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CAA Comments on Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Appearance before the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
September 18, 2017

Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking the members of the standing committee for inviting the Canadian Automobile Association – CAA – to join you today to provide our views on Bill C-46 in relation to drug-impaired driving. In order to provide the proper context for our comments, it is important to understand a little bit about CAA’s roots.

Our organization was founded in 1913 as a consumer advocacy group and today we have 6.2 million members from coast to coast, and the services we offer them extend well beyond emergency roadside assistance. From inception, our organization began advocating for critical pieces of the traffic safety framework in place today. From the earliest days pushing for stop sign use, to seat belts and air bags, to campaigns against impaired and distracted driving, CAA has been at the forefront of traveller advocacy for more than a century. Today, CAA represents roughly one in four adult drivers and is recognized as one of the most trusted brands in the country.

Although drugs and driving has been an issue in road safety public policy for decades, it only recently came to the forefront as a major issue of concern to Canadians as the government announced plans to legalize cannabis. In CAA’s most recent national opinion polling, seven in 10 Canadians stated that they were concerned about their safety on the road with the coming legalization of marijuana. Public education about the danger of driving under the influence of cannabis is and will continue to be a significant area of focus for CAA and many other stakeholders in the years to come.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has reported that in stark contrast to alcohol-impaired driving, the number of drug-impaired driving incidents has been rising since 2009. Drug-impaired driving rose from 2% of all impaired driving incidents in 2009 to 4% in 2015. There is at minimum no reason to assume this trend will reverse.

CAA is pleased to see that with Bill C-46, the government is committed to creating new and stronger laws to deter Canadians from driving while under the influence of drugs. The introduction of roadside oral fluid screeners, and ensuring that drug evaluating officers providing testimony do not need to be qualified through an expert witness hearing, are also positive steps forward. These new tools will help police better detect drug-impaired drivers and ensure they face the justice system.

The legislation also creates three new offences for having specified levels of a drug in the blood and sets those levels for cannabis. We believe this bill strikes a balance based on the available scientific evidence. As more definitive conclusions arise, it may become clear that changes are required as we have seen with alcohol-impaired driving over time.

CAA is also pleased to see the government taking concrete measures to further address alcohol-impaired driving. The changes put forward will make the law easier to enforce and more efficient, ultimately leading to safer roadways.

As with drinking and driving, driving under the influence of cannabis affects not just those individuals who partake, but potentially all road users. And, alarmingly, while few Canadians would argue they are better drivers after drinking alcohol, a significant number of Canadian youth believe that driving after smoking marijuana makes people safer, more focused drivers.

For this reason, CAA was pleased to see the McLellan task force report confirm that urgent work must be done to implement a legalization system that will keep Canadians safe on the road. The report flagged drug-impaired driving as a major concern and noted that several issues must be tackled urgently, from public education, to better funding for law enforcement, to more research on technology to detect impairment and on the impairing effects of cannabis. The report made clear that work needed to begin immediately in these areas, and we were pleased to see it echoed CAA’s positioning.

Bill C-46 deals with the law but leaves unanswered key questions around funding for law enforcement, research, and support for public awareness. The legislation is a positive step but it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Last week the federal government announced new funding amounting to $161 million to support Bill C-46. The funding is to be used for many categories of activities, from building law enforcement capacity, to bolstering research, to raising public awareness.  The details of how this funding will be broken down are still being worked out, but it appears that at least half will be spread over five years and is for the provinces. To put this number into perspective, if the total amount were split equally between the provincial, territorial and federal governments, it would amount to roughly $11.5 million each – to do all the things mentioned above, and more. Clearly a sum that is far too little.

We know from our experience with alcohol and other driving campaigns that public education plays a significant role in reducing the amount of impaired driving. A major public education effort will be required to make Canadians understand that driving under the influence of cannabis is likely to impair their ability to control their vehicle.

Current CAA national opinion polling finds that 20% of Canadians aged 18-34 believe that they are either the same or better behind the wheel after consuming cannabis. There are numerous myths and misconceptions about the impairing effects of cannabis. Law enforcement, stakeholders, such as ourselves, and government have significant work to do. Unfortunately, non-profit groups and institutions have been left to carry the burden of creating and executing these public education campaigns largely on their own. We will do our part, but we cannot do it alone.

Additionally, government will need to continue to support the law enforcement community to ensure they have the resources necessary to develop the tools, detection devices and access to training they will require now and into the future.

In conclusion, CAA without reservation supports measures that make Canada’s roads safer and we believe that Bill C-46 is a good step in the right direction.

However, to combat drug-impaired driving, three crucial elements are needed and meaningful legislation is just one. The other two are public awareness and effective enforcement and measurement. If we get these three elements right, the effort to combat drug-impaired driving under a legalized framework for marijuana has a chance to succeed.

Provinces, law enforcement and stakeholders will do their part. The tax revenues may eventually provide adequate funding. But legalizing marijuana is a federal responsibility and the federal government must therefore assume full accountability for properly funding law enforcement and public education, at least for the next couple of years until tax revenues materialize. We cannot wait for legalization to begin this important work.

Thank you for your time today and I look forward to your questions.

– END –



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