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Let’s move forward with legislation that targets impaired driving: Senator Harder

As the holidays approach, let’s work with a sense of urgency to make our roads safer for Canadian families, says Senator Peter Harder. Read his speech and the debate that follows.

Senator Peter Harder’s speech to the Senate on December 5, 2017, for the second reading of Bill C-46:

Honourable senators, I rise today to join the debate on Bill C-46 and to urge this chamber to adopt this bill in principle before we rise for the holidays, thereby ensuring it will be ready for committee consideration in the new year.

As we have heard from Senator Boniface and others in this chamber, the underlying objective of this bill is to better protect Canadians from the devastation caused by alcohol- and drug-impaired driving. Impaired driving-related deaths and injuries are entirely preventable, yet too many Canadians have suffered and continue to suffer from these tragedies firsthand.

Bill C-46 will create strong and effective new deterrents to address the number one criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. As this chamber knows, Bill C-46 proposes several significant changes to the alcohol-impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code, with a view of enhancing road safety and saving lives. One of the key proposals to achieve this objective is mandatory alcohol screening. Mandatory roadside alcohol screening would authorize officers to demand roadside breath samples on an approved screening device without a suspicion that a driver has alcohol in their body. This proposal seeks to address the fact that research suggests up to 50 per cent of drivers with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit are not currently detected at roadside check stops.

Mandatory alcohol screening will not only increase the detection of impaired drivers, but, more important, it is expected to have a significant deterrent impact on impaired driving, resulting in a significant number of lives saved. This has been the experience of other jurisdictions that have implemented mandatory alcohol screening.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, also known as MADD Canada, more than 40 countries worldwide have authorized mandatory alcohol screening, including most Australian states, New Zealand and several European countries.

When mandatory alcohol screening was authorized in Ireland in 2006, it was credited by the Road Safety Authority with reducing the number of people being killed on Irish roads by almost 25 per cent in the 11-month period following its introduction, compared to the previous 11-month period.

As you know, Bill C-46 also makes important changes in relation to drug-impaired driving, and I’ll speak more about that shortly.

However, to underscore the urgency of dealing with Bill C-46, I will now read into the record an open letter to senators from Andrew Murie, Chief Executive Officer of MADD Canada.

On November 28, Mr. Murie wrote:

Dear Senator:

I am writing today, on behalf of MADD Canada’s members and volunteers, and the many victims and survivors of impaired driving, to encourage your support for the impaired driving legislation currently being debated in the Senate.

Bill C-46 proposes important measures that are vital to reducing the rate of impaired driving in Canada. The provisions around drugged driving are particularly crucial. Delay in the passage of Bill C-46 will negatively impact the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect drugged drivers and take them off the roads.

We understand many of you may have concerns about the pending legalization of marijuana, but we encourage you to consider Bill C-46 separate and apart from the proposed legislation around legalization around legalization. Drugged driving is a problem right now; too many Canadians are being killed or injured in crashes where drugs are present. The measures contained in Bill C-46 are needed to address the drugged driving problem in Canada, independent of the legalization of marijuana.

Drug presence in fatal crashes has surpassed alcohol presence. Based on 2013 statistics (the latest year for which comprehensive national data is available), there were 2,430 crash deaths. Of those crash deaths, 59.7%, or1,451, involved some alcohol and/or drug presence. When that is broken down, 28.1% involved a positive drug reading, compared to 15.2% with a positive alcohol reading. The remaining 16.4% tested positive for both alcohol and drug presence.

Drugs are present in fatal crashes nearly twice as often as alcohol. Yet, Canada’s existing system does a very poor job of detecting drivers under the influence of drugs. Only a small fraction are being detected and charged using the current Standard Field Sobriety Test and Drug Recognition Evaluation processes. In 2014, just 2.6% of all impaired driving charges were drug-related. That is just 1,355 charges out of the total 51,637 impaired driving charges.

Canada needs strong laws and testing measures in place to detect — and ultimately deter — those who drive while under the influence of drugs. Bill C-46 proposes driving limits for cannabis and other drugs, and will authorize police to use simple and effective roadside oral fluid testing technology to detect drugged drivers.

These measures, along with other provisions in the Bill such as mandatory alcohol screening, will significantly improve screening and detection measures for drivers impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. They are consistent with the best practises MADD Canada has identified in other jurisdictions to effectively reduce the rate of impaired driving. Most importantly, these measures will reduce impaired driving, prevent crashes and save lives.

Bill C-46 represents a powerful step forward in the fight to stop impaired driving. It will have a tremendous impact on the reduction of impaired driving and will make Canadian roads safer.

We ask you and your colleagues to support and pass this Bill so that it can continue through the approval process and be enacted as soon as possible.

To put that data in perspective, 1,451 Canadians were killed by alcohol- or drug-involved driving in 2013. That amounts to four Canadians killed per day. I will say that again: Four preventable Canadian deaths per day.

If Bill C-46 is able to replicate the results of the legislation in Ireland, it would reduce by one quarter the alcohol-involved driving deaths in Canada. Think of the lives saved, the families and friends spared life-shattering trauma.

