Thank you, Mr. Chair, and certainly thank you to all of the members of this committee. I am always pleased to come back before all of you. I appreciate the chair saying that this is one of the most important bills to be before the committee, and I very much look forward to hearing feedback.
I'm pleased to be here to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The bill would strengthen the existing criminal law with respect to drug-impaired driving and would result in a simplified, modernized, and coherent legislative framework addressing all transportation offences, including impaired driving.
The ultimate goal of this bill is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by impaired drivers. Drinking and driving continues to cause untold devastation on our roads and highways, despite years of public education on the dangers of such conduct. No one is immune to its tragic impact. This was evident during the second reading debate, when many members of Parliament related their personal stories of being impacted by an impaired driver. Some have lost family members of their own, and others have described the impact impaired driving has had on some of their constituents and communities.
I would like to point out that since the introduction of this bill, questions around its constitutionality have been raised, particularly with respect to whether some of the key proposals will withstand charter scrutiny. I would like to assure the committee that I take my role under section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act very seriously. I am confident that the proposed reforms are appropriately tailored to the important objectives we are pursuing and will survive any constitutional challenge that may be brought.
It has been my practice, as Minister of Justice, to table a charter statement. I did so with respect to Bill , and it outlines some of the key considerations that informed my review of the bill to ensure its consistency with the charter. The statement identifies how the bill potentially engages charter-protected rights and freedoms and also identifies the rationale for justifying any limits that the bill may impose. My hope is that this information will be of assistance to all members as you study and continue to debate this important bill.
I would like to now spend a few moments outlining some of the key proposals in the bill. As I mentioned, the bill proposes to strengthen the existing criminal law approach to drug-impaired driving. It would do this by enacting three new driving offences of being over a legal drug limit. The legal limits are not contained in the bill but would be set by regulation. This approach would permit cabinet to add drugs or amend legal limits quickly and efficiently in response to the evolving science. Although legal limits would be established for several impairing drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, I propose only to outline the levels relating to THC, the primary impairing component of cannabis.
The bill establishes a low-level fine-only drug offence for THC. This represents a precautionary approach. This offence would prohibit having between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving. This offence would be punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and a discretionary driving prohibition of up to one year. Additionally, Bill proposes a hybrid offence for a higher level of THC, corresponding with higher risks from impairment. This offence would prohibit having five nanograms or more of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving. Finally, the second proposed hybrid combination offence would prohibit low levels of THC in combination with low levels of alcohol, recognizing that these two substances interact to significantly increase overall impairment.
Both of the hybrid drug offences would have escalating penalties that mirror the existing impaired driving penalties: a $1,000 fine for the first offence, 30 days' imprisonment for a second offence, 120 days' imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence, and mandatory prohibition orders.
The bill also proposes to authorize the police to use roadside drug screeners to more effectively identify drivers who have been using drugs. These tools would be in addition to the existing roadside tests, known as standard field sobriety tests. The ability to demand these tests has been in force since 2008. They are used by police to develop reasonable grounds to believe that a driver is impaired and proceed to further investigate.
I am very pleased that last week Minister Goodale announced that the drug screening device pilot project conducted between December 18, 2016, and March 6, 2017, by police officers in seven jurisdictions across Canada was successful, and received positive reviews from police. Officers reported that the devices were easy to use at the roadside and that they were able to successfully use them in various weather, temperature, and lighting conditions. Giving law enforcement this tool to detect and deter drug-impaired driving will better protect communities.
Bill also proposes significant reforms in the area of alcohol-impaired driving and other transportation-related provisions. It proposes to completely repeal these Criminal Code provisions and replace them with a simplified, modernized, and coherent legislative framework. One of the key proposals is to authorize mandatory alcohol screening. This proposal would allow a police officer, in the lawful execution of their duty, to demand a preliminary breath sample from any driver who is operating a motor vehicle. This provision was debated vigorously at second reading. I want to spend a moment explaining in some detail the reason this is proposed within the bill.
Mandatory alcohol screening is common in other jurisdictions, including in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and much of Europe. It has been proven to significantly reduce traffic-related fatalities. In fact, in Ireland it was credited with reducing the number of deaths on Irish roads by approximately 40% in the first four years after it was enacted. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the power of police officers to stop vehicles at any time to ensure that drivers are complying with the rules of the road. They can do this to ensure that drivers are licensed and insured and the vehicle is mechanically fit, and to check for sobriety. The proposal in this bill would require a driver who is already subject to a lawful traffic stop to provide a breath sample, similar to the way they are now required to produce their licence and registration. It is simply information about whether a driver is complying with one of the conditions imposed in the highly regulated context of driving.
