Pubdate: Tue, 20 May 2008
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Scott Sutherland, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


About 5% of Enlistees Do Drugs, Mainly Marijuana, Tests

VICTORIA - More than one in 20 Canadian soldiers and sailors in
non-combat roles tested positive for illicit drug use in random tests
conducted on more than 3,000 military personnel from coast to coast.

The results provided to The Canadian Press show that over a four-month
period, 1,392 sailors in the navy's Atlantic and Pacific fleets and
1,673 soldiers in the army's four regions and training branch were
subjected to blind drug testing.

Averaged out, 6.5 per cent of those tested in the navy and five per
cent in the army indicated positive results, almost entirely for marijuana.

The results don't reflect the Canadian Forces' long-standing policy of
zero-tolerance for such drug use and were not received happily by the
Forces' high command,

The results have prompted broader testing across the entire Canadian
military - roughly 65,000 regular members and 24,000 reservists.

"Any kind of drug usage, of course, is not condoned in the Canadian
Forces," Lt.-Col. Lisa Noonan, spokeswoman for the chief of military
personnel, said from Ottawa.

"We have a number of programs and policies in place to deter this drug
usage and to continue to ensure that we get it down as close to zero
per cent as possible."

And, the military notes, the results are still lower than the drug
usage rates in the general Canadian population.

The blind drug tests, which began in mid-December, were done without
prior notice.

Testing staff moved in, building exits or ship gangplanks were sealed,
and all personnel were required to provide a urine sample on an
anonymous basis.

Age and rank groupings were tallied, but gender was not in an effort
to protect the privacy of the very few women in some units.

"It really was time to start looking at this issue to see if we did
have a problem," Noonan said.

But she denied it had anything to do with a series of high-profile
cocaine and marijuana charges laid following a military sting
operation that netted a half-dozen non-commissioned members aboard a
coastal patrol ship based at CFB Esquimalt in early 2006.

"That wasn't the impetus for it. This has been in the works for quite
a long time because we wanted to essentially take a look at drug
prevalence in the Canadian Forces overall," she said.

"Having said that, the navy was certainly very interested in seeing if
we have a drug issue in any of the units, either on the west or east

She said tests will be stepped up to eventually look at drug
prevalence rates on every base and air force wing.

The information will give the military a better overall indication of
drug use, Noonan said.

"Then we can adjust our programs and policies accordingly," she said,
adding that the Canadian Forces' policy of zero-tolerance won't change.

It's a warning already relayed in blunt orders to sailors on both
coasts by their commanding officers.

In mid-April, Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile issued a general message to the
more than 3,000 personnel in the Pacific fleet warning that anonymous
testing would continue without notice and more frequently and military
police would step up drug counter measures.

Of 967 people tested over a three-day period in mid-December in two
shore units and aboard four warships, 62 positive results were detected.

"Individuals who assumed casual use in the recent past would go
undetected are mistaken," Pile warned.

Early this month, Rear Admiral Dean McFadden, Commander Maritime Force
Atlantic, issued his own salvo in a general message to his 5,350 personnel.

"Despite unit education programs, briefings and town hall meetings, 29
members of the formation tested positive for drugs, mostly marijuana,"
the message read.

Blind testing of 425 sailors at CFB Halifax aboard four ships and in
one shore unit had been conducted on Jan.11.

"Blind testing will continue. Tests for units not previously tested
are a certainty in the near future but units already tested must
expect follow-up testing as well," stated the message.

"Your drug use can and will be detected."

Noonan said the use of illicit drugs in the general Canadian
population is about 12 or 14 per cent.

"So we are less than half of the prevalence rate of the Canadian

The preference for pot was seen as a reflection of society in general,
she added.

Still, she said the challenge is for the military to "basically
socialize these people to understand that is not acceptable in our
particular context."

A special Senate committee on illegal drugs found in September 2002
that close to 30 per cent of the Canadian population aged 12 to 64 had
used marijuana at least once. The figure was based on data available
from two surveys, in 1989 and 1994 .

Noonan said besides giving the military a clearer picture of the scope
of drug use within the Forces, the tests are also intended as a
deterrent, even though they are conducted on an anonymous basis which
precludes action being taken against any individual.

The Forces also operates a separate mandatory testing program in
so-called "high-risk, safety sensitive" military occupations, which
includes all personnel deployed to Afghanistan. That program has been
in place for two years.

In documentation supplied to The Canadian Press, the military said
initial testing of combat-bound personnel in the spring of 2007 "saw
4.3% of soldiers test positive, whereas more recent testing (winter
2008) found only 1.8% of soldiers test positive."

Noonan attributed the drop largely to the drug testing.

Soldiers are also tested randomly, sometimes two or three times,
before they are deployed and anyone with a positive result does not go
to Afghanistan. Mandatory drug testing based on safety sensitivity and
high-risk is also done on the special force unit known as JTF2, all
search and rescue technicians, submariners and the navy's port
inspection and clearance divers.

More occupations, particularly in the air force, are expected to be
added as legal work continues to justify the intrusion of mandatory
drug testing on personal privacy.

Forces' officials explained a positive drug use result does not
necessarily mean the end of a military career because the Canadian
Forces invests too much time, effort and money into training and
maintaining personnel.

Results from a safety-sensitive drug test cannot be used in

But there is an "administrative follow up" consisting of a medical
assessment for drug usage, a determination of whether a treatment
program is required, and whether the person will be removed from his
or her position.

If that person does carry through with the action required, they may
be able to resume their position as before.

The same is more or less true for those apprehended by military or
civilian police, or come forward looking for help on their own for
drug use.

"It's absolutely critical if we can at all try to assist a member
stopping drug usage and help them," Noonan said.

The military runs day programs, out-patient treatment and counselling,
an in-house residential facility in Halifax for those who need help
with a drug addiction. The Forces also use civilian agencies.

'We have a number of programs and policies in place to deter this drug
usage and to continue to ensure that we get it down as close to zero
per cent as possible.' 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake