Possibility of mandatory drug testing in some jobs

Jun 19, 2018

With the date for cannabis legalization looming across the country, the Trudeau government is now exploring the possibility of making drug tests in certain workplaces mandatory.

According to MP Bill Blair, people in safety-sensitive jobs like pilots and heavy equipment operators could face mandatory drug testing after the legalization of marijuana becomes a reality.

“We examined very closely what we could do as far as testing when there was a bona fide safety requirement. In those very limited circumstances, it’s possible.” MP Bill Blair

The implementation of mandatory testing has been hotly debated among government officials, employers, and labour groups since the legislation to legalize cannabis was introduced. Currently, there are not federal labour rules on drug and alcohol testing beyond the military, and the controversial subject has not been addressed by any Canadian government for more than thirty years.

Now, with the advent of a legal recreational sales and distribution market for cannabis, and despite the constitutional and privacy issues that will inevitably arise, there is new pressure on the federal government to implement national rules for employee drug testing. In a recent examination of the cannabis legalization bill, Bill C-46, the inability for law enforcement officers to conclusively test for cannabis impairment in roadside tests due to the unavailability of a reliable testing device or method (like a breathalyzer for alcohol) has raised concern, although Blair has stated the legalization of the drug will go through with or without conclusive roadside testing methods in place. Bill C-46 includes new offences for various levels of drug impairment and gives police authority to administer roadside saliva tests, the results of which they are saying could take up to six months to determine in a lab.

As for the effectiveness of mandatory workplace testing, president of Federally Regulated Employers Transportation and Communications Derrick Hynes has said there can be a balance achieved between privacy rights and safety, stating, “It’s been proven to work…It results in a change in behaviour, which is precisely what you’re looking for. You’re not looking for a punitive measure.”

Hynes wants mandatory workplace testing to be included in Bill C-45, and though it is currently not a planned amendment, MP Blair has indicated that it’s something that is “a part of an important and complex discussion,” and an issue that will be addressed once the legislation is in place.

A number of amendments and conflicts may prevent the Bill from being finalized in time for the federal government’s initial legalization date. In the last week of May, the Senate’s social affairs committee recommended forty amendments to the legislation in advance of the Red Chamber’s final vote which took place with many amendments attached

The Senate does not seem fazed by the delay, and is prepared to sit into the summer to complete the legislation if necessary. As the government’s Senator representative Senator Peter Harder has said, “We will sit ’til it’s done.”