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View Guy Caron Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-226, introduced by my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis.
As mentioned several times in the House, Bill C-226 is designed to limit or make more difficult the conditions that allow for impaired driving, a glaring problem. I can say that I have had a close personal experience with this problem. Just a year and a half ago, while I was driving around in my constituency, I nearly had a collision with someone who was impaired. As some members of the House will remember, in March 2015, the former provincial member for Gaspé, Georges Mamelonet, died in a head-on collision involving an impaired driver, very close to Rimouski, in fact.
This is an extremely important matter, and no one in this House will deny the importance of dealing with it appropriately.
The bill itself has three particular components. The first proposes tougher sentences by setting minimum sentences for cases of impaired driving causing death. The second component of the bill is intended to restrict legal defences and eliminate the possibility of defending oneself legally and using certain defences that are questionable and harmful to the fight we must wage against impaired driving. The third component is intended to institute random alcohol testing for impaired driving.
I can say that I do not have a problem with eliminating certain more questionable defences. People have probably abused legal loopholes to actually avoid facing the consequences of their actions, namely choosing to drink and drive.
With regard to random alcohol testing, I am open to the possibility. Obviously, it raises certain questions associated with privacy and individual freedoms. In some cases, however, we also have to look at the common good, in general. In that regard, I am not completely convinced, but I would lean in that direction.
With respect to minimum sentences, we see here, unfortunately, the usual automatic response of the Conservatives to opt for such sentences in almost every case. What is interesting is that the Conservatives, in a previous government, in 2008, had toughened certain legal provisions on impaired driving. As part of that reform and those amendments, the fines for a first impaired-driving offence were raised from $600 to $1,000. For repeat offenders, who are liable to a term of imprisonment, the sentence was increased from 14 to 30 days.
However, while this was expected to deter impaired driving, in the end the opposite effect was observed. The number of people failing impaired-driving tests did not decrease, far from it. This demonstrates the limitations of using sentences as a deterrent. That has often been proclaimed in the House. There is no evidence that sentences, whether they are minimum sentences or just tougher sentences, produce enough of a change in behaviour to truly satisfy the intentions of the House, the intentions of legislators and especially the intention that we should have in legislating for the public good.
Therefore, I can say from the outset that I am opposed to the provisions concerning minimum sentences. I am not the only one in this situation, as MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is also opposed to the imposition of minimum sentences, and in this case, a minimum sentence of five years. That does not mean we are in favour of lighter sentences, quite the contrary. However, giving that discretion to judges, allowing the legal system to make decisions that account for the context, will, in our view, be completely satisfactory and will undoubtedly lead to tougher sentences and a wider acceptance of that legal power.
In many cases, judges make their decisions based on a social context in which impaired driving is less and less tolerated. It is no longer a socially acceptable behaviour. On the contrary, it is socially and universally condemned. My colleague from Durham said it well. In that regard, that often leads to more serious legal consequences, unfortunately. I am thinking specifically of minimum sentences.
Let us then allow the judges to do their jobs, and let us do ours as legislators. I was somewhat disappointed with this bill, because if the idea was to deal with impaired driving, other elements could have been included. There is a lot of talk about sentences and punishing crime, but not much about prevention.
If the intent was really to discourage people from using a vehicle while impaired, it would have made sense to include in the bill provisions such as the obligation to have an alcohol-ignition interlock device in cars, which might automatically prevent drunk drivers from using their cars.
It would also have been worthwhile to have the bill mention a problem that is likely to become more important in the future: drug-related impaired driving. Since we are talking about legalizing marijuana, I should mention that, in some American states where marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized, impaired driving problems have emerged. However, all the bill mentions is blood alcohol tests to detect alcohol-related impaired driving.
If we want to be consistent, we will eventually have to address this issue. When the Liberal government drafts future legislation to legalize marijuana, if it goes that far, I encourage it to include provisions to protect the public. Our existing impaired driving laws are getting increasingly tougher.
As I mentioned, I will vote in favour of this bill at second reading, but I think it needs to be carefully studied in committee, because there is no guarantee that I will vote the same way at third reading. If the minimum sentencing is still in the bill, there is a good chance that I will have to vote against the bill and we will have to find another way, as legislators, to combat impaired driving.
The House takes this issue seriously, and the political parties probably have different philosophies on how to deal with this issue, but we need to find a solution that works, not a solution designed to score political points.
I would like the committee to examine whether random testing is effective, based on facts and evidence. I know that 31 of the 34 OECD countries use random testing, and Canada is one of the exceptions. I have no doubt that there will be studies on other countries' experiences.
We need to look at how these legal defences are being abused, as a way to avoid penalties for drivers who would have otherwise received punishment. We are talking about the safety of our families, neighbours, and communities, as well as the common good.
I urge all members in the House to carefully consider the various measures we could use to effectively combat this issue. The bill provides three lines of attack, so we should be able to come up with others. Most importantly, we should be able to keep the measures that work, not the measures that were proposed by those who share our political views.
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