LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
Tuesday 31 October 2006 Mardi 31 octobre 2006
The House met at 1845.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. James J. Bradley (Minister of Tourism, minister responsible for seniors, Government House Leader): Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding standing order 77(b), I believe we have unanimous consent to call third reading of Bill 148 this evening.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Is there unanimous consent to call Bill 148? Agreed.
HIGHWAY TRAFFIC AMENDMENT ACT
(SEAT BELTS), 2006 /
LOI DE 2006 MODIFIANT LE CODE DE LA
ROUTE (CEINTURES DE SÉCURITÉ)
Mrs. Cansfield moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 148, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act respecting the use of seat belts / Projet de loi 148, Loi modifiant le Code de la route en ce qui concerne le port de la ceinture de sécurité.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Minister Cansfield has moved third reading of Bill 148. Minister?
Hon. Donna H. Cansfield (Minister of Transportation): I'm pleased to read the third reading debate of Bill 148, our proposed legislation to amend the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. If passed, it would require one seat belt for every passenger in a motor vehicle that travels on Ontario's roads.
Our government is taking action. Our proposed legislation would stop a dangerous practice that has gone on for far too long. Our legislation would make it illegal to have more people traveling in a vehicle than there are seat belts. I urge all honourable members to help the McGuinty government close that loophole by making "one person, one seat belt" the law of Ontario.
Since seat belts were made mandatory, the number of people killed and injured in collisions has steadily dropped. Our proposed "one person, one seat belt" legislation would save even more lives.
The latest statistics show that about one third of all drivers and passengers killed in motor vehicle collisions were not wearing seat belts. I'm heartened that the most recent survey of Transport Canada found that Ontario had the second-highest rate of seat belt use in urban areas in Canada -- nearly 93%. That's above the national average of 91%. But we can and must do more. For every 1% increase in seat belt usage, five lives are saved. Our goal is 100% usage.
Here's what people are saying about our proposed "one person, one seat belt" legislation. Brian Patterson, the president of the Ontario Safety League, told the CBC, "This is clarity that some people need to get themselves moving forward in a safer way." "You're in a vehicle, you're in a seat belt."
Sergeant Cam Woolley of the Ontario Provincial Police told the Globe and Mail our proposed legislation is "fantastic news." I couldn't have said it better myself. The Ontario Provincial Police applaud the government for bringing forward this legislation. The OPP reports that to date in 2006 about 80% of fatal collisions involving three or more victims involve the non-usage of seat belts. Sadly, collisions are still a leading cause of death and injury for children between one and nine years old. A properly used child safety seat can reduce the chances of death or serious injury by as much as 75%.
The McGuinty government has made the safety of children a priority. We introduced legislation in 2004 to make booster seats mandatory, and in 2005 to crack down on speeders and those who ignore the rules at crosswalks and school crossings. I urge the honourable members to pass our proposed "one person, one seat belt" legislation without delay, to further protect children and everyone who travels on Ontario roads.
The latest statistics show that for the second year in a row, Ontario does have the safest roads in North America. I am proud that Ontario is a leader in road safety. We all can be proud that Ontario is a leader in road safety.
In 1976, under the Honourable Mr. Snow, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in North America to make wearing seat belts mandatory. Our proposed legislation will take Ontario to the next level of road safety so that this province can continue to be a leader. I urge honourable members to give this legislation their enthusiastic support.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? Further debate?
Mr. John O'Toole (Durham): I'm pleased to participate very briefly on Bill 148.
I just want to put on the record a bit of the historical context here. As we all know, this was as a result of a tragic accident on October 14, 2006. Our leader, John Tory, has expressed his condolences to the families of those victims who were tragically lost. But what should be remembered in the history of it all is that it was approximately 30 years ago that Bill Davis, the Conservative Premier of the day, introduced this bill. There were exemptions in the bill at that time because of the manufacturers, as some of the cars had seat belts and some didn't, and some only had them in the front and didn't have them in the rear. So there was a schedule of exemptions which existed for some time.
