Calgary transport companies say no to random testing

Statistics Canada recently revealed that over one million Canadians have been in a car with a driver who has recently (in this case, less than two hours prior) used cannabis, and that nearly 15% of licensed Canadian drivers have admitted to using cannabis and driving less than two hours later. Despite this, and unlike Toronto’s Transit Commission, many of Calgary’s transportation services have decided not to pursue random cannabis testing for their employees, deeming it unnecessary and unlikely to cause an increase of impaired drivers across the city.

While this determination not to test is alarming for some, for assistant professor of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary Rebecca Haines-Saah, the evidence that there will be more impaired drivers working within Calgary transportation services if random testing doesn’t occur is simply not compelling. Haines-Saah points out that the legalization of cannabis is likely to do the opposite and actually make users much more cautious.

“I would never be one to endorse impaired driving, but I think there’s a great deal of panic about an increased number of high drivers on the road, and I haven’t seen compelling evidence towards that.” – Ass. Prof. Rebecca Haines-Saah

One of the deterrents for drivers employed within Calgary’s transportation systems is the consequence for being discovered while impaired. For Jeff Garland, general manager at Calgary taxi company Associated Cabs, in the two cases he’s seen of impaired workers over his years at the company, both employees were terminated immediately for the transgression. Additionally, new drivers won’t be hired if they have any past charges. “I think everyone is thinking about it,” Garland says, “but we have a zero-tolerance policy for substances that impair your driving.”

Another reason why Calgary transportation companies won’t need to test their employees? Money. Becoming a taxi driver in Calgary costs hundreds of dollars, from training to licensing to records checking, and this investment would be wasted if the driver was caught driving while impaired. Drivers in Calgary, it’s believed, are self-regulated enough to warrant the absence of a costly, time-consuming random checks policy.

Uber Canada spokesperson Jean-Christophe de le Rue says the private car company is focusing its efforts on education so that the public is more aware of the risks involved in driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. As with many existing taxi services, any Uber driver caught driving impaired will be immediately deactivated.

Calgary Transit drivers won’t be tested by the City of Calgary, either, as according to Matt Zabloski, project lead for the city’s legalization of cannabis, all those “existing issues” are already covered by the existing substance use policy, which covers alcohol and both illicit and licit drugs.

Part of the decision to refrain from conducting random tests for cannabis is the inaccuracy of current testing practices. Canada has not yet approved a device to accurately test for THC, the active substance in cannabis, and since THC can remain in a person’s body long after the effects of impairment have worn off, a positive THC test may not indicate actual impairment.

Until such a device is approved, and until the current driving practices in Calgary’s transportation services change, it is likely that Calgary transportation drivers will continue to provide for the public without the implementation of random testing.

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