Canadian roadside testing device may have issues

Sep 11, 2018

Finally, Canada is in the final stages of approving a roadside testing device that will be used across the country to test for THC, the active component in cannabis, once cannabis is legalized this coming October. In July, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced that Canadian law enforcement will using the Dräger DrugTest 5000 in roadside tests this Fall, and it will be listed as the “approved drug screening equipment” for both THC and cocaine.

The Dräger DrugTest 5000, or DDT5000, is advertised as a fast and accurate oral fluids measurement device that can identify impairment from amphetamines, designer amphetamines, opiates, cocaine, metabolites, benzodiazepines, methadone, and cannabinoids. Used in conjunction with other physical and psychological roadside tests, the DDT5000 will lead to subsequent testing if the driver is suspected of driving impaired.

But not everyone is rejoicing over this new development, mostly due to the device’s significant drawbacks and potential unsuitability for Canada’s northern climate. The device isn’t suited for cold weather use (recommended only for a 5 to 40 °C temperature range) and also has a propensity for false-positive and false-negative results.

According to criminal lawyer for roadside testing Kyla Lee, who cited the Journal of Analytical Toxicology’s 2018 comparison of the device’s roadside analysis with lab results in Norway, where it has been used since 2015, the Dräger DrugTest 5000 “did not absolutely correctly identify DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) offenders due to fairly large proportions of false-positive or false-negative results compared to drug concentrations in blood.”

Historically, Canadian law enforcement have used Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) to test suspected impaired drivers, which include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk and Turn test, and the One Leg Stand test. Now, with the ability to test saliva on the roadside with the DDT5000 and receive the results instantaneously, officers will, according to Senior Communications Consultant for the Ministry of Justice, “determine if there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed.”

Other issues with the efficiency and appropriateness of the DDT5000 include the warning that the device cannot be tilted more than ten degrees during testing, and the recommendation that those who are tested must not have ingested any foods or liquids or smoked any cigarettes ten minutes before the test is administered, which means drivers suspected of impaired driving could be detained at the side of the road for up to twenty minutes in order for law enforcement to administer the test with the appropriate protocols.

As Kyla Lee states, it’s “inevitable that we’re going to see constitutional challenges as soon as this device hits the roads. This is something that is a significant departure from what the Supreme Court of Canada has authorized, and what police has been doing thus far.”