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View Bill Blair Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Bill Blair Profile
2017-04-05 19:46 [p.10231]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to join the debate on the motion related to private member's Bill C-226.
I would like to begin, first of all, by acknowledging the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for his efforts, his passion, and his commitment to this important public safety issue.
I also wish to acknowledge the eighth report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which recommended that Bill C-226 not proceed further. It also recommended that our government introduce robust legislative measures to reduce the incidence of impaired driving at its earliest opportunity.
Bill C-226 is an ambitious proposal that seeks fundamental reform not only to the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code but other transportation-related provisions of the code as well. Although the standing committee was not opposed to the intent of the bill, it had concerns that I share with some of the elements of the proposed bill. As the committee noted in its report:
The Committee recognizes that impaired driving, either by drugs or alcohol, is a serious issue in need of robust and comprehensive federal action. The Committee recognizes the crucial need to support victims and public safety officers in these cases, and to do so in a way that appropriately balances the public safety of Canadians with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I believe all members would support that statement. Impaired driving continues to be the leading cause of criminal death in Canada. In 2015 alone, there were 72,039 alcohol- or drug-impaired driving incidents reported by the police. In 2013, 480 Canadians died needlessly in accidents involving a drinking driver. In that same year, 31% of fatally injured drivers had been drinking, and 76% of those were over the legal limit. In addition, we know that it is our youth, those aged 20 to 24, who show the highest rates of impaired driving.
In my view, this bill includes a number of excellent measures aimed at addressing these concerns. For instance, the bill seeks to modernize and simplify the language and structure of this complex area of the law. Impaired driving cases are the most litigated provisions of the Criminal Code, and they take up a substantial portion of trial court time. Reducing the complexity of the impaired driving laws would make a substantial contribution to freeing up court time and reducing delays, which is a continuing priority for our government.
In addition, the bill clarifies what the crown is required to disclose to the defence for the purposes of proving a driver's blood alcohol concentration. It also proposes to simplify how blood alcohol concentration is proven. These elements would further contribute to efficiencies in our criminal justice system.
In addition, Bill C-226 proposes to remove the bolus drinking defence, also known as the "drink and dash" defence. Bolus drinking is a reckless practice where a person consumes alcohol, quickly drives to another destination, and then argues he was not impaired while he was actually behind the wheel. The Supreme Court of Canada has commented negatively on the validity of this defence, and I agree that this type of irresponsible behaviour should be eradicated. Legislation on this point could eliminate needless litigation and, again, improve the efficiency of our courts.
In spite of the bill's very positive elements, I nevertheless am compelled to support this motion not to proceed for several reasons.
On June 9, 2016, during second reading debate, I raised a number of concerns with the proposed legislation. First, I have serious concerns with the new and higher mandatory minimum penalties proposed in the bill. In particular, I would draw members' attention to the proposed five-year mandatory term of imprisonment for impaired driving causing death, which can raise serious charter concerns. As members may already be aware, the Minister of Justice has indicated her intention to bring forward reforms to the area of mandatory minimum penalties in the very near future.
Also on June 9, I raised concerns with the proposed mandatory consecutive sentencing provisions in the private member's bill.
Both of those issues are problematic from a policy and charter perspective, yet remain in the bill. I maintain the view that these provisions cannot be supported.
In addition, since the introduction of this bill in February 2016, there have been a number of intervening events that impact on the criminal justice system, which necessitates further analysis.
The June 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Jordan highlighted the need for a thoughtful examination of the efficiency and efficacy of the criminal justice system. In the impaired driving context, the provinces and territories have raised very serious concerns with some of the measures contained in Bill C-226, particularly that a reform of this magnitude could create significant trial delays and invite unnecessary litigation if it were not supported by a robust parliamentary record.
Unlike during the private member's bill process, the parliamentary record for a government initiative would far more effectively articulate some of the policy and charter rationale of the proposed measures.
Another intervening event since the introduction of Bill C-226 was our government's timeline to introduce legislation to legalize cannabis in the spring of 2017. In its election platform, our government also committed to stronger laws to punish those who drive under the influence of cannabis.
There are elements in Bill C-226 that address the current drug-impaired driving framework, such as the presumption to better link the existing drug recognition evaluation with the observed signs of impairment. It also includes a provision to codify the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision in Bingley, which held that a specially trained drug recognition officer does not need to be specifically qualified to give expert opinion in a trial. This would be better placed, in my opinion, in a comprehensive government-led drug-impaired driving initiative.
Finally, a reform of this nature would have substantial implications for the provinces and territories, as they are responsible for the administration of justice. I understand that some provinces have expressed very serious concerns about how the reforms proposed in Bill C-226 would work in practice. For example, some provinces have raised concerns with a very short coming into force date, given that these reforms would require amendments to provincial legislation and in some cases new or modified information technology systems. It is essential that provincial concerns be considered, as the provinces are responsible for enforcing the Criminal Code.
In light of all of these circumstances, I am pleased to reaffirm that the Minister of Justice intends to introduce legislation this spring that will carefully address both drug- and alcohol-impaired driving. The new legislation will take a thorough, comprehensive, and strategic approach, having regard to the minister's overall mandate with respect to criminal justice reform. In this way, our government is working to keep our communities safe, protect victims, and hold offenders to account.
Taking into account the recommendation produced by the standing committee, as well as our government's plans to address impaired driving in upcoming legislation, I will be voting in support of the motion not to proceed.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank once again the member who sponsored Bill C-226 by bringing forward what I believe to be a very well-intentioned private member's bill. This area of law is highly complex, and I agree completely with him that it is deeply in need of reform. The past few decades have seen impaired driving provisions modified in a piecemeal fashion, and overwhelmingly a more comprehensive approach is required.
I would also like to thank the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for its thoughtful and thorough consideration of the bill. Its members heard from numerous expert witnesses and carefully analyzed the evidence placed before them. Their dedication and concern for striking the right balance between charter rights and improving the safety of our roads is to be highly commended.
In conclusion, I will be voting in support of this motion, but I sincerely look forward to further discussions in the area of impaired driving with all members in this House, including drug-impaired driving, as our government moves forward with a comprehensive response on this important issue.
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