The Liberal government’s new tough impaired driving laws passed in December 2018 introducing three new drug-related offences for drivers who had consumed drugs within two hours of driving. The new legislation was met with concerns regarding ‘potential for injustice’ due to the wide range of powers given to the police in order to administer sobriety tests on drivers.
However, despite the expectations of Royal Canadian Mounted Police to be overwhelmed with requests for blood tests after the introduction of the new drug-impaired driving laws, only a small number of blood samples have been received for testing so far.
According to the new legislature, Canadian police can demand a blood sample if they have reasonable grounds to believe a person is driving high, which could include a positive test from a saliva-testing device. Moreover, a positive test is necessary from a suspect before a Crown attorney can secure a conviction.
In information sent to CBC News, RCMP stated they expected to receive approximately 800 blood sample test requests in 2018-2019, which included the first months of the implementation of the new impaired driving laws. However, at the end of February, RCMP had received only 80 blood sample requests.
These estimates were partially based on the observations collected in the United Kingdom, where a twelve-fold increase in bodily fluid samples submitted for toxicological analysis was seen after increased training of police officers to recognize the signs of drug impairment.
According to RCMP, the small number of blood sample test requests is because not all police forces are fully trained to collect blood samples.
In an email to CBC News, RCMP Sgt. Marie Damian said, “Police officers’ ability to draw blood depends on the jurisdiction… Provinces and territories across the country are at different stages of developing regimes to facilitate blood draws.”
The National Forensic Laboratory Services receive bodily fluid samples, including blood for toxicology analysis to be used in court, receiving test requests from every jurisdiction except Ontario and Quebec. Each jurisdiction identifies who will be designated to draw blood for toxicology tests, but the provinces and territories have not yet consolidated the process, according to Natalie Wright of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
Minister Bill Blair, a spokesperson for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, said the government is working in collaboration with police services across the country to ensure they have the required training and tools. The RCMP have indicated that they expect the number of blood sample test requests to increase with time.