Canadian police scrambling to ready for impairment testing

Aug 2, 2018

It is now unlikely, according to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, that two thousand officers will be adequately trained in time to identify drug-impaired drivers in preparation for the October 17th legalization of cannabis across Canada.

This is not surprising, as last fall, the Association, which represents 90% of Canadian police agencies, warned the federal government that it required more time to bring officers up to speed and provide the required training in new cannabis laws and the ability to spot drug-impairment at roadside stops. In fact, at current training rates, it is estimated that to adequately train these two thousand officers, more than five years will be required.

Association spokeswoman Natalie Wright indicated that only 733 officers had completed the specialized training by May, but stated, “While it is unlikely that we will attain our target number of 2,000 Drug Recognition Experts by October 17th, we are confident in our present processes, knowing that they will continually improve with time as we build capacity.”

Canadian officers are being trained in the International Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, which teaches them to look for impairment in vital signs, eyes, balance, and coordination. The program is offered only in the United States, and Canadian law enforcement officers are required to cross the border for training. Requests in the House of Commons that training be provided in Canada has fallen on deaf ears, despite the fact that Canadians participating in American courses must compete for places within the program with American law enforcement agencies, who take priority.

“Our government has expressed our concern from the very beginning about the federal government’s decision to rush ahead with the legalization of cannabis without having the appropriate safety mechanisms in place,” adding, “The CACP has now confirmed that they will not have enough officers trained in time.”-Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson

However, $161 million has been set aside for police training and drug testing equipment in Canada, as well as for a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the dangers of driving while impaired.
Currently in place is also federal approval for the use of roadside saliva tests to identify the presence of drugs like marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine, but no test has been approved for use in Canada that can adequately and precisely measure impairment from these substances. As of May of this year, there was still confusion over which testing device will actually be implemented on Canadian roads come October.

Saliva collected at the roadside can take up to six months to be processed through a drug testing laboratory, which leads to an overburdened system and potential repeat offenses while the driver awaits the results.

Without a clear method to determine drug impairment during roadside testing, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has argued that in the case of these impromptu tests, “it would appear that a substantial proportion of drug-impaired drivers are going undetected,” and illustrates this fact by reporting that more drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents test positive for drugs than alcohol, but due to inconclusive or absent testing, only 4% of impaired driving cases can cite drug-impairment as a factor.