In fact, as recently as last year, one year ago now, the president of the Canada Safety Council, Emile Therien, wrote to the then Minister of Transportation to advise him of this loophole. In that one-year period, I'm certain there were lives unnecessarily lost. I don't disparagingly point any fingers, but it should be part of the official record that inaction is no excuse for action that should have been taken under wise advice. But in the spirit of unity and in the spirit of co-operation and public safety, our leader, John Tory, has put forward the insistence that we move quickly on this and, as such, we have.
In the overall discussion limited to the few minutes we've agreed to, I just wanted to say that we moved several well-intended amendments, without any malicious intent whatsoever. Those amendments were to clarify some of the exemption rules, the exemptions allowed under the minister's direction, which we felt were unnecessarily creating more uncertainty, even for the enforcement officers. I just want to move these here.
One of them -- section 1 of the bill, subsection 106(3) of the Highway Traffic Act -- was moved with respect to demerit points. We wanted to make sure that all persons in the vehicle over 16 years of age other than the driver would not be receiving demerit points. All of the amendments --
Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): Why?
Mr. O'Toole: Because you can't tell. They have a right and a responsibility. You never know what the legislation is going to be permissive or inclusive of.
Another amendment we moved was to section 1 of the bill, clause 106(6)(a.1): "That subsection 106(6) of the Highway Traffic Act, as set out in section 1 of bill, be amended by adding the following clause:
"(a.1) who is driving or is a passenger in a historic vehicle, as defined in section 7, that is not equipped with seat belt assemblies."
This was talking about historic vehicle and vintage vehicle owners, who had lobbied members and were asking in writing that we shouldn't be retrofitting. In fact, I would say that we had agreement on that with the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association as well, which said that they shouldn't be tinkering; Mark Nantais said that. But they did not support that amendment. They did say to us that they would exempt those vehicles in regulation, and I will take it under good democratic participation that you will indeed follow through on your promises, which would be exceptional.
I moved another amendment there: "That 106(6) of the Highway Traffic Act, as set out in section 1 of the bill, be amended by striking out `or' at the end of clause (b), by adding `or' at the end of" -- and whatever. What this was actually doing was dealing with farm practices -- that is, vehicles traveling on roads other than provincial roads under 40 kilometres per hour -- and the movement of workers in the agricultural sector. Again, that amendment was turned down. But I will say, in fairness, that the parliamentary assistant did assure us that there would be public consultations with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers of Ontario, the farmers' union and other stakeholders in agriculture to ensure that this isn't going to be another barrier or impediment for agricultural practices. At the same time, we categorically understand and respect that anyone travelling unbelted in any vehicle is potentially at risk, so we did address that.
Under section 1 of the bill, clauses 106(8)(e) and (f) of the Highway Traffic Act: This was with respect to the whole section of the bill dealing with exemptions and those classes of people who could be exempted from wearing seat belts. Our leader, John Tory, was quite open about closing the number of exemptions that the minister could make, and we are disappointed that that wasn't agreed to. In fact, every amendment we moved, including one that was brought to me that didn't directly relate to the bill, which was dealt with -- and the committee worked very co-operatively. I would say that with respect. All parties tried to work with this expeditiously and put safety before politics.
This section dealt with the issue of air bags in vehicles with children under 12 in the front seat. This was subsection 106(3), and I'll read it as follows:
"Section 106.3, as set out in section 1 of the bill" -- as amended by the committee -- "be amended by adding the following subsection:
"Front seat use
"(3.1) No passenger under the age of 12 shall occupy a seat position in the front seat of a motor vehicle if the front seat side air bag system is installed and activated."
We've heard some reports from the Canadian Safety League and others that they were dangerous. All the amendments we moved were set aside or more or less voted down by the government, and in the spirit of co-operation, I just wanted to say that we feel the necessity to put this stuff on the record. We work co-operatively. Our leader, John Tory, and our caucus are supportive of putting safety first. With that, I conclude my remarks.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? Further debate?
