Company defends first device approved by feds for roadside THC detection
A woman smokes a joint during the annual 4/20 marijuana celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, April 20, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)
OTTAWA –The federal government has officially approved the roadside saliva test to determine marijuana impairment, despite concerns over that it isn’t suited for cold weather, and has been found to give “fairly large proportions of false-positive or false-negative results.”
In a news release Monday evening, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the Dräger DrugTest® 5000 has been approved for law enforcement to use at the roadside to test for both THC—the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—and cocaine.
As CTV News previously reported, Canadian defence lawyers are predicting constitutional challenges as the result of this device hitting the road because of the experiences in other jurisdictions with this device.
A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology examining the use of the device in Norway shows that the Dräger DrugTest 5000 “did not absolutely correctly identify DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) offenders due to fairly large proportions of false-positive or false-negative results compared to drug concentrations in blood.”
As well, there are questions about the suitability of the Dräger DrugTest 5000 for the Canadian climate, with the device’s operating temperature ranging between four and 40 degrees Celsius.
Though, in a phone interview on Tuesday, Managing Director of Dräger Canada Rob Clark defended the device, classifying these concerns as red herrings. He told CTV News.ca that the company expects the device to have a higher degree of accuracy in detecting the presence of drugs in Canada because the jurisdiction will be measuring for higher levels THC for example, than in other places.
As for the question of efficacy in extreme cold and warm weather, Clark said that while yes, the main part of the device is more sensitive, it’s the portion that will stay within the police officers’ vehicle, while it is the oral swap component that will be, and is better suited for, use outdoors.
Because the device will be programmed differently given the specific requirements for Canada as opposed to other countries in which the device is used—including measuring for fewer drugs— it’s also expected to take less time to test each sample, estimated at around four minutes, as opposed to 