Tracey comdemns the government's Bill C-46 that would violate our Charter rights

Ms. Tracey Ramsey (Essex, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to add to the debate of Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding offences relating to conveyances and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The title, though, is not really a description of what this bill would do, which is to change the impaired driving laws in Canada, ensuring that we not only deal with drug impairment but increased sanctions on those who drive while impaired by alcohol. This is a complex subject, one that I and the NDP are very concerned about.

I agree that this bill is important. To be clear, nothing is more important than protecting the Canadian public. The NDP has been a long-time advocate for improving and ensuring deterrence of impaired driving tragedies that we all face in our ridings. This is in no way the only component of this bill. I have many concerns with it and its true effectiveness, and I would like to outline some of them.

When people speak about impaired driving, they often refer to the victims of these crimes. Without a doubt, the human cost of impaired driving is huge. Every year, hundreds of people are killed and tens of thousands are injured as a result of impaired driving crashes in Canada. This affects our friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues, virtually everyone in our lives. There is perhaps no greater pain than losing a loved one so suddenly under such circumstances as impaired driving. The frustrations of the legal system are even more significant on top of that pain and the anger of one's loss. I agree that impaired driving has had a long history of heartbreak in our country and that changes need to be made in order to prevent any more tragedies from happening in Canada.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, in 2010, impairment-related crashes resulted in an estimated 1,082 fatalities, 63,821 injuries, and damage to 210,932 vehicles. There are also significant financial and social costs as a result of impaired driving. There was a total of 181,911 crashes, costing an estimated $20.62 billion. This includes the cost of the horrific fatalities, injuries, property damage, traffic delays, hospital costs, and the cost of first responders, such as police officers, firefighters, and ambulance attendants, to say nothing of the psychological impact of our front-line workers. Naturally, the government should want to put forward legislation that prevents people from needlessly suffering. My question is why it does not want to do it right.

The largest problem with this bill centres around roadside mandatory alcohol and drug testing or screening that is proposed in section 320.27. This would be the first time in Canada authority would be given to police to stop someone on a whim. This is very dangerous and murky waters that we are wading into here. Currently, under the law, officers must have a reasonable suspicion before they can stop someone. Many civil liberties groups have raised concerns with these proposed changes, stating that the removal of reasonable suspicion would create a disproportionate targeting of racialized Canadians, indigenous people, youth, and other marginalized groups.

I am the proud mother of two young black men, so I am additionally concerned about the uncertainties that this bill creates. The issue of carding and unfair racial profiling is an issue in many communities and many other Canadians must deal with this on a daily basis, so why would the government create a piece of legislation that could make this a potentially worse problem? Why would it put our valued police officers in such a precarious position? This issue may also be challenged in the judicial system and subject to defeat under section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 1 “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Random and mandatory breath tests for alcohol screening are also included in this bill, and they too could be challenged under sections 8 and 9 of the charter, which address the rights of individuals to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure and the rights of individuals not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Therefore, I again must ask this House why the government would create a piece of legislation that could impact the rights of individuals, as laid out by the charter? This is incredibly short-sighted.

There is also the problem with how the police are expected to test and screen people for impaired driving from cannabis. The proposed plans are to use the roadside oral fluid drug screeners. In Ontario, the pilot projects that use these devices are unreliable, and there is no standard chemical test that states when a person is impaired. To further this problem, the proposed legislation does not name any per se limit. The legal limit that would show impairment is not in the bill. Instead, the government has stated that this shall be prescribed by regulation.

I am reminded of a recent court case from last year that shows why it is so important for the government to create legislation that is thorough and well thought out. This case involved a Toronto police officer and three young black men. The officer pulled their car over, despite any evidence, stating that he was relying on a type of sixth sense to suss out usual suspects. These young men were handed four charges, including one of assaulting a police officer. The judge threw out these charges and stated that:

upon seeing this older vehicle being driven by three young, black males Constable Crawford's immediate conclusion despite the lack of any evidence, was that they were up to something...It was more probable than not that there was no articulable cause for the stop but that the real reason for the stop was racial profiling.