Mr. Kormos: I'm pleased that we are speaking to and completing consideration of Bill 148 this evening. This is very important legislation. I want to thank and commend the government House leader for his co-operation and collaborative approach to this, which made it possible for this bill to be expedited, notwithstanding that it had committee consideration and is now having, and is the subject matter of, third reading debate. It's that approach by the government House leader that makes it possible for a Legislature to respond quickly when the circumstances, as demonstrated by the horrible motor vehicle accident, indicated there was a gap, a hole, in the Highway Traffic Act. It's been there for many a year. That doesn't mean it isn't imperative that we respond to it and address it as promptly as possible.
I want to make something very clear. It's my view that in the Criminal Code, criminal negligence, for instance, would be an appropriate charge to lay against a driver who drove a motor vehicle, put that motor vehicle into motion, without ensuring that passengers were properly belted. Unfortunately, that Criminal Code charge only kicks in once there's bodily harm or death. It's a very serious charge in and of itself and people should be cognizant of that.
I also want to thank the people who participated in the committee hearings. Again, it's regrettable that but two days were available for them, but the opposition parties saw a need to expedite the passage of the bill. The contribution made by participants in those public hearings was a valuable one. I don't diminish anybody's contribution to the public hearings, but I especially want to refer to and thank Brian Patterson, who is the president and general manager of the Ontario Safety League, for promptly responding to a request to participate in these hearings; and Peter Tabuns, my colleague from Toronto-Danforth, who has allowed me to speak to this bill tonight in his stead -- and I'm grateful to him for that -- and who participated in those committee hearings, of course. I want to thank all the participants, but I especially want to thank Brian Patterson. I also want to thank Brian Lawrie, who is the president of POINTTS Advisory Ltd. Mr. Lawrie of course is a former police officer with a great deal of experience and is now president of POINTTS, which is Ontario's leading paralegal firm dealing with Highway Traffic Act matters. A number of its paralegals are former police officers -- not all of them. There was at least one former justice of the peace, amongst others, working for POINTTS.
I want to refer to their comments in particular because they -- and I'm grateful to them for doing this -- addressed the role of the driver in all of this. It is New Democrats' strong view that the driver has to be responsible for the safety of the vehicle. Clearly, the government agrees in some respects, because in section 1 of this bill, which will create a new section 106, a driver is prohibited from driving a vehicle on a highway that has had altered seat belts, modified seat belts, removed seat belts or seat belts not operating properly through lack of maintenance -- I'm going to get to that in just a minute -- notwithstanding that there's anybody in the seating position where that belt's located. Be forewarned: If the seat belts in the rear of your car aren't working properly, but there's nobody in the rear of your car -- there's only a driver and a front-seat passenger, both wearing seat belts that are working in a proper manner and not modified or altered -- that driver is still committing an offence. That may be perceived as peculiar by some, because really the effort here is to create an offence for a passenger to occupy a position for which there is not a seat belt in working condition. So there is no passenger, yet the driver is still guilty of a Highway Traffic Act offence.
I just raise that; it's just an observation. It's part of this inherent contradiction that goes around the role of the driver, that goes to the role of the driver. So there's an interesting, peculiar aspect of this legislation: that the driver has committed an offence under the Highway Traffic Act if he's operating a vehicle in which there are seat belts that are not operating or that have been modified or removed, even if he doesn't have a passenger in that position where the seat belt is not operating or is modified or removed, and even if he never has any intention of having a passenger in that position. That seems to contradict the general tone of the bill, which says that nobody should be a passenger in a vehicle unless there is a properly operating seat belt available to that passenger. Do you understand what I'm saying? Do you see just a little bit of a conflict there? That's going to generate some interest when somebody's charged under section 106.
The other and perhaps more telling part of the bill is that a driver is held responsible for ensuring that people under the age of 16 are belted. In other words, the passenger who's under 16 doesn't get charged and convicted of an offence if they're unbelted, but the driver does. But if a passenger is 16 or over, the driver is not responsible for that passenger being unbelted and it's the passenger who gets charged and presumably convicted. I have no quarrel with the passenger being convicted, but why are we somehow presuming that people under the age of 16 yet over the age of 12, which is the age of commencement of criminal responsibility, shouldn't be responsible for not abiding by the law? I think that's an incredible oversight, to not make young people under the age of 16 as responsible for buckling up as their older co-passengers are under the Highway Traffic Act.
