Interventions in the House of Commons
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moved that Bill C-226, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences in relation to conveyances) and the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
He said: Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague, the public safety critic and the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, for letting me give this speech today.
I would also like to thank my colleagues who are here today, the member for Lévis—Lotbinière, whom I have been working with for 10 years, and my colleagues from all parts of the country, who have shared some moving accounts with me in recent weeks.
I would also like to thank my friend, the member for Durham, who is also a public safety critic. Furthermore, I am very pleased that someone for whom I have a great deal of respect will address the House shortly, and that is our justice critic.
I am here because of the determination of the victim's family who fought for years for tougher impaired driving legislation and because of my friend from beautiful Langley, a member who shared his story with me along with his dream of making this place a place where we can make change, and make a change for victims in our capacity to avoid further victims of drunk driving.
“No one should have to endure the terrible loss that victims' families face when a loved one is killed by an impaired driver”, is what my colleague said on February 23 when I tabled the bill. There are thousands of stories, but he spoke about the story of Kassandra.
Kassandra was 22 years old when her life was taken by a drunk driver, but her mother, Markita Kaulius, founded an organization that would move to change this loss into a tribute and into action. This is what we are giving all members of this House the opportunity to do, because over 1,200 Canadians are killed every year because someone irresponsibly chose to drive while impaired, instead of finding a safe way home.
A car in the hands of an impaired driver is a carelessly used weapon that can cause irreparable harm. It is reckless and 100% preventable.
More than 100,000 Canadians have signed “Families for Justice”, Markita Kaulius' petition, which calls for tougher laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for impaired driving causing death. Canadians believe that our impaired driving laws are too lenient.
That is why I am rising today. Every day, three or four people are killed on our roads by impaired drivers. It is the leading cause of death under the Criminal Code. Impaired driving continues to wreak havoc despite all of the commendable efforts that have been made to raise awareness of this problem.
I am thinking about the remarkable work done by Operation Red Nose, which was created by Jean-Marie De Koninck and eventually led to the creation of the Table québécoise de la sécurité routière. Today, I am pleased to announce that the measures set out in the bill are based on the recommendations of the Table québécoise de la sécurité routière and seek to reduce the incidence of accidents.
I met with experts who believe that the only way to eliminate this problem is to increase drivers' perceived risk of being charged with impaired driving. I am talking about the fear of being caught. That is how we, as legislators, can make the measures that are in place more effective.
Studies have shown that roadblocks do not work in over 50% of cases because drivers manage to hide any signs of intoxication. MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has data to show that a person would have to drive impaired once a week for three years before being charged with an impaired driving offence. As legislators, we have the unique opportunity to put an end to the harm drunk driving causes.
The bill has three components: one, tougher sentences for repeat drunk drivers; two, relieving pressure on the courts by eliminating legal delays and loopholes; and three, systematic testing to increase the efficiency of roadblocks and catch repeat offenders with alcohol addiction who conceal their drunkenness. Why? Because we can save lives.
Where it has been implemented in other countries, hundreds of lives have been saved. It is a conservative estimate that we could save 200 lives at least within the first year of implementation of the bill, and that would increase.
As I just mentioned, this bill has three components: tougher sentences for repeat drunk drivers, relief of pressure on the courts, and systematic testing.
This afternoon, I would like to focus on two measures with respect to the tougher sentences. The bill proposes a minimum sentence of five years in cases of impaired driving causing death, depending on the severity and the aggravating factors. Although this is similar to the existing sentence, it sets a threshold. In our society, it is important to establish that impaired driving is a crime that needs to be punished. Someone who takes the life of more than one person could receive consecutive sentences.
The other objective of tougher sentences is to give judges more latitude to increase the amount of time an offender may serve. Hardened repeat offenders will face a one-year prison sentence for a second offence and a two-year sentence for subsequent offences, if they are found guilty. The minimum sentence will therefore be five years if someone causes the death of another person, and the sentences will be consecutive if more than one person is involved.
The bill's second measure has to do with freeing up the courts by eliminating loopholes and legal delays. Indeed, some wily people use legal proceedings to avoid facing the consequences of their actions, and above all, to clog up the courts, which is very costly and results in delays. We know how important it is to make the process easier so that our courts can be more efficient and deliver justice as quickly as possible.
