Pubdate: Thu, 18 Oct 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw and Cindy E. Harnett, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Forcing employees to take drug tests at work is a contentious issue,
complicated by human-rights legislation, contradictory court rulings
and U.S. pressure, say industry representatives and civil liberties

B.C. Ferries president David Hahn said yesterday Canada should follow
the United States in workplace drug testing. Such testing has
increased dramatically in North America over the past 20 years,
chiefly in the U.S., where it's done by 95 per cent of top Fortune 500

But in Canada, the situation remains legally and ethically

The federal Human Rights Commission prohibits discrimination on the
basis of a disability, which includes drug or alcohol addiction. It
has opposed pre-employment and random drug tests, but is reviewing
those policies after recent court rulings, says its 2006 annual
report, but it has yet to release new guidelines.

"Testing reveals all kinds of personal information that has nothing to
do with drugs," said Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C.
Civil Liberties Association. For example, it can reveal medical
conditions or pregnancy, he said. As well, watching someone urinate
into a cup is degrading and intrusive, he said.

Canadian courts have sent mixed messages regarding the legality of
drug testing in the workplace. Alberta courts recently overruled a
pre-employment drug-test policy by Kellogg Brown & Root Co. after a
recreational marijuana user failed the test and wasn't hired.

That case is under appeal this month and is being watched closely in
the legal community. Lawyers for both sides are arguing about whether
drug tests violate human rights, even though recreational drug use is

On the other side of the legal spectrum, the Ontario Superior Court of
Justice upheld forest company Weyerhaeuser's drug-testing policy last
year and prevented a complainant from going before the province's
human-rights tribunal.

B.C. supports drug testing, Premier Gordon Campbell said yesterday. "I
think everyone deserves to know that people are in no way impaired in
terms of carrying out their operational obligations," he said, when
asked about B.C. Ferries. "How we do that in Canada is something we're
going to have to work with the national Transportation Safety Board

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association agrees companies should ensure
those in important safety-related jobs, such as steering a ferry,
aren't impaired, said Mollard. But he said drug tests can't beat "good
old human supervision."

Workplace drug testing has declined in the U.S. and Canada since
peaking around 10 years ago, said Scott Macdonald, assistant director
at the Centre for Addictions Research B.C.

B.C. companies test employees for drug use more than any other
province, except Alberta. Drug testing is performed by 18.2 per cent
of companies with 100 or more employees in B.C. That compares with 4.6
per cent in Ontario and 25.4 per cent in Alberta, said Macdonald.

One reason is that B.C. has more resource and transportation
companies, such as forestry, mining, construction, shipping, rail,
trucking and aviation, he said.

He argues that urinalysis, a common method for drug testing, is poor
because it detects usage over a period of time. "They are measuring
more lifestyle [issues] rather than drug use on the job," he said.

A urine test detects marijuana use over about a three-to four-week
period, cocaine use within three to five days and heroin and opiates
in an even tighter timeframe. Blood tests, he said, detect active
metabolites in the body that indicate drug use within about eight hours. 
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