Some have expressed concern relating to the perceived risk that this provision could lead to an increase in racial profiling. While the issue of racial profiling is a serious concern to our government, mandatory alcohol screening will not have an impact on this practice. Mandatory alcohol screening would not alter the responsibility that law enforcement has towards training and oversight to ensure fair, equal, and appropriate application of the law. Finally, mandatory alcohol screening was unanimously recommended in 2009 by the members of this very committee following a comprehensive study of the issue of impaired driving. I thank that committee for their hard work on this important issue, and I am pleased to have been able to include that recommendation in this bill.
As Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, I feel it is my obligation to take any and all reasonable measures within my authority to reduce the incidence of impaired driving, with the ultimate goal of reducing road accidents. I am confident that the mandatory alcohol screening will be effective at reducing deaths and injuries on our roads and highways. I'm also confident that mandatory alcohol screening is constitutional. Constitutional compliance is about striking the appropriate balance. Mandatory alcohol screening is minimally intrusive, but the benefits in lives saved will be immeasurable. Simply put, mandatory alcohol screening will change the mindset of drivers, who will no longer be able to convince themselves that they can evade police detection of their alcohol consumption if stopped.
Mr. Chair, the bill contains many other proposals that I do not have time to go into in great detail, but just for summary's sake, some of these elements include: removing or limiting defences which encourage risk-taking behaviour, including the bolus or drinking-and-dashing defence; clarifying that the crown is only required to disclose scientifically relevant information; simplifying the proof of blood alcohol concentration; and, increasing some minimum fines and some maximum penalties.
I would like to draw the committee's attention to the legislative backgrounder on Bill that I tabled on May 11, which contains more detail regarding all of these proposed changes. It is my hope that this document will help guide your study by explaining in more detail the intent of the proposed changes.
In conclusion, the ultimate goal of Bill is to save lives, reduce injuries, and ensure the safety of Canadians on our roads and highways. If passed, this bill would give Canada one of the toughest impaired driving regimes in the world. Protecting the public is a responsibility that I take seriously and that I know this committee takes seriously, and I'm very proud of the proposals set out in Bill .
Than you for your attention. I look forward to comments and questions, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to welcome the minister and all these members of the Department of Justice. I thank you for your appearance today.
There's quite a bit in this piece of legislation. I wonder if you could explain it again for me and for the committee with respect to the mandatory testing. As you've pointed out correctly, the law now is that the courts have upheld the right of police officers to stop people and check with them for their insurance or make sure their licence is up to date. At that time, after they've stopped that individual, if they believe the person is impaired, they are entitled to demand a breath test.
In your description of how this new regime would take place, would it be the same regime in which they're stopping the individuals on a regular basis to check their insurance or their licence, or would the sole purpose of stopping these people be to test for impaired driving? You seem to say that it's both of them. If they have a lawful reason to stop the person, which has been decided, in that they can check on things like your insurance and licence, is the next step, then, that they can or will have the mandatory testing, or are you suggesting and is this bill saying that you can be by the roadside and just start pulling people over, and it's strictly about alcohol and has nothing to do with licences or insurance?
Thank you for the question. I appreciate the enormity or the length of this particular bill.
In terms of the mandatory roadside screening, as you quite rightly indicate, it does not provide law enforcement officers with any additional powers, but certainly to pull people over on the roadside in compliance with the current laws.... In terms of how the mandatory alcohol screenings will be administered, certainly we have to continue to work with law enforcement and to support law enforcement officers with regard to the ability of having the screening devices available to them and having the training and testing with respect to various jurisdictions in terms of law enforcement officers.
How the screening will unfold, I suspect, would be a combination of the situations you speak to, whether it be the random roadside stops or the roadblocks at Christmastime. I know that other jurisdictions, in having these conversations, have discussions and do research around situations where there's an increase in terms of impaired drivers driving, whether that be in the early morning hours or around a specific location in a city or a town, but again, this is—
Thank you very much, Minister, and, ladies and gentlemen, for being with us today to answer our questions on this important bill. I appreciate the work that has gone into this, Minister.
You touched on some of the elements dealing with the charter that you address in the charter statement that was put out. I'd like to ask you about the difference between random breath screening at a roadside checkpoint, which you touched on, and any sort of traffic stop. Peter Hogg, a leading Canadian constitutional expert, offered an opinion that actually only refers to checkpoints. He talked about how in that situation there would not be a stigma or humiliation, or irrelevant considerations, such as race, going into who it is who's being chosen to actually take a random sample.
I'm wondering, and you touched on it briefly in your statement, if you could explain why it was decided that it would not be just the roadside checkpoints, but that it would be at any traffic stop that a random sample could be taken.
Welcome back, Minister, and it's good to see your officials again.
