As one of his final acts as justice minister, Peter MacKay on Tuesday introduced the Dangerous and Impaired Driving Act, a bill that reforms transportation-related offences including those relating to impaired driving.
"We are sending a strong signal to those who choose to drive impaired that this behaviour is not only unacceptable, but is also creating a serious risk to public safety and putting everyone on the road at risk," MacKay said.
The government says that the many changes to the Criminal Code over the years to address the problem of impaired driving have also made the law more complex, making investigation, prosecution and sentencing more difficult.
So the new bill proposes to untangle that knot, laying out three impaired driving offences and four other transportation-related offences, including failing to stop after a collision and driving while prohibited.
Once passed, the bill would also increase maximum penalties for impaired driving and introduce new mandatory jail time instead of fines for some offences.
The bill would also limit certain defences available to those charged with impaired driving, including one that has allowed people to argue their blood alcohol level was high because they drank after stopping the car.
The law also responds to a Supreme Court decision which threw out elements of the impaired driving law related to the ability of a person accused of impaired driving to blame the breathalyzer test.
The government says the result of that decision was to bog down court cases as defence lawyers seek detailed evidence on each breathalyzer in hopes of demonstrating a possible malfunction.
The bill would establish that blood alcohol level evidence can be considered proven if proper testing procedures are followed.
A briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press suggested that case was part of the reason for the delay in putting the tougher penalties for impaired drivers forward in the first place.
The Conservatives had initially promised tougher penalties for drunk drivers in 2013 shortly after MacKay — who complained of his experience as a prosecutor in dealing with such cases — became justice minister.
MacKay announced earlier this month he is not seeking re-election.
He said the bill has been in the works for almost a year, though consultations and examination of other legislation has been underway for years.
"Could we and should we have done it sooner? Probably," he said. "But the reality is we're here now with a very important and comprehensive bill that we think will bring about the type of change that everyone desires."
The House of Commons is set to break for the summer within days and Parliament will soon be dissolved for the upcoming election, meaning the proposals are unlikely to become law until the next government is formed.
"We hope that the next government — if it's the same, great; whoever it is — will continue to endorse this because we are talking public safety and that's the bottom line," said Markita Kaulius, whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2011.
Kaulius went on to start an advocacy organization that has been lobbying the government for four years for tougher penalties.
"Every single Canadian deserves the right to get home safely at the end of the day without the worry of being hit by an impaired driver."