Canada: New law targets stoned drivers

Roadside tests to detect drug use. Demanding bodily fluids is an intrusive, unreliable form of testing, critics warn

Drivers who get behind the wheel while high on drugs will face roadside testing and they could be ordered to surrender urine, blood or saliva samples at the police station under a controversial new law that takes effect one week from today.

Drivers who refuse to comply will be subject to a minimum $1,000 fine – the same penalty for refusing the breathalyzer.

Police will be given their new powers to nab drug-impaired drivers after almost five years of intense debate in Parliament.

The law, passed this year after three failed attempts, has been lauded by law enforcement and other groups who say drug-impaired drivers are escaping unpunished at a time when their numbers are climbing.

“Love it,” said Gregg Thomson, a father from Kanata, Ont., who predicted yesterday the new testing will deter people from driving under the influence of drugs, just as the breathalyzer test produced a drop in drunk driving.

Thomson has been lobbying for a new law since 1999, when his son, Stan, and four of his high school friends were killed when a 17-year-old who had been smoking marijuana attempted a highway pass that led to a pileup.

The crash became a catalyst for the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving to start pushing for changes to the Criminal Code, which outlaws drug-impaired driving, but until now has not included measures that allow police to order a battery of tests.

The new law, however, has sparked warnings about potential court battles from critics who contend demanding bodily fluids is overly intrusive and scientifically unreliable in detecting drug impairment.

“This is going to be challenged left and right,” predicted Murray Mollard, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

Beginning next Wednesday, drivers suspected of being high will be required to perform physical tests at the side of the road, such as walking a straight line. If they fail, they will be sent to the police station for further testing by a trained “drug recognition expert” and then be forced to give blood, urine, or saliva samples if they flunk the second test as well.

Critics say while there is a measurable link between blood alcohol levels and driving ability, research is lacking to equate drug quantity and impairment.

Another potential problem in testing bodily fluids is that they can detect marijuana smoked several days or months earlier and the effect has worn off.

“This kind of testing doesn’t test for impairment, it tests for past use of a substance and we know with certain substances they stay for a long time,” Mollard said.

Federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and the Canadian Bar Association also have raised alarm bells.

Testing is already happening in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia, but only when the driver voluntarily participates. However, that hardly ever happens because nobody “is going to consent to pee in a bottle” when they are not legally required, said Andy Murie, chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

JANICE TIBBETTS, Canwest News Service
Published: Wednesday, June 25

Source: The Gazette

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