Former Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has tabled a private member’s bill aimed at cracking down on drunk drivers across Canada.
The bill, tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning, would increase jail time for drunk drivers who harm or kill people and add on extra years for those who qualify as repeat offenders. Perhaps most controversially, the legislation would also institute mandatory screening procedures for breath-tests, allowing police to ask any driver, at any time, to provide a breath sample at the side of the road.
Finally, the bill would eliminate what Blaney called “legal delays and loopholes,” including the bolus drinking defence, in which the driver argues their impairment was caused by heavy drinking just before driving that wasn’t reflected in their actual blood alcohol level when driving.
Former Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced similar legislation last spring, but it was not passed before the House rose for the summer. The federal election campaign and the subsequent change in government meant it died on the Order Paper.
Some of the specific changes proposed in Blaney’s bill include:
- The introduction of a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for impaired driving causing death, with a maximum sentence of 25 years. There are currently no minimum sentences for impaired driving causing death or bodily harm.
- The maximum sentence for impaired driving causing bodily harm would go up from 10 to 14 years
- When more than one life is lost, a judge could apply consecutive sentences
- Repeat offenders, when found guilty, would face a one-year prison sentence for a second offence, and a two-year prison sentence for a third
- Judges could favour guilty pleas by handing down lighter sentences to those to admit to their offence “in good faith”
Blaney was asked specifically on Tuesday about court challenges or possible push-back from civil liberties groups on the mandatory screening changes in particular. Currently, police must have reasonable grounds to believe a person has been drinking before demanding a breath test.
He said there is nothing unconstitutional in giving police the power to require the test.
“It’s been demonstrated that if the measure was to be challenged, it would stand,” Blaney said, citing specific sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and various legal opinions.
The road-side breath test in itself cannot lead to criminal charges or be used as evidence in court, Blaney added. Only a follow-up breathalyzer test at a local police station can be. Researchers have estimated that police identify no more than half of drivers who get behind the wheel over the legal blood-alcohol limit, Blaney noted, and mandatory screening would expand the net.
Blaney was joined by representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and former Quebec provincial police officer-turned Tory senator, Jean-Guy Dagenais.
WATCH: Bill C-226 is being hailed as a major step forward in the fight against drunk driving. Sheri Arsenault lost her son to an impaired driver near Beaumont in 2011 and she’s been pushing for these changes.
Drunk driving remains the number one criminal cause of death in Canada. The case of Marco Muzzo, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm, has recently made headlines across the country, with his sentencing hearing held Tuesday in Newmarket, ON.
Muzzo urinated on himself and needed help standing at the time of the Sept. 27 crash. Nine-year-old Daniel Neville-Lake, his five-year-old brother Harrison, their two-year-old sister Milly, and the children’s 65-year-old grandfather, Gary Neville, died after the van they were in was T-boned by an SUV in Vaughan, Ont.
The children’s grandmother and great-grandmother were also seriously injured in the crash.
Blaney’s private member’s bill will need to be passed by a majority of the House, like any other, before becoming law.
With files from the Canadian Press.