But, as le­gal­iza­tion looms, ques­tions re­main about road­side drug tests

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JONNY WAKE­FIELD With files from the Na­tional Post jwake­field@post­media.com

Al­berta RCMP of­fi­cials say they ’re ready to en­force Canada’s stoned driv­ing laws when cannabis be­comes le­gal on Wed­nes­day.

But a num­ber of ques­tions — in­clud­ing when they will re­ceive road­side test­ing equip­ment and how they will with­draw blood from sus­pected drug-im­paired driv­ers — re­main unan­swered.

RCMP of­fi­cials held a news con­fer­ence at K Di­vi­sion head­quar­ters in Ed­mon­ton Fri­day to ex­plain their ap­proach to drug-im­paired driv­ing en­force­ment ahead of cannabis le­gal­iza­tion.

“This is noth­ing new for us,” RCMP Chief Supt. Brad Mueller said. “Im­paired driv­ing by drugs — we’ve been en­forc­ing that for many years.

“With the ad­di­tion of the new tools and tech­nolo­gies, we’ll con­tinue that.”

But prov­ing some­one be­hind the wheel has re­cently con­sumed mar­i­juana is dif­fer­ent from de­tect­ing a drunk driver, and is likely to pro­voke le­gal chal­lenges.

Ed­mon­ton po­lice Chief Rod Knecht said in De­cem­ber that he ex­pects un­cer­tainty around road­side test­ing for cannabis im­pair­ment would “plug up the courts.”

Mueller said Al­berta RCMP have or­dered four Drager DrugTest 5000 screen­ing de­vices — the first de­vice ap­proved by the fed­eral govern­ment to de­tect mar­i­juana and other drugs in saliva.

The de­vices will be “strate­gi­cally de­ployed” around the prov­ince, and of­fi­cers have started train­ing in their use, he said.

How­ever, the de­vices them­selves have not yet ar­rived, and Mueller did not know when ex­actly they would be de­ployed.

“We won’t be in pos­ses­sion of them by Wed­nes­day,” he said.

Crit­ics say the de­vice has is­sues op­er­at­ing at cold tem­per­a­tures and has a false pos­i­tive rate be­tween 12 per cent and 15 per cent.

Paul Doroshenko, a Van­cou­ver­based de­fence lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in im­paired driv­ing cases, ear­lier said peo­ple who er­ro­neously test pos­i­tive for a banned sub­stance might not be cleared for months while lab re­sults are pro­cessed.

His firm is chal­leng­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing saliva test­ing.

Of­fi­cers can also be trained to de­tect im­paired driv­ers.

Around 400 Al­berta RCMP of­fi­cers are trained to ad­min­is­ter the stan­dard field so­bri­ety test, Mueller said, and 42 of­fi­cers are trained as “drug recog­ni­tion ex­perts.”

One of those of­fi­cers, Cpl. Richard Nowak, said drug recog­ni­tion ex­perts fol­low a 12-step process to de­ter­mine whether some­one is high, in­clud­ing five “phys­i­cal co-or­di­na­tion/di­vided at­ten­tion” tests.

They also take clin­i­cal mea­sure­ments — blood pres­sure, body tem­per­a­ture, pulse rate, and pupil di­la­tion “so we can see if their body is op­er­at­ing as if they’re sober, or if there’s a drug in­flu­enc­ing those read­ings,” he said.

Drug recog­ni­tion ex­perts are not trained to draw blood, an­other chal­lenge in the new leg­is­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional Post re­port, of­fi­cers can de­mand a blood sam­ple un­der im­paired driv­ing laws once they have rea­son­able grounds to be­lieve a per­son is im­paired.

Po­lice forces in big cities are likely to sign con­tracts with on­call med­i­cal spe­cial­ists, who will come to po­lice sta­tions and draw blood from a drug-im­paired driv­ing sus­pect within two hours of the ini­tial stop, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Post re­port.

Blood tests are con­sid­ered more re­li­able in court than tes­ti­mony from drug recog­ni­tion ex­perts or saliva sam­ples.

Mueller said that two-hour win­dow could be a chal­lenge in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties the RCMP po­lices.

“We’re cur­rently in dis­cus­sions with the govern­ment around pos­si­ble so­lu­tions,” he said.

“We’re ex­plor­ing op­tions that are avail­able to us in terms of how we’re go­ing to deal with ( blood).”


driv­ing by drugs — we’ve been en­forc­ing that for many years.


Cpl. Richard Nowak con­ducts a drug-im­paired driv­ing Check­stop demon­stra­tion dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at K Di­vi­sion in Ed­mon­ton on Fri­day. Al­berta RCMP have or­dered four drug screen­ing de­vices to help them de­tect driv­ers who have con­sumed mar­i­juana.


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