Amendment to Impaired Driving Act to spare PRs

The Senate has passed a critical amendment to the Impaired Driving Act that would spare permanent residents sentenced to less than six months from being deported.

Bill C-46 intends to raise the maximum penalty for impaired driving in Canada from five to 10 years. As originally proposed, it would have automatically classified all DUI offences as “serious criminality.” That designation, under immigration law, would have resulted in the loss of permanent residence status even for a first-time offender who caused no bodily harm.

The Senate decided that the “serious criminality” designation for impaired driving should not apply to permanent residents and foreign nationals sentenced to less than six months in jail.

Critics, including the Canadian Bar Association, had argued that the proposed legislation would have had a “disproportionate” impact on immigrant offenders who, unlike their Canadian peers, would be penalized by both the criminal and immigration systems. This would have affected foreign students, workers, visitors and permanent residents.

Under the current immigration law, a permanent resident found guilty of any crime resulting in a sentence of more than six months faces deportation. The bill, as originally proposed, would have made an immigrant offender deportable regardless of the length of sentence.

“If any of these permanent residents break the law in terms of drunk driving, then they should pay the price, like any other Canadian, because we cannot afford to jeopardize the lives of innocent people on the streets,” said Senator Ratna Omidvar, one of 47 senators who voted in majority for the amendment.

“But I don’t believe that permanent residents should bear an added punishment — not just another punishment, not just another fine — but a sledgehammer of a punishment of inadmissibility and deportation. This is exactly what Bill C-46 will do if we allow it to leave this chamber without this amendment.”

Immigrants who commit a serious crime should be deported, said Senator Mobina Jaffer, who introduced the amendment. Bill C-46 would have created a system that would make all impaired driving offences not equal, she said.

“We are a country that gives people who make a mistake another chance, as long as it’s not a serious offence,” she added.

The amended bill will be sent back to Parliament for a final vote before it becomes law.

Reprinted with permission from Toronto Star