The bill will eliminate two measures. The first is known as the last drink defence. In this case, the driver claims that he had a high blood alcohol level when the test was administered because he consumed a large quantity of alcohol right before getting behind the wheel, and basically, at the time of the accident, he was not impaired. Of course, this can cause legal delays.
The other defence is this: the driver claims he was so upset about the accident that he had a drink. It is known as the intervening drink defence. If that is the case, then that is the case. However, if it is a trick to avoid facing the consequences, the law must be set out in such a way that people cannot abuse the good faith of our courts.
Those are the two measures set out in the bill.
We also want to encourage guilty pleas so as to avoid clogging up the courts. Sentences are reduced when the person admits wrongdoing and pleads guilty. That way, the case is settled and we avoid clogging the courts.
These two measures were proposed by our government in the last few months. I want to commend the work of our colleague and former minister of justice, Peter MacKay. This cause was very important to him. A lot of work went into these measures that I am including in the bill.
The bill also includes a very important measure for victims that has proven effective. For that I want to thank Marie-Claude Morin, spokesperson for the Quebec chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who helped draft the bill, and Angeliki Souranis, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who lost a son in an accident involving alcohol.
This is a preventive measure that would make it clear to serious repeat offenders that they can get arrested through routine screening.
I mentioned that roadside spot checks were ineffective. In fact, more than 50% of drivers whose blood-alcohol level was higher than 80 milligrams per decilitre went through the spot checks without being stopped. In other words, they crossed the line without getting caught.
It is a problem because it makes our roadblocks less effective and results in fewer arrests for impaired driving.
When drivers get behind the wheel of a car, they need to know that our roadblocks work. How can we make sure of that? By implementing systematic testing.
Systematic testing is simply detecting alcohol and then using an approved device to perform a second test. It is simply detecting the presence of alcohol because our police officers currently need reasonable grounds to believe that a person has been drinking.
People use vehicles on public roadways. Responsibility goes hand in hand with that privilege. I would never allow someone to come into my living room, my kitchen, or my patio to measure my blood alcohol. However, if I am driving a vehicle and putting people's lives in danger, obviously I have to deal with justice and the authorities, just like for a vehicle inspection. At any time while I am driving my car, authorities can stop my car to make sure it is working properly. It is perfectly reasonable for authorities to check any of the three conditions with which I must comply when I get behind the wheel of a car: being sober, abiding by the rules of the road, and having a valid driver's licence.
More than two-thirds of Canadians agree that the police should be authorized to perform random breathalyzer tests on drivers to combat drunk driving. Why? Because it saves lives. Every country that has systematic breathalyzer tests has seen a significant drop in the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers.
Millions of Canadians continue to drink and drive because they can do so with little fear of being stopped let alone charged and convicted. Recent survey results indicate that one could drive drunk once a week for more than three years before even being charged with an impaired driving offence and for over six years before ever being convicted. We have an opportunity to end that by increasing the efficiency of our roadblocks and ensuring that those who are drunk on the road are taken off the road.
I am overwhelmed by the support the bill is receiving. I already have thanked Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Families For Justice. All members of my party and most of their predecessors on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights have recommended the adoption of the third measure, random breath testing. This was done in 2009. We have been given the opportunity to move forward. Why? Because the bill would save lives.
The Canadian Police Association was supportive back in 2009, and is still supportive of the bill. I also have quotes from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Some members may have met Mr. Clive Weyhill. This organization strongly supports this measure because it is one of the most effective methods of deterring impaired driving in other democratic societies.
On a more legal aspect, Mr. Hogg is a well-respected lawyer. I am an engineer. I did not know him. My colleague from Niagara, who is a lawyer, agrees.
He is one of the most respected authorities on constitutional law. I can table the document if need be. It indicates that the Supreme Court of Canada will uphold the validity of random breath testing.
Basically, this bill is built on a solid legal and scientific foundation. I will be pleased to see, in the coming hours, how this bill can move forward to save human lives and allow us, as parliamentarians, to do our jobs.
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