Impaired Driving Act
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise this evening to speak to Bill C-226. I would like to thank my colleague and friend, and my seatmate, the member of Parliament for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, for his advocacy on this issue. Bill C-226 is the impaired driving act and is really the next evolution of Canada’s response to the social problems and tragedies caused by impaired driving across Canada.
Being a member of Parliament and a father from southern Ontario, I would like to start with a few names to show this is not one of the debates in the House that is theoretical; it is one that impacts Canadian lives.
Daniel Neville-Lake, nine years old; Harrison Neville-Lake, five years old; Milagros Neville-Lake, two years old; and their grandfather, Gary Neville, were killed tragically last year in southern Ontario in an accident. It hit Canadians, wherever they were, when they heard about a young family taken through the callous act of another Canadian who could have easily avoided the situation he put those young children and their grandfather in. I do not think there is a member of the House or anyone in Canada who watched that court proceed and saw the anguish of the parents, particularly the mother of the Neville-Lake children, and what that entire episode put them through.
We have to remember that bills like private member’s bill, Bill C-226, can make an impact. We can look back and say that was the turning point, that this tragedy the family suffered through led to better policy, better laws, and an updating of Canada’s response to impaired driving. I hope if we can get Bill C-226 through the House, and I implore the government to ensure it gets to committee, the family members can find some degree of solace in the fact that their tragedy is helping other families avoid the same.
I read four names in the House, but there are thousands of names and families that have been touched by impaired driving, certainly over my lifetime. As the member of Parliament for Durham, I am struck by the statistic from the Durham Regional Police Service. It states that 42% of traffic accidents in my area of the country involve alcohol. Estimates have suggested that the social cost through accidents, death, illness and hospitalization is $4.5 billion related to a crime perpetrated on victims that could easily be avoided. I say that because we live in an age when this has been socially unacceptable, even since I got my driver’s licence at 16.
I remember when I was at Port Perry High School there was a crashed car on the lawn of our high school. It was put there by a new group in Canada at that time, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to bring home to young people the cost of driving after consuming alcohol. For my generation and indeed for most members of the House, this is not socially acceptable, yet we still face this problem.
We also live in an age when technology and innovation have made it even easier for people to make the right choice with respect to impaired driving. We live in an age when there are not just traditional taxis or the phone call to a mom, designated driver, dad, or a friend. We have Uber, we have ride sharing, and we have programs that are dedicated to avoiding impaired driving, like Keys to Us whose drivers will follow people back in their vehicles. That did not exist 30 or 40 years ago. There is absolutely no reason for somebody who is impaired to get behind a wheel today.
With social host liability, which has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, there is a zero tolerance now in our country for impaired driving, yet we still see the horrific accidents and the tragedies they lead to for families like the Neville-Lake family. It is up to this Parliament to react and modernize our laws.
In fact, it was the intention in the last year of the Conservative government to update and modernize these laws and show Parliament’s zero tolerance for impaired driving, so I am very proud of my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for bringing something forward that he knew the last government was working on.
How would it work? The most important element, which in some areas is controversial, is the mandatory screening measure. Why is that responsible? It is because in nations that have introduced the mandatory screening, like France and Australia, they have seen a 20% additional reduction in impaired drivers on their roads as a result of the fact that they could encounter a RIDE program, like we know in Ontario, the Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere program. However, in this case with mandatory screening, the officer would not need to have indicia of impairment: breath, glassy eyes, and that sort of thing. I know the next speaker on the government side who has spent many years in uniform will maybe know that procedure far better than I do, but the police would be able to do mandatory screening, because if individuals are on a roadway, it is a responsibility they have, not actually a right. We already ask them to pass driver’s tests, vision tests. It is a right and a responsibility that they have to not be impaired.
If we can lead to more people not being impaired on our roadways, accidents being reduced, tragedies being reduced, why would we not do this, particularly when a country like Australia or a country like France has had such success with that public policy move?
This is not an invasion of anyone’s privacy by any stretch of the imagination. Right now, if individuals are going too quickly on our motorways, they can be pulled over to the side. If their sticker is dated, if their car is not sound, they can be pulled over for safety reasons by a law enforcement officer. If the driver is not sound, we should have that same right, and mandatory screening would let everyone know that an individual is not able to be on the road in an impaired state and that there will be a zero tolerance.
The other thing Bill C-226 would do is toughen sentencing, particularly for repeat offenders. Alcoholism is a sickness and people can get help. If they can be treated, there should be zero tolerance for them on the streets at all, particularly after their first offence.
We should show society’s denunciation of that conduct through a tougher sentence, so we would allow courts to give sentences in the 10-to-14-year range, and higher in repeat offences causing bodily harm, which Canadians expect.
We saw what the court determined in the Neville-Lake tragedy. We should make sure courts can do this. We should also speed up, reduce the trauma on victims by not allowing frivolous claims with respect to binge drinking before driving or after an accident, defences that really are beyond the pale in this day and age when it comes to this offence. We should not allow those sham defences to clog and delay our courts with respect to this offence.
As I said, at 43, I have grown up in an environment where there has been a zero tolerance already for drinking and driving, for impaired driving. We now have a government legalizing marijuana and risking further impairment from that drug on young people and people of all ages driving. It is up to the government—in fact it is up to the next speaker—to show that our society is also modernizing our impaired driving laws to show our re-commitment to zero tolerance.
In the Durham region, the MADD program started when I was in high school. People like Michelle Crabb in the Durham region, whose family was struck, and Dave Pereira are our volunteers who have been working on the front line for 40 years. We need to give them the new tools to make sure we have no other families like the Neville-Lake family facing tragedy from impaired driving.