NDP House Leader Murray Rankin and Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, both raised objections this week with a Conservative bill that seeks to give broader discretion to law enforcement to deal with impaired driving.
The private member’s bill, Bill C-226, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences in relation to conveyances) and the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, introduced by Conservative MP Steven Blaney, seeks to “harmonize” and strengthen laws around impaired driving. The bill focuses on alcohol, but has sections for other drugs, as well, including cannabis.
The cannabis-impaired driving debate
In a debate in the House of Commons earlier this week, these members of the NDP and Liberal party listed their objections to the members bill, while agreeing that there are concerns with impaired driving, including cannabis.
The comments on cannabis-impaired driving highlight why it is one of the major points of contention around legalization. Law enforcement and others, including many Conservatives in the Senate, have repeatedly expressed concern with the Liberal’s plans to legalize and what is currently characterized as law enforcement’s inability to properly deal with drivers under the influence of cannabis. Passing legislation means the Liberals will need to successfully address these concerns.
While both members from the NDP and Liberal Party agree that this specific private member’s bill is too strict, they both also agree that there needs to be more emphasis on addressing these concerns. They just feel there are better tools for the job and focus on different sides of the same issue.
The Liberal promise on upcoming driving laws
On the side of the Liberals, Blair’s comments highlight his party’s strict regulatory approach to cannabis. While he points out Bill C-226 would go too far in granting authority to law enforcement, he still emphasizes the Liberal’s promise to implement more strict laws than exist now in relation to driving under the influence of cannabis. The Liberal’s approach to legalization, says Blair, will address these concerns better than C-226.
“Unlike during the private member’s bill process, the parliamentary record for a government initiative would far more effectively articulate some of the policy and charter rationale of the proposed measures,” said Blair. “Another intervening event since the introduction of Bill C-226 was our government’s timeline to introduce legislation to legalize cannabis in the spring of 2017. In its election platform, our government also committed to stronger laws to punish those who drive under the influence of cannabis.”
NDP focus on the impact on minorities
Murray Rankin’s comments agree with similar points about the concerns around impaired driving, but point out that enforcement tends to unfairly impact minority communities.
This shows a key difference in the NDP’s approach to legalizing cannabis than the liberals, by continuing to emphasize the injustice of the selective enforcement of prohibition and how it impacts vulnerable members of the population like youth, minorities and others.
While the Liberal party ran on a platform that emphasized the injustice of arrests, they have since shifted their focus to emphasizing the other aspects of their platform like strict regulations. The Liberals pivot from the messaging of the injustice of existing cannabis laws on ordinary Canadians’ lives, they have given the NDP an opportunity to attack from their left.
“The disproportionate arrest and charging of visible minorities for cannabis offences demonstrates this point, and this fact alone should be grounds to reassess random breath testing as a just means of addressing the scourge of impaired driving,” said Rankin.
His comments later, though, still highlight how the NDP continues to put emphasis on the concerns around impaired driving that can come with legalizing marijuana in Canada. The difference, says Rankin, is finding solutions that seek to educate and deter, rather than just increasing criminal penalties.
“We are now mere days away from the introduction of legislation to legalize cannabis,” Rankin continued. “While alcohol impaired driving rates have been steadily decreasing over the past few decades, drug impaired driving is a growing issue across our country, and one that must be addressed as we take steps toward legalizing cannabis.
“The onus is now on the government to introduce comprehensive legislation addressing drug and alcohol impaired driving in a just manner. We need to look forward, through this legislation, to the most effective means of preventing impaired driving instead of a backward, and at best, punishing manner to deal with this problem.”
Continued debate on cannabis-impaired driving concerns
So while the Conservatives will likely continue to push the issue from a perspective of giving more tools to law enforcement, both the Liberals and NDP want to provide more comprehensive tools to ensure public safety on the roads, while not violating individuals’ rights in the process.
And while the Liberals continue to put more emphasis on the “strict enforcement” side, likely to appease concerns from the political right and centre, the NDP have the political room to speak to concerns about how these strict laws will be enforced and how they will impact the less fortunate.
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