It then goes to the New Democratic Party's request and proposal for an amendment that would make the driver responsible at the end of the day. I made reference to Brian Patterson from the Ontario Safety League and Brian Lawrie from POINTTS, both of whom supported that proposition. I think it's a serious oversight, one, because we're making a driver liable for operating a vehicle that has an inoperative seat belt, whether or not a passenger is in that position. So there's an understanding, it appears, that they need to make the driver responsible. The driver is the captain of the ship. The driver is the one who has the capacity to put that vehicle in motion or to bring it to a stop.
New Democrats moved amendments, which were defeated, that would have made the driver responsible in that regard. It's our position that the onus should be on a driver not to put a vehicle in motion unless and until every passenger in that vehicle is adequately and properly belted.
I want to just point out the gaping hole in the qualification in section 106 of the Highway Traffic Act, and that is "is not operating properly through lack of maintenance." Please, what is maintenance of a seat belt and why is that there? It's either operating properly or not operating properly. And if it's not operating properly, I don't care why it's not operating properly, through lack of maintenance or any other reason, that's an unsafe vehicle. That's the inference to be drawn from the language of the legislation. So the driver doesn't put that vehicle in motion. I just find it peculiar. Again, this is what happens when you do things hastily, when you rush things: You come up with these sorts of problems.
One of our concerns around the driver's liability for unbelted passengers 16 and over is, for instance, in the case of farm labourers -- chicken catchers in particular. We have a lot of poultry farms down where I come from and we have a lot of people who work as chicken catchers. Ms. Van Bommel is well aware of that trade, that vocation. It's incredibly hard work, it really is. It's dirty, hot, dusty, disease-ridden work, and chicken catchers --
Mr. Dave Levac (Brant): Chicken cacciatore.
Mr. Kormos: Look, I know too many chicken catchers to mock them. They're incredibly hard-working people, some of whom support families by chicken catching. Some of the teenagers are doing it for part-time work, but trust me, most teenagers don't do it for very long. They simply don't last very long. One of the problems in that industry is that the chicken-catching contractors hire low-wage labour and take them out to farm sites usually in the dark of the night, because the chickens are caught in the middle of the night in preparation for very early morning shipping to markets and abattoir operations. I've spoken with chicken catchers who talk about being loaded up into a van, and never mind no seat belts -- no seats; huge holes in the floor panels.
Mr. Robert W. Runciman (Leeds-Grenville): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: I hate to interrupt the member and I hope it doesn't disrupt the flow of the case that he's trying to put forward. I'm citing standing order 23(k) with respect to a member who uses abusive or insulting language.
Mr. Speaker, earlier this evening, one of the members of our caucus, the member for Simcoe North, was engaging in a two-minute response and referencing policing costs in the Caledonia situation, and he was interrupted. We've just received a copy of Instant Hansard which confirms that the Minister of Labour accused those of us concerned about policing costs and the ongoing challenges in Caledonia as being "rednecks." That's not an insult just to the member, Mr. Speaker, but to all of those good people who are very concerned about the situation in that part of the province. Given that the minister is present this evening, I would ask you to require an apology.
The Deputy Speaker: I can't require it. I don't have the copy of Instant Hansard that you may have access to, but -- the minister?
Hon. Steve Peters (Minister of Labour): If the honourable member was not pleased with that, I withdraw the comment.
The Deputy Speaker: Withdrawn. Thank you. Member for Niagara Centre.
Mr. Kormos: I'm going to have to back up a few minutes because the train of thought --
Mr. Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): Chicken cacciatore, and teenagers and vans.
Mr. Kormos: Look, I think it's a serious matter when workers, especially non-union workers -- because, of course, in Ontario, agricultural workers can't unionize -- are forced into extremely unsafe working conditions when the job, in and of itself, is dangerous enough to start with.
There's a serious problem in the transportation of chicken catchers, among others, by contractors who have no regard whatsoever for their safety, for whom there are not only no seat belts, there are no seats. The problem with not including culpability for the driver is that there's no disincentive for a driver to be hauling these people around to different farm sites.
