, I wonder whether it is a dangerous route to go down to suggest that maybe the judges are not doing the job. It is a terrible thing when not only is there no respect for the laws by some people, but when the legislators lose respect of the court system as well. I wonder how much of the problem we have with the courts, whether it be that they are not handing out harsh enough sentences or putting enough people in jail, has to do with the fact that the Government of Canada is making changes to the Criminal Code and saying that these are the things that must happen, but it is the other jurisdictions, the provinces and the territories who have to enforce them. They need to have their jails. Where do they get the resources? If we do not have enough courts, if the courts are jammed up--
What are you talking about? This is Bill .
Mr. Paul Szabo: I understand that. This is kind of an interesting dialogue with the . I thank him for being here and paying attention to the debate. It is important and I know it is important to the minister as well.
As we start dealing with the Criminal Code, adding more elements, eliminating or maybe handcuffing the judiciary even further to the point where it has no choice but to incarcerate more and more people, it means having to build more jails. I do not know who will pay for that, when it is not in the federal jurisdiction.
How do we deal with it when the courts are clogged up? Even at the federal level, a very large number of judicial appointments have not been made. The court system is suffering because there are no judges. I do not know why the government is dragging its feet. These are all part of this.
What is the scheme of things? Are we saying that the judiciary does not really matter, that we are going to ram them through? Is it simply a matter of this is the charge, we have to dispose of this case quickly and the judges have no choice? If so, then all of a sudden we are not dealing with a comprehensive approach to the problem of street racing.
Where is the money for public education? Why is it not part of the bill? Where is the money for other preventive measures, such as resources to the policing authorities at any level of jurisdiction so they can integrate more fully into the communities to assist legislators in communicating to those who are of the demographic? It is not all around the country. There are some interesting studies that show where some of the problems are.
I have asked similar questions with regard to other bills. It seems that the government's solution to all the problems is to build more jails and throw more people into jail. I guess the housing program for Canada is we will create more jails.
There should be appropriate and proportionate penalties for people who commit serious crime. However, when we create five different offences and we have graduated or progressive penalties, all of a sudden it becomes very difficult to deal with the question of proportionality. I do not know how the judges will be able to deal with it.
One of the Conservative members has raised the issue that the CPIC system does not keep track of information with regard to whether a particular incident involved street racing. It would simply record the Criminal Code offence. I had to think about that.
I am not sure, but it would seem to me that if someone came up on a charge of breaking an existing law and the evidence was that it was part of an event qualifying as street racing, that information should be on the table with regard to the charge currently before the court. If this person had a record for speeding or negligence causing harm or death, or something like that, the question could also be posed about what the circumstances were, and the court records would show that. Therefore, even the CPIC issue probably is not a compelling enough matter to say that this is a deficiency and that is why we have to do this. I do not think it is a good enough reason.
I have a lot of questions. The member for has raised some very important issues. Should the bill pass second reading and go to committee, which I think it should, many of these questions should be seriously considered by the committee before the bill would pass further.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
We are discussing very important legislation. It is an issue that is of importance in many communities across the country. It is important to many people in my riding of who have had direct experience with street racing, and in some cases have had family members and relatives die in incidents involving street racing.
There have been deaths in my riding on Barnett Highway and Hastings Street. They were directly linked to street racing. As I travel around my constituency I have all too often seen the roadside memorials that spring up after that kind of event. They remain on those two thoroughfares in my riding. These are reminders of the tragedies, losses and deaths of people who were loved in the community. The deaths have affected families, friends and co-workers.
There have also been many serious injuries that have resulted from these incidents. Sometimes the folks involved have been innocent bystanders, drivers and passengers in other vehicles. It is a terrible circle of tragedy that stems from this irresponsible activity of street racing.
There is no place for street racing in our communities. It endangers the participants in the activity and the public. We need to address it in all its forms. It is an important issue to address in order to make our communities safer and to help broaden the understanding of public responsibility, and the commitments and relationships that we have with each other that make our communities successful and safe places to live. Street racing is one of the violations of our agreements with each other about how we live in our communities.
We need to address the question of street racing in all its forms. That is one area where this bill has received some criticism in the last day or two in the House during debate. There is some question about whether it deals with the breadth of activities that are known in street racing. I will read the definition that appears in Bill . The definition of “street racing” as it appears in the bill states:
||“street racing” means operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;
There have been questions raised about what that actually includes. Does it have to be a side by side race of two or more vehicles? What about the other kinds of street racing that take place in our communities? I wish I had the appropriate popular expressions to describe them because I am sure there are more common ways of describing these other activities.
There are situations where people have timed races to see how long it takes to get to a certain location. There are other situations where people text message or email that they all converge to a certain place and the first to arrive is declared the winner. There are other variations as well. It is not just what we would all assume to be the side by side race of two or more vehicles.
Does the definition that is included in this legislation cover all the other circumstances, which are equally as dangerous and cause just as many problems in our communities as the more traditional race? How broad is this bill? Would it complicate things, for instance, for people who organize car rallies? Does it penalize people who might engage in a jackrabbit start at a stop sign with someone who drives up alongside?
