Drug-related driving offences a grey area for police

Aug 15, 2018 | News

Police will have to adjust to new laws and equipment quickly with the legalization of cannabis on the horizon. (REUTERS/Dan Culberson)

Brandon Maron

Not all of the country’s police officers are expected to be fully trained as new laws and regulations dealing with legalization of cannabis within two months.

That concern follows a report published by Statistics Canada last week in collaboration with Health Canada, Public Safety Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada that had some troubling findings as the day cannabis becomes legal — Oct. 17 — nears.

The report, which surveyed 7,285 people aged 15 and older in all 10 provinces and three territorial capitals, finds that 14 per cent of Canadians with a driver’s license reported they had driven a vehicle within two hours of consuming cannabis.

It also found 1.4 million Canadians reported they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had consumed cannabis in the previous two hours.

While these numbers may seem concerning to some, Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), doesn’t believe they are all that worrisome.

“These are not new numbers, these are numbers that we’ve been well aware of,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been getting new technology for police to use at roadside and money for training and education.”

Bill C-46, which received Royal Assent on June 21, introduced new criminal offences related to drug-impaired driving, which can include up to a $1,000 fine and four months in jail.

It also allows police to conduct roadside tests using new oral fluid screening equipment to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs at the time of driving.

Joe Couto, director of government relations and communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, explains since this technology is new and unproven, it may not work as desired right away.

“The technology is still very much disputed, and we don’t anticipate that there wouldn’t be challenges to people arrested for consuming cannabis and getting behind the wheel of a car,” he said.

Couto explains all police officers need to undergo additional training to prepare themselves to enforce these new laws.

However, he wasn’t optimistic about the police as a whole being prepared for Canada’s legalization date.

Couto told Humber News police still need to prioritize training in other areas, such as use of force and re-qualification for using a handgun.

“We won’t be ready for the government’s arbitrary legalization date in October,” he said. “We told the government that it’s impossible with all the other training officers are required to do.”

Legalization of cannabis is a new area for everybody involved, and practices surrounding it may not be perfect from the start, Murie said.

“It’s going to be a very challenging next couple of years as all of these things work through,” he said. “Education is one of the three pillars. It’s education, legislation and enforcement by police.”

Couto also understands it will be difficult at first, and while they may be unprepared, the police force will be ready to take it head-on.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but like everything we’re public service and we will train up our officers,” he said. “It may take some time and we will deal with everything and we’ll go from there.”