Madam Speaker, since I am the one who moved the motion before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recommending that the House not continue the study of Bill C-226, I would like to submit my arguments to the House out of respect for my colleague, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, and to inform the House of the debate that took place in committee.
Driving while under the influence of either drugs or alcohol is a serious problem. Road crash victims and public safety officers need our support. The provisions on impaired driving are the most frequently challenged provisions of the Criminal Code. We therefore need a robust and comprehensive plan to strike a balance between public safety and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The intent of Bill C-226 is very commendable. However, the bill's legal problems heavily outweigh its potential benefits. I want to talk about three problems with this bill.
First, there was the minimum sentences. The only group of witnesses who supports this measure in the bill is the group that helped the hon. member draft it. The other group that contributed to drafting the bill, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, testified against minimum sentences during review in committee. I would like to quote what some of the witnesses had to say about minimum sentences.
Andrew Murie, Chief Executive Officer at the National Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said:
We also base our whole organization on evidence and policy. We can't find any deterrent effect for minimum mandatory penalties. That's one. The other issue is that in our legal analysis we don't believe it would withstand a charter challenge.
Michael Spratt, from the Criminal Lawyers' Association, said, “there are sections of the bill that are unquestionably unconstitutional”.
Abby Deshman, from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the following:
First, simply put, mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They are ineffective and unjust. Decades of research has clearly shown that stiffer penalties do not deter crime.
Lastly, Micheal Vonn, from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, who was quoted by members across the way, said the following:
While failing to provide a benefit in deterrence, mandatory minimums create significant risk of harm. These include excessively punitive and unfair sentences....
The second problem is random breath testing, the centrepiece of this bill. There are two problems with this measure. We have no clear sense of what good it would do, and it, too, presents a constitutional risk. In most places where random breath testing has been introduced, there were few or no legislative measures to combat drunk driving beforehand. That was the case in Australia and Ireland, two countries that are mentioned frequently in random breath testing studies.
Here in Canada, we already have a system in place to combat drunk driving. We have all been stopped at roadblocks, and there is a legal framework in place for the use of Breathalyzers. That is why studies of the benefits of random breath testing are not really valid in the Canadian context. We do not know if this bill will have the intended effect because there are no studies that look into implementing random testing in places that already have measures to combat drunk driving.
In addition, what we need to remember about the studies in Australia and Ireland and the success of random breath testing is that it must be paired with a major education and awareness campaign. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the bill to address education and awareness.
One of the constitutional problems related to random breath testing is that it is not truly random. It is being referred to as “random” only because the word appears in one of the bill's headings. That same mistake was made in the Australian legislation, and we need to avoid repeating it here in Canada.
In fact, under the proposed system, police officers would have the power to stop anyone on the road and subject them to testing. I have a great deal of respect for our law enforcement bodies, but near-absolute power such as this only invites abuse. We need to find a real solution, testing that really would be random. For instance, one out of every ten vehicles could be selected, or a binary light system could be used that would translate into a truly random, and also potentially more dissuasive, measure.
Lastly, I want to comment on support for victims. The third reason we recommend not sending this bill to committee is that it contains nothing for victims.
ôWe heard one truly heartbreaking testimony during the course of our study. I want to thank Sheri Arsenault and Markita Kaulius from Families for Justice and Patricia Hynes-Coates from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who testified in committee. All three lost people near and dear to them to traffic accidents.
Ms. Arsenault, director of the Alberta chapter of Families for Justice, said:
Someone over there said that victims are given so little consideration, and that is very true. Offenders have every right in the world. They have a right to an expert defence. They have a right to appeal. The victim has one right. My one right is to prepare a victim impact statement and present it.
My colleague from Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel has very personal experience with this. I would like to take this moment to commend his daughters who, on behalf of the Government of Quebec, chair public consultations on road safety. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the bill to help the victims. I think it would have been useful to include measures against the phenomena of victimization during court testimony, for example.
In closing, since it was introduced as a private member's bill, it was not subject to the Department of Justice's examination under the Department of Justice Act in order to determine if it is consistent with the charter. The members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security would have liked to have had the chance to read the opinion on the constitutionality of Bill C-73, the version of the bill introduced when the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis was still the minister, but we were not able to access it.
Furthermore, with the exception of random breath testing, representatives of MADD told the committee that even if all these measures were found to be valid under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they would not have much of an impact on impaired driving and the resulting collisions, deaths, and injuries.
For all these reasons, I encourage the members to support the committee's report and not proceed further with the study of this bill.
Nevertheless, I would like to draw members' attention to one part of the report that we tabled. Even though we are proposing not to proceed with the study of Bill C-226, we recommend that the government introduce solid legislative measures in order to reduce the prevalence of impaired driving as quickly as possible.