I want to concentrate my line of questioning specifically on proposed section 320.27 because you have made some comments about the mandatory versus random nature of this law. When police exercise their considerable powers under the Criminal Code, they usually have to show a reasonable suspicion that an offence has occurred in order to administer those powers, either to detain someone or bring him or her in for further questioning. The way this proposed section is written, yes, a police officer has to lawfully stop someone on the road, either through speeding or a broken tail light, but then the decision on whether to administer a breath sample is entirely up to the officer.
The real danger here is what whims will affect the police officer's decision to administer that breath sample. How is the Department of Justice going to implement that training to ensure that we are not disproportionately affecting certain groups of society more than others?
The way the law is written, there's no real follow-up allowed with the officer to ask, “What made you administer the test?” It seems to be entirely discretionary on the part of the officer, whereas before they had to prove a reasonable suspicion. I'm just wondering, how is the Department of Justice going to make sure that this training is instituted in a proper way and that officers are acting with the best intention for all their actions?
Thank you for the question. It's similar to questions that have been asked, and I think it's really important.
We've had this conversation around racial profiling and whether this mandatory breath screening will impact racial minorities more than others. I will say that, again, mandatory roadside screening acts as a deterrent. Officers, as you quite rightly point out, and others can continue to lawfully pull individuals over. I have to go back to the confidence I have in law enforcement officers and the necessity for law enforcement officers in various jurisdictions to continue to get the necessary training that's required, and that includes how we deal with marginalized communities, how we deal with implicit bias.
What's the Department of Justice going to do in this regard, in terms of the application, ensuring that law enforcement officers apply this screening device in a fair way? I've continued to have discussions with my counterparts in the provinces and territories, the attorneys general. We've had discussions about this particular piece of legislation and the impact, whether that be around training...and that includes resources. As well, my colleague, the , has indeed had conversations with his counterparts. In fact, we have federal, provincial, and territorial meetings together on many occasions.
I am committed to ensuring that we continue to have these discussions with our counterparts, continue to ensure that we provide the necessary support so that law enforcement officers in their jurisdictions have the ability to access this training, have the ability to ensure that they can continue to improve on their training. We need to understand and recognize that separate and apart from the training around what's required in terms of the ministry, the screening, racial profiling is also a serious issue that law enforcement officials, all people, actors in the criminal justice system need to be very aware of. That's inherently part of my commitment in terms of my mandate letter from the , to be mindful of the realities that marginalized individuals face in our country.
Certainly, I would be very interested in any study, because let's not underestimate the fact that this is a significant infringement on individual liberty when we're talking about taking a bodily sample with even the slightest hint of suspicion that someone is breaking the law.
I think Mr. Yost brought up the point about the success that Ireland has had. The system in Ireland differs from what is proposed in Bill in the sense that the mandatory breath testing can only take place at regulated check stops. I would be curious as to why that was not considered. It would seem to me that a lot of people would be a little more comfortable with that than a mandatory roadside testing system whereby a police officer can stop any vehicle, anywhere, under any circumstances, albeit a lawful stop to check registration, insurance, etc.
Before you comment on that, I would just note, Madam Minister, because you had mentioned and the point had been raised by others, that right now police can stop a vehicle to check insurance, registration, or sobriety by engaging in a conversation with an individual, and if they have a reasonable suspicion, they can take further steps. I would note that when we're talking about taking a breath sample, a bodily sample from an individual, we're talking about something that's much more significant. To that point, I would draw your attention to the Goodwin decision from the Supreme Court wherein Madam Justice Karakatsanis stated that taking breath samples remained “more intrusive than a demand for documents” and clearly amounts to what Justice La Forest said, “The use of a person's body without his consent to obtain information about him invades an area of privacy essential to the maintenance of his human dignity.” That is a fairly significant statement for the Supreme Court.
I want to go over the comparison between Canada and Australia. I know, Mr. Yost, that you gave testimony before the public safety committee, and you said that the State of Victoria is hard to compare because in the State of Victoria they do three million breath tests out of a population of six million.
Just following up on what Mr. Cooper was talking about, setting up a police road check where everyone is checked, I have been through one of those in the State of Tasmania. It was a large sporting event. Everyone coming down the highway was made to blow on a device, and then the plastic tip was changed. It was like an assembly line. Everyone was going through really quickly.
Australia is a very large land mass with a small population. It's very easy to compare to Canada. I'm just wondering, when you look at the enforcement resources being put into three million breath tests out of a population of six million, and you look at Canada's rates of drunk driving, which have all been going down, thankfully, due to that increased awareness and more police resources, could you not make an argument that, with putting more resources into selective breath testing, we would see that trend go downward with more education, more enforcement, and perhaps mechanisms where everyone is being treated equally with breath tests. Also, the randomness is gone, so we're not subjecting them to the whims of a police officer anymore.