HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html New Legislation To Allow Police To Conduct Roadside
Pubdate: Mon, 23 Feb 2004
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Janice Tibbetts
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


OTTAWA - Police could nab drug-impaired drivers by conducting roadside 
checks followed by further probing at the police station under a new 
drugged-driving bill.

Irwin Cotler, the Justice Minister, is expected to table the legislation 
this winter or early spring in tandem with plans to decriminalize marijuana 

"It's part of an overall approach to an anti-drug strategy," Mr. Cotler 
told the Ottawa Citizen.

The drugged-driving bill is considered to be one of Mr. Cotler's top 
priorities in this parliamentary session, which is already crammed with 
several other justice initiatives that did not pass during the government 
of former prime minister Jean Chretien.

While it is illegal to drive while under the influence of drugs, there has 
been no reliable test for measuring drug impairment.

Unlike drunk driving, in which there is a measurable link between blood 
alcohol levels, as measured by a Breathalyzer, and driving ability, 
research is lacking to equate drug quantity and impairment.

Under a federal plan outlined in a discussion paper, the government would 
train police officers across Canada to become experts in recognizing 
physiological symptoms of impairment and then allow them to conduct 
physical tests at the roadside.

If a suspect fails -- and it is determined he or she is not impaired by 
alcohol -- police could proceed to the next stage, saliva testing. The 
procedure could then move to the police station, where police could demand 
blood or urine samples.

Mr. Cotler would not divulge details of his legislative proposals, but he 
said they will be related to a public consultation that the Justice 
Department conducted last fall.

However, lawyers say the federal proposals are overly intrusive and they 
give police too much leeway.

They say this will virtually guarantee a barrage of Charter of Rights court 

The Canadian Bar Association, in a submission to the government, advocates 
developing more solid and objective tests for a couple of drugs -- along 
with a legal limit -- instead of trying to create a questionable 
one-size-fits-all testing scheme.

"The opposite view is that there would be so few drugs that you could have 
that agreement on threshold that you wouldn't necessarily be moving ahead 
very far," countered Hal Pruden, a Justice Department lawyer.

The Justice Department, however, concedes there are problems with its 

"Drugs, unlike alcohol, are often extremely difficult to link to a 
particular concentration level that will cause impairment in the general 
population of drivers," the discussion paper says. "Moreover, analysis for 
some drugs in certain bodily fluids may simply indicate drug use many days, 
or even months, in the past."

The bar association cautions against rushing into legislation.

But police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving say drug-impaired driving must 
be addressed before Ottawa decriminalizes marijuana possession, which could 
happen in the next month or so.

"To not move forward with amendments because of Charter of Rights 
challenges is not an argument," says a joint submission from MADD and 
several police groups.

"We anticipate challenges and we strongly believe that the court will side 
with the overriding concerns for public safety."

Police currently rely on a driver's behaviour and witness testimony to 
determine drug use. There are officers in British Columbia who are trained 
to administer roadside tests, but there is no law that forces drivers to 

Also, drug-impaired driving charges usually do not stick.

Last year, for instance, former Ottawa lawyer Rick Reimer, who is legally 
permitted to smoke marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis, was acquitted of 
impaired driving, even though he was smoking a joint when police pulled him 

The judge said there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable 
doubt that Mr. Reimer was impaired.
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