Just what is the extent of the definition and how will it effect our understanding of this criminal activity? There are some problems with the definition that need to be addressed, worked on, and clarified before this is legislation that I could fully support.
It is not just youth who engage in street racing. In the last day and a half while we have been discussing this we have been quick to perhaps accuse youth of being the main problem.
As the previous speaker mentioned, the demographics include a broad range of people who engage in various forms of street racing and who may participate in this dangerous activity. It is people who may alter their cars to increase the power beyond what was originally contemplated for the weight of the vehicle that they have. There are people who soup-up vehicles, who develop muscle cars and hot rods, and those kinds of things.
There are people who drive very high powered vehicles for social status. We know that is often the case where some very expensive and high powered vehicles are seen as an indication that one is doing well in the community. Speed is sometimes associated with that status as well.
I think it is not just young people. Clearly, young people are not out buying the most expensive and fastest vehicles on the market. Often they are the ones who cannot afford to do that, so it is not just a youth problem. It is a problem of all sectors in society.
Sadly, it is not just a male problem either as some of the most recent incidents have shown. We need to be careful that we do not dismiss it as just the raging hormones of young men as we have often heard in this debate. It is a problem that crosses groups and demographics in our society.
I also want to address the idea that perhaps street racing is not already covered in our Criminal Code. I think it is very clearly covered there. In fact, the minister in his speech yesterday, when he spoke at the beginning of the debate on the legislation, made that very clear, that the Criminal Code does have options for dealing with street racing behaviour, and that they are available now and they include very stiff penalties.
I will list the charges the minister mentioned in his speech. The charges that are available in the Criminal Code now include criminal negligence causing death, which as the minister pointed out carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. That is no small charge. It is a very serious charge. It is a serious crime with a very serious possible penalty.
There is also the charge of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, which currently carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. It is no small charge and no small penalty for someone convicted of that crime. There is also criminal negligence causing bodily harm. It has a very serious penalty of a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. There is also dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm with, again, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. Finally, there is dangerous operation of a motor vehicle which has a 5 year maximum imprisonment on indictment and which can be applied to cases where no one was injured or killed.
These are all very serious options which contemplate a very serious crime. They are there already to be used in our Criminal Code. If there is a problem with enforcement, then we need to get the reasons as to why these options are not being fully utilized in our communities. Why do the police not use these charges?
If they are using these charges and convictions are not happening, why is that the case? However, I do not think that there is any evidence that that is going on. Certainly, there is no evidence that I am aware of that these charges have not led to convictions in the very serious cases.
There is also all of the sets of driving prohibitions in the current Criminal Code which are a part of the options that are available to the courts. Under the current Criminal Code, if one is convicted of any of the five offences I mentioned above, the court can order a period of driving prohibition of up to 3 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, up to 10 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In the case of criminal negligence causing death, the court may order up to a lifetime driving prohibition. That is what the said in his speech yesterday on the current provisions of the Criminal Code.
Even in the case of driving prohibitions, the court has very serious options available to it when it comes to driving prohibitions. A 3 year prohibition, 10 year prohibition, and lifetime prohibition are no small penalties for people who have been found guilty on any of the five charges.
I do not think that there is a problem currently with the Criminal Code. Clearly, the Criminal Code contemplates the dangerous operation of a vehicle and the dangerous operation of a vehicle that leads to death or injury as a very serious matter and worthy of a very serious punishment. I think that right now we have in the law good possibilities on that.
This brings me to wonder why we are considering these changes to the act. I think it is part of the Conservative Party's interest in mandatory minimum sentences and trying to tie the hands of the courts in very specific ways around very specific crimes. I know that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They do not deter people from committing crime. They do not prevent crime in that sense. People often do not consider the consequences of criminal activity before they do it. It is just not in the works when that sort of thing is happening.
All that it might do is add greater numbers of people who are being held in prisons in Canada. I am concerned about the government's plans in that area. We have already seen that the government plans to expand the number of places available in prisons in Canada. I do not know that this would serve our society well in the long run.
We know that often putting people in prison does not in the long run solve the problems of crime faced by our society. It does not help them become rehabilitated and learn to take their place in a positive way in our communities. I am not sure that is a solution and that this bill is the solution in proposing tougher sentences around this crime.
I should mention that tonight at St. Paul's University members of the religious community in Ottawa and others are gathering to talk about conditional and mandatory sentencing. That is at seven o'clock tonight at St. Paul's. I wish I could be there. I am going to be here for the debate on Darfur. I think they raise very important issues that need to be part of the debate we are having here on this legislation as well.
I also have to say that I do not believe that judges do not take the crimes of dangerous driving and street racing seriously. I believe they take them very seriously. I do not think that there is a judge in this country who acts leniently when it comes to this kind of crime, especially in the case where it has led to injury or death. I just do not think that is the case.
Sure judges make mistakes and sure the system is not perfect. I think to characterize the system as broken and to say that people are being dealt with leniently is completely wrong. I think the judges in Canada do an excellent job considering what they are up against and what they have to work with.