I'll go one further. In the fruit farms, in the fruit orchards of Ontario, many of which are right down where I come from, seasonal workers coming into Niagara are transported from their bunkhouses to the orchard, sometimes by very responsible and conscientious farmers, other times by employers far less conscientious. I've seen the vehicles in which these people are transported -- once again, where they're crowded into vans with not only no seat belts but no seats. And you say they're to be charged and not the driver? How do we halt that sort of activity unless and until we charge the driver so that that driver knows he or she doesn't put that vehicle in motion unless and until people are belted up?
The one comment that I received was, "How can a driver be responsible for ongoingly monitoring his or her passengers to ensure they remain belted?" Well, that's precisely what the government, in its legislation, expects them to do when it's children under the age of 16, because the government's saying, "Yes, the driver has to monitor that passenger to ensure that he or she is wearing the seat belt continuously," because the passenger happens to be 15, or 15 and a half, or 15 years, 11 months and 28 days.
In terms of exempting young people from responsibility, I think it's a very bad message not to be telling 14- and 15-year-olds, "You have as much responsibility to ensure that you're belted up when you're 14 and 15 as you will have when you're 16 or 17," because of the prospect of being charged through the Highway Traffic Act.
The other interesting consideration is whether or not this addresses the concerns that many have expressed in this chamber about people riding in the backs of pickup trucks, and that, I have no doubt, will be tested or determined by the courts. I'm confident that a police officer somewhere in Ontario will charge an occupant of the bed of a box of a pickup truck under this amendment, this new part of the Highway Traffic Act.
However, take a look at this: "every person who is at least 16 years old and is a passenger in a motor vehicle." The qualification for being belted is being in a motor vehicle, and it's unfortunate. It's inevitable when we have to deal speedily with the demand for legislation. I suspect there's going to be an argument made that the occupant of the bed of the box of a pickup truck is not in a motor vehicle.
So while the government might have had the opportunity to address that issue in the first instance through this legislation, it again was a lost opportunity. Again, I'm not being critical, other than to point out it's unfortunate that we don't seize these moments, seize these opportunities, and use them to better benefit.
There was some discussion about the exemptions, and that causes concern. Down where I come from and in most parts of the province, there are automobile hobbyists and collectors, antique car enthusiasts who invest a great deal of money, a great deal of sweat equity, into their motor vehicles, restoring motor vehicles, taking them to car shows, riding them at meets. It's a great attraction for people in these communities to see these parades of vehicles, be they as recent as the 1960s and 1970s or as old as the 1920s and 1930s, parading through town. As we all know, most of these vehicles don't have seat belts. Vehicles well into the 1960s, when a belt was optional -- it was an option when you purchased a vehicle -- may only have seat belts for the front passenger of the vehicle and the driver.
There's a real dilemma. On the one hand, I think we want to accommodate and encourage hobbyists, huge numbers of them, who preserve a part of our heritage by collecting, restoring and maintaining these vehicles; yet on the other hand, if we're saying that driving in a vehicle without a seat belt is a very dangerous thing, sufficiently dangerous that the state is going to intervene, one then questions how and where the framework is for the exemptions. I am not proposing in any way, shape or form that antique vehicles should be taken off the road by virtue of not having seat belts; what I am suggesting is that there should be a standard that is consistently applied for the exemptions.
There is also clearly no standard as to what constitutes the grounds for a certificate by a medical doctor that would exempt a passenger or driver from wearing a seat belt -- a legally certified medical practitioner certifying that the person is unable, for medical reasons, to wear a seat belt. I'm not aware of any standard against which the doctor has to perform, or because of a person's size, build or other physical characteristic, unable to wear a seat belt --
The Deputy Speaker: I think the member for Nepean-Carleton may want to withdraw that.
Ms. Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton): Okay. I withdraw.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Niagara Centre.
Mr. Kormos: A remarkable observation, Speaker. Never have I been so on point during an address and so frequently interrupted by the Speaker. I hope this is like a bank account where I can put this into the credit side of the bank account and maybe make some withdrawals down the road a little bit when I need them. Think about it: I've never been so on subject yet more frequently interrupted by the Speaker. That's just the way things happen some days.