 As legislators, it is imperative that we find solutions to problems. We should not be creating more. By not creating clear and well thought out laws, we leave those who must enforce those laws and those who must abide by them literally stranded.

The NDP is asking for a more effective piece of legislation, and one that deals with the problem of impaired driving holistically. We need a robust public awareness campaign that educates the public and police about the dangers of driving while impaired either with alcohol or drugs. Through education, we can effectively teach and deter people, thereby avoiding the problem in the first place.

This was a major recommendation from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. It stated quite accurately to:

Develop a national, comprehensive public education strategy to send a clear message to Canadians that cannabis causes impairment and that the best way to avoid driving impaired is to not consume.

The Canadian Automobile Association helped fund a study by the Ottawa-based Traffic Injury Research Foundation that suggests legalization will pose “incredible challenges” for managing pot-impaired drivers. The CAA also commissioned a poll that found almost two-thirds of respondents are worried our roads will become more dangerous after legalization.

There are a lot of misconceptions that our there about marijuana usage in our country, and we certainly have heard a great deal of those in the House today. In the poll that took place, some people even believed that taking pot made them a better driver. Suffice it to say that there is a great deal of research that challenge and support these perceptions. However, it is the responsibility of the government to study this issue in more detail, educate the public on the best information available, and ensure that legislation is put forward that effectively and fairly addresses this problem.

New Democrats want a smart bill that truly works to protect Canadians. Repeatedly, experts and their research show us that education and prevention are truly bigger deterrents than sentences. This is why we believe that the bill must focus more heavily on these issues. Yes, impaired driving is the number one cause of criminal death in Canada. There are lives at stake, and I believe that as legislators, we must include effective provisions to stop people from ever making the choice to drive impaired.

I have to say that it is disappointing that the Liberals on the committee defeated five out of six NDP amendments and the majority of the opposition members' amendments as well, supporting, of course, all of the government's amendments that were brought forward. I think there was an opportunity at the committee to get the bill right, but it is disappointing that now it has come to the House without having taken place.

This issue is too important to put band-aid solutions on. We must do this correctly, and we must do this intelligently in order to end the long, heartbreaking history of impaired driving in Canada. Nothing is more devastating than the loss of a loved one, and we must do everything we can to prevent the tragedies that occur on our roads.

Ms. Tracey Ramsey: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is disregarding the vast amount of evidence that exists under the current law in our country that sees racial profiling, that sees carding, that sees driving while black, driving while indigenous, that sees these people being randomly stopped. This is an epidemic in our country that needs to be addressed.

To say that our current laws prevent that is patently false. There is so much evidence to counter that, certainly in the member's own riding in Toronto. There is incredible evidence which shows that carding is happening, that people are being randomly pulled over unlawfully, without any reason, just on a whim.

I do not know how the member can believe that the system is working well for people of colour, because those very people do not feel that the system is being used in the way that it should be, that police officers are using their authority in order to stop people randomly.

Our new leader Jagmeet Singh has handled this issue very well provincially and I am pleased to see that. He has called for a federal ban on carding, which is exactly the direction that we need to go in. Opening up in Bill C-46 the ability for police officers or front-line people to continue to randomly stop people without any just cause will result disproportionately in people of colour being impacted, and that is a fact. I am not confident that this legislation will stop that from happening in any way, because it continues to be an epidemic in Canada.

Ms. Tracey Ramsey: I would be happy to, Mr. Speaker. The one amendment that we were able to bring forward out of six proposes that within three years the Auditor General will do a report.

Another of our amendments proposed stopping everyone at designated checkpoints so we would avoid random stopping. We supported having that checkpoint so there would not ever be the impression that people of colour would be disproportionately represented but unfortunately, Liberal members on committee voted that down. It is disappointing that we would not see this applied in a way that would blanket every individual we would capture within that space versus allowing police officers to card and to target and to racially profile.