High-profile Saskatoon case will test impairment laws

Mar 30, 2022

Earlier in March, a 28-year-old woman was released from Saskatoon police custody after being accused of cannabis-impaired driving and causing the death of 9-year-old Baeleigh Maurice. The victim was riding her scooter at a marked crosswalk in Saskatoon on September 2021 when she was hit by a pickup truck. Subsequently, the suspect was charged with impaired driving while exceeding the prescribed blood-drug concentration of THC causing death.

Saskatoon police confirmed that the suspect was released on a promise to appear in Saskatoon provincial court on April 12. Notably, this charge is the first of its kind to be applied in the province.

“There’s no question that this case could be precedent-setting depending on how it is defended,” said defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle in his interview with Global News, while also mentioning that he is not aware of any THC-related impaired driving causing death cases in Canada.

Following legalization of recreational cannabis in October 2018, the laws regarding evaluation and enforcement of cannabis impairment have undergone a number of changes. According to Saskatoon defence lawyer Ron Piche, assessing cannabis impairment is more complex than the assessment of alcohol impairment due to the lack of data correlating THC levels with levels of impairment, as well as the lack of testing equipment to provide accurate results.

Furthermore, Piche added that evaluating cannabis impairment is a three-step process, and the first two steps are relatively subjective compared to assessment of alcohol impairment. In the case of alcohol impairment, an officer can carry out a roadside sobriety test when a driver is suspected of impairment. If the driver fails the test, they can be taken to the station for further testing and investigation. “There’s supposed to be an approved screening device that tests for drugs but, in the many files we’ve had, we’ve yet to see one of those used,” said Piche in his interview with CBC News.

When a driver is suspected of cannabis impairment, an officer can bring them into the station, said Piche. Upon the second step of the evaluation, the suspect is assessed by a trained drug recognition expert.

“They’re looking at everything from visual examinations of injection sites to the muscle tone. At the end of that process, if the officer concludes that indeed a demand should be made for urine or blood, then off we go and we have that process completed. Then a toxicologist analyzes the blood or the urine.”

In her email correspondence with CBC News, Kelsie Fraser, the Social Media & Media Relations Specialist of the Saskatoon PoliceService, stated that this was the procedure followed in the case of Baeleigh Maurice. “Toxicology results determined the level. This was what we had been waiting on for some time,” said Fraser.

However, according to Piche, there are more subjective steps in the cannabis impairment process. “When you’re dealing with so many different steps in the process, in such a subjective analysis by the officer and the drug recognition expert as the investigation continues, there’s not going to be an easy case for it, for the Crown,” he said. “There’s just too many different ways to look at something.”