Police across Canada in limbo over who will pay for roadside drug testing
The federal government’s plan to crack down on stoned drivers could cost millions of dollars for new equipment and training for police — and it’s not yet clear who will pay for it all.
“There’s going to be tremendous cost involved,” said Sgt. John Kiss of the Ottawa police, listing off the expense of purchasing test kits, maintaining the supply and training officers to use them. He estimates for his force alone, the costs could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“This is not something that we’ve budgeted for,” Kiss said, adding that he hopes governments will step up to the plate to cover those new costs.
He’s one of a number of people and organizations asking the federal government to commit to helping out, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Automobile Association. The CAA believes the initial costs for the new system the Liberals are proposing could even run up into the tens of millions of dollars.
Officials from the public safety minister’s office said they don’t have an estimated price tag. And while the federal government has said it wants to make sure the appropriate investments are made to cover the costs, it has not explicitly said where the money will come from.
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Right now, when police believe a driver is high, that person is asked to do a sobriety test on the roadside, said Kiss. It involves things like standing on one foot while counting and walking in a straight line placing one foot directly in front of the other. Fail that, and you’ll be arrested and sent to meet with a drug recognition expert. Kiss said that also often means providing a urine sample or in some instances blood.
The CAA believes that once pot is legal, more people will try to drive stoned. In order to try and stop them, the federal government is proposing a new model. If an officer believes a driver might be high, they can require the driver to take a saliva test to check for THC, cocaine and methamphetamines.
The test won’t actually determine whether a driver is impaired, just if the drug is present. A positive result on that test would also lead to a drug recognition test or, according to the proposed legislation, a blood test.
The federal government has just wrapped up a pilot project using two different oral fluid testing devices. Both involve disposal swab and a machine to analyze the results. (Even though two products were tested as part of the pilot project, it also remains unclear what product or products will be approved for use under the new system.)
Law enforcement, and other experts, consulted by CBC News estimate the cost of the disposable saliva swabs to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20 to $40 each — much more than the disposable mouthpieces for breathalyzers, which Kiss said cost several cents each.
The analysis device that tests the swabs costs roughly $3,000. The maker of one of tests, Alere, said the exact price tag would be based on the volume sold and that the cost is comparable for other devices.
Police officers will have to be trained to administer the new tests. The CAA says that across the country hundreds more officers also would have to be trained as drug-recognition-experts to carry out a more in-depth analysis of whether a driver is too impaired to drive.
Expecting legal challenges
On top of that, there are questions about the logistics and costs of getting blood tests done for potentially drug-impaired drivers.
Walker anticipates there will be court challenges over the new rules for stopping drivers.
“I don’t think there’s any question.”
He believes a lot of that legal debate will be around what levels of THC a driver can have in their system.
“I think if all of us go back 20 years or 25 years to the initial iterations of what was happening with testing blood alcohol and the court cases that followed that it was a series of court proceedings and court appeals and so on and so forth to test the rigour and constitutionality of some of those tests.”
Government willing to talk costs
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office, which has taken the lead on pilot projects for testing devices, said it doesn’t have a price tag for what the saliva tests might cost.
“The exact cost, and how these operations will be funded, has yet to be determined,” said Scott Bardsley, Goodale’s press secretary in an e-mail.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested that tax revenues from the sale of marijuana could go towards public education campaigns and addictions services.
Relying on some of that money to help pay for policing costs isn’t a sure bet since no one knows just what the revenues will be like, said Jeff Walker, the CAA’s chief strategy officer.
“I think the reality is it’s the federal government that’s decided to own this file and said ‘we’re going to do this thing,’ so the feds have to come to the table with dollars to be able to fund these very practical things,” said Walker.
He adds he’s optimistic the federal government will come through with the funding required for police.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said it can’t speculate about how much the new equipment and training will cost but believes there needs to be sustainable, long-term funding.
“We have taken a position that the government in bringing in this legislation has to be aware there will be a cost to policing,” said Supt. Gord Jones, a Toronto police officer who is chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police traffic committee.
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