I think we have to consider all the facts of the case. We have to consider circumstances and the penalties imposed have to be appropriate and proportional. Judges must have the ability to make those kinds of decisions and act in their best judgment in light of all the circumstances that have come to light during a trial. I do believe that judges do that.
I do not want to do anything that would undermine the authority of judges in our system. They have a tough job and I believe they do it well. I think that right now judges do have the resources to do the job that we ask of them.
There are other issues around how we actually prevent the crime of street racing. There are preventive measures that we should be taking. I think we heard yesterday and today about some of those measures.
We have heard that police forces need more resources and more officers. They need more equipment to be able to put the effort that they want to put into dealing with this particular crime. We have certainly heard how the RCMP in the city of Richmond found a way of diverting resources into dealing with the issue of street crime which had been a particular issue in that community. The police had found a way to deal with crime. It was not without cost. It meant that the police had to make difficult decisions about where to divert other resources from, but they did find a way.
We have to make that kind of decision making easier for our police forces and ensure they have the resources. Unfortunately, Bill does not address that issue.
There are other examples from other jurisdictions as well. The state of Victoria in Australia has instituted a number of measures which address the whole question of the high death rate on its highways. It has reduced it by almost a third in the last 15 to 20 years, which is a significant reduction in the death rate on Australian highways in the state of Victoria.
One of its measures is a three kilometres an hour guideline when it comes to the issuing of speeding tickets. Here in Canada we all assume that somehow the guideline we can get away with is about 10 kilometres over the speed limit before we are in danger of getting a ticket. In the state of Victoria in Australia the well-known edict is that it is three kilometres an hour. My experience there is that it has had an effect on the speed that people drive on the highways in the state of Victoria in Australia. That is another kind of measure that might be the kind of thing that we should be looking at and our provinces should be looking at.
On the whole question of photo radar, my experience in British Columbia was that when we were using photo radar in British Columbia people did slow down on highways. I often have the occasion to drive the Sea to Sky Highway in B.C., which is known as one of Canada's most dangerous highways. When photo radar was in operation, people did not drive as fast on that highway, plain and simple. When it was gone, they started speeding again. I think photo radar makes a significant contribution and I think it is one of the measures that we should be considering.
Education of our drivers is another measure. Compulsory driver education may be something that we should be looking at in all of our jurisdictions so that drivers are apprised of issues like street racing as part of their basic education.
I also think that we need to place some limits on vehicles that are altered for racing. We need to make sure they are not driven on roads and highways in our communities when they have been altered as vehicles for any kind of racing activity.
Generally I think we need to address that whole issue of the culture of speed in our society. I think some of these ideas are ways of getting serious about speeding on our highways, in which we all can play a part.
However, I think there are other issues that also need to be addressed in addressing the whole culture of speed. We have heard a number of times about advertisers and car manufacturers who sell cars by appealing to the fact that they go fast.
We all know of one particular commercial in which a young boy says “zoom, zoom, zoom” as a car speeds by on a highway. That is an example of how we are characterizing the impression that vehicles are made to be driven fast and should be driven fast and also of how we are appealing to young people in that context. I think that is a very dangerous thing. Advertisers should have pressure put on them about that kind of advertising appeal.
We have also seen advertisers' own concerns about legal liability when cars are driven very quickly in TV commercials. Flashed on the screen is the message that it is a closed circuit and there is liability. I think they have identified liability issues in that case. They are trying to say that this is something one can only do in a closed circuit, when we know that the general impression is something else.
Too, I think we have to put pressure on our vehicle and auto manufacturers. Why are cars capable of travelling at speeds of 180 to 200 kilometres an hour or more? Do any of us ever have occasion to drive that fast? Perhaps there is a need for emergency vehicles to travel at those kinds of speeds, but generally those of us who use vehicles to go shopping, take kids to school or go to an appointment have absolutely no need of a vehicle that is capable of doing that kind of speed. If we altered the kinds of vehicles we drive, and I think manufacturers should be perfectly capable of that, maybe could make a contribution on this whole issue.
There is also the question of popular culture. Car chases are a constant feature of movies. As well, video games show some very disturbing kinds of car chasing and street racing, where the whole object is to roll somebody off the road and put them in the ditch, for instance, or worse. I also think there is a whole culture of extreme sports now, which glorifies taking serious risks.
We need to address a lot of things that are part of that culture.
There is some thought that this might be a bill that helps educate the public, but I also think it does some other things that are less positive. I also think it is not my job to pretend that legislation will address this situation when I believe at some level that it will not. Since I think this is a very limited piece of legislation, I have a hard time seeing how it is really going to affect and prevent street racing in Canada.
I think that should be our goal: to prevent street racing before it happens. I believe that we already have in place serious penalties for people who are convicted of the kinds of dangerous driving of which street racing is a part. The Criminal Code provisions are there. I am very skeptical of the educative possibilities of this legislation. As well, I think we are missing the boat completely when it comes to prevention.
I am interested in this debate. I am glad to be able to participate in it. I have listened carefully to the submissions of others and look forward to continuing my participation as we continue our consideration of this legislation.