Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Roadside Drug Testing On The Way?

In it's continued push toward "getting tough on crime", the Federal Government is confirming that they are looking at introducing a new Bill to allow police officers to conduct a battery of roadside tests aimed at catching drivers who are impaired by drugs.

On the face of it, it seems like one of those ideas that is difficult to oppose...I mean, who wants drugged-up lunatics on our roads right?

The problem is that, even in today's technologically advanced society, there really are no methods to test for drugs which are as simple and practical as the roadside screening device for alcohol. Just look at what is being considered in this proposal:

Andrew Murie, chief executive officer of MADD, said he expects that legislation to detect drug use would permit police to conduct a five- to six-minute battery of tests at roadside by doing such things as checking blood pressure, eye pupils and co-ordination.

If an officer concludes drugs are in play, the driver would then be required to undergo further testing at the police station, including surrendering a blood sample.

''Once the public becomes aware that police officers can do this test, they'll separate using drugs and driving a motor vehicle,'' predicted Murie.

Those of us who review officers' "indicia of impairment" with respect to alcohol will have a tough time accepting that police will objectively and accurately test a suspect's blood pressure...and even if they do, what can blood pressure possibly tell them in terms of reasonable and probable grounds unless they are looking at the suspect's medical chart to know what his or her "normal" blood pressure is?

Does MADD think that police can do blood tests routinely at their local district office? Is it not troublesome that we would be setting up a scenario where any overtired, overweight or stressed out driver who is nervous when stopped by police would be getting hauled off to the nearest hospital for their blood to be drawn against their will?

This may be a bit of a rant, but frankly, too few Canadians...and us defence lawyers included...are prepared to strongly oppose things which in theory sound great, but in practice present the risk of incredible mistakes / waste of resources / injustice.

If this initiative does find its way to the House of Commons, I just hope enough of us will speak up about the shortcomings before we're faced with trying to undue the mess of a newly enacted law.


Blogger Steve said...

I usually don't post comments, but I felt my voice need to be heard. This is definitely an issue that has many flaws and I'm glad your bringing it to the public eye. Obviously we have so many "what if" scenarios, but Canada leads the world in marijuana consumptions, we would would have a hell of a lot of innocent people in jail.

1:02 a.m.  
Blogger M Bates said...

Thanks for your comment Steve. Since my original post, the law has already passed and we are seeing the new drug impaired testing procedures in court cases now. It remains to be seen how problematic or successful the new provisions will be.

Michael Bates
Calgary Criminal Lawyers' Weekly

7:40 a.m.  

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