Let us turn now to drug-impaired driving. As you know, this chamber has already had the benefit of last year’s study of Senator Carignan’s Bill S-230, the drug impaired driving detection act. This is a very closely related proposal to Bill C-46. Both bills are about keeping our roads safe from impaired drivers, and I trust Senator Carignan’s experience in this matter will help us greatly.

Further, I am happy to indicate that in the case of Bill S-230, this chamber showed its willingness to act expeditiously on impaired driving legislation. In October of last year, Bill S-230 received only two days of debate at second reading and was referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee six calendar days after Senator Carignan moved second reading. The bill then received three hearings at committee and passed in December with four calendar days at third reading. In the case of Senator Carignan’s Bill S-230, I applaud the chamber’s willingness to move quickly in the interest of public safety.

Turning to Bill C-46, as you know, this is the fourth sitting week of the second reading debate. Therefore, given the urgency of preventing injury and death from impaired driving, and taking our guidance from the pace of deliberations on Bill S-230, I would ask any remaining senators wishing to join second reading debate on Bill C-46 to do so promptly so we can refer this bill, this important legislation, to committee for consideration.

I urge you to contribute to the debate, if you wish. Otherwise, let’s move this road safety bill along.

Hon. Claude Carignan: Would Senator Harder accept questions?

Senator Harder: Always.

Senator Carignan: Bill C-46 goes much further than Bill S-230 on various points concerning roadside screening. For example, it makes it an offence to drive with a certain level of THC in the body. That level may range from two to five, depending on the circumstances. This element was not examined by the House of Commons or by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during the study of Bill S-230. The bill also deals with impaired driving.

I put a number of questions to the senior officials who met with me as a spokesperson, and I am still waiting for answers, particularly with regard to aviation and the training of drug recognition experts.

I have another question, specifically for the Leader of the Government in the Senate: if a drug recognition expert finds that a driver who is not impaired has a THC level between two and five after doing a blood test, is the driver committing an offence at that moment? Will the results of both tests be available to the court? Will the court have to acquit the driver or find him or her guilty?

Senator Harder: I thank the senator for his question, and I wish him a happy birthday from yesterday in the hopes that my compliments will encourage him to participate in the debate and move the bill along.

Senator, those are exactly the kinds of questions we should be dealing with in committee. This is a question of a debate in principle, and the principle of the debate is, as your bill, to ensure that we have the highest standards of road safety available to Canadians with respect to alcohol and drug-related impairment. I hope that in committee the appropriate officials can answer your technical questions so that we, as a Senate, can come to a point of view on this bill in as quickly a process of consideration as possible.

I underscore the support for our consideration given by MADD Canada, which is one of the interest groups that are most affected, being that so many of its members have had tragedies in their families and among their friends that bring their concerns to this chamber.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Would Senator Harder take another question?

Senator Harder: Certainly.

Senator Plett: I have a fairly brief and simple question, Senator Harder. If you want Bill C-46 to go to committee so that we can deal with creating offences for something that is still illegal entirely, I’m not sure why we are putting the cart before the horse here. What happens if Bill C-45 never becomes law? Why do we need Bill C-46?

Senator Harder: As in the MADD letter, and as I was trying to explain in my comments, the fact is that we have drug-impaired driving offences today. We need to upgrade the enforcement capacity to identify and deal with drug-related offences. That has nothing to do with whether or not at some point this Parliament decides to move forward with Bill C-45.

The absolute truth is we have this problem now. We have the capacity in Bill C-46 to improve our enforcement of drug-related offences, and let’s do it.

Senator Plett: Senator Harder, there are a number of situations in other areas where we create penalties for doing something illegal. The fact of the matter right now is that drugs are illegal. We should be creating a penalty for somebody doing something illegal in the first place. By smoking marijuana or taking drugs and getting into a car, you’ve done something illegal before you ever get into the car, and you don’t want to concern yourself with that.

Senator Harder: Again, Senator Plett, we are dealing with drug impairment traffic-related offences. That is before us and with us now, as I pointed out, in even greater numbers than alcohol-related accidents. And it is time that we provide our enforcement officials with the proper tools to deal with the problem we have. Whether it is legal or not, it is here. I would encourage all senators to pay attention to what MADD Canada is urging us to do and to move this bill along for consideration as quickly as possible.

Senator Carignan: I understand the urgency of the situation, Leader of the Government in the Senate, but I would like to remind you that Bill S-230 was unanimously passed here and sent back to the other place, where the government rejected it in principle at second reading. If it was so urgent, why did your government act irresponsibly by rejecting the bill?

Senator Harder: I thank the senator for the question. I would remind him that, as he remembers, that I voted for his bill here in this chamber.

With respect to the government’s action or the actions in the other chamber, let me simply say that it is the view of the government that government legislation amending the Criminal Code, as this does, is a more appropriate vehicle for bringing forward amendments that can conform with all of the requirements and obligations of government.

Senator Carignan: The government still passed Bill S-231, which amended the Criminal Code. That bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and in the other place, and it received Royal Assent on October 18. The government could certainly have done the same with Bill S-230 to give police officers a tool to screen for drug-impaired driving in time for the holidays.

Senator Harder: Senator, I hope that the delay of dealing with this is not out of pique for the way your bill was dealt with.

(On motion of Senator Martin, debate adjourned.)

Let’s move forward with legislation that targets impaired driving: Senator Harder