New Democrats support the legislation. It's going to go to a vote this evening, and I trust it's going to be proclaimed promptly. I trust as well that there is going to be some educational campaigning about it.
I heard some of the comments. There was a government member who questioned, "What does a family do that has a sedan-type car with only three seat belts in the back and four children? Are they forced to buy a van?" Well, yeah. If you're going to carry all four children at one time, you use a vehicle that can accommodate all four children, or five children or, God bless you, six or seven children -- wherever your passions take you, in terms of the number of children you have. We're talking about safety here.
One of the things that was unfortunate -- and I know legislative research tried to accommodate my request at the subcommittee meeting on this matter -- was the whole issue of vehicle design --
Mr. Kormos: Mr. Zimmer interjected and I've lost my train of thought again. I appreciate the member for Willowdale being here tonight on Halloween. I very much appreciate him being here. But just for the life of me, I've never been so rattled by a heckle before that I've actually lost my train of thought and am unable to -- I've never felt compelled to repeat myself before by virtue of a heckle. So excuse me, Speaker. Mr. Zimmer has rattled me, and if it takes me a little longer than I had intended to, you'll have to bear with me.
Mr. John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke): Way to go, Zimmer.
Mr. Kormos: Mr. Yakabuski responds or remarks.
New Democrats are going to support the legislation. Of course we are. It's reasonable legislation and it fills a gap. As I say, it's imperative that there be an educational campaign. People have got to be advised that this is the law. I trust that the police, the OPP in particular who do highway patrols -- and lord knows there are too few of them, but they do their best under circumstances where they're grossly understaffed. I trust that there's going to be a period of time in which there are warnings given as part of this educational campaign, but having said that, there is yet one final observation in terms of what New Democrats see as a lost opportunity. Our view is that a vehicle -- just like the government agrees, in section 106 of the act, section 1 of this bill -- that has a faulty seat belt, even if a person isn't using it at the time or isn't in that position, is prima facie a defective vehicle or an unsafe vehicle such that the driver should be charged. I say the police should have, and need, the power, when a vehicle is occupied by persons who do not have seat belts available to them and who are not wearing those seat belts -- just like they would pull over and pull the plates off of a motor vehicle that had a faulty exhaust system, faulty ball joints or faulty tie rod ends such that the occupants of that vehicle or other users of the highway are endangered -- to pull that vehicle over and make sure that it doesn't travel a further inch until it has the right number of occupants in it safely secured. And if that means that some people have to exit and go off on their own -- when you've got a potential criminal negligence charge, how can you expect a police officer to give the ticket and then say, "By the way, I'll see you after you've rolled the vehicle and somebody's dead because there are too many people in the vehicle and not enough seat belts"?
I want to make sure that folks can get to their Halloween obligations. The member for Willowdale is already in costume, and I don't want to in any way undermine his trick-or-treating tonight. However, I suspect that when his constituents recognize him as the Liberal member for Willowdale, they'll comment that they've been subject to far more tricks than they have been treats by the government. They may travel to Mr. Zimmer's home and soap his windows instead of expecting him to soap theirs.
I hope everybody enjoys their Halloween festivities, and I thank you very much for letting me participate in this debate. I thank Mr. Tabuns once again for letting me speak on his behalf and for his work on committee. I again thank all of the participants in that committee -- all of whom came on very short notice, prepared very skilful presentations and were of great assistance to the committee -- and legislative counsel, of course, who drafted the NDP amendments along with other opposition amendments, again with very short notice.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions or comments? Does any other member wish to speak?
If not, Mrs. Cansfield has moved third reading of Bill 148, An Act to amend the Highway Traffic Act respecting the use of seat belts. Is it is the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Be it resolved that the bill do now passed and be entitled as in the motion.
Hon. James J. Bradley (Minister of Tourism, minister responsible for seniors, Government House Leader): Mr. Speaker, in order that members may go out trick-or-treating, I move adjournment of the House.
The Deputy Speaker: The Government House Leader has moved adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
This House is adjourned until 1:30 of the clock on November 1.
The House adjourned at 1923.