Toronto police chief considering drug testing for officers

Jan 18, 2018

After last year’s fentanyl overdose death of Const. Michael Thompson, 37, an officer working undercover in the Toronto Police Force drug squad, Police Chief Mark Saunders is considering drug testing for the city’s officers.

“I don’t want to lose any officers to anything, especially drugs of any kind and if there are things that we can do to reduce that, then I’m very interested in that,” Saunders said during a year-end interview.

Saunders insists that introducing drug testing isn’t motivated by an effort to catch officers out, but says that it is his responsibility to address any issues arising from the danger of officers working in law enforcement under the influence of drugs. Saunders has been seeking drug testing advice from police chiefs in other major cities, and has established an internal team within the Toronto Police Force to review the gathered information and plot out the procedure should the TPF undertake similar measures.

More than ten years ago, when Judge George Ferguson suggested that officers in “high-risk” jobs should be subject to random drug testing, the police board at the time did not take on his suggestions after opposition was raised by the Toronto Police Association.

Saunders, a former undercover drug officer himself, sees the loss of Const. Michael Thompson as part of the national opioid crisis, which caused 68 deaths in Toronto in 2017, compared to only 7 the year before. He said he would like to see more preventative measures in place to understand how so many “normal” people become addicted to the drug. Over the years, Saunders has lost friends to substance abuse “and I can tell you I’m a lot less judgmental than I was 35 years ago when I joined (the service). It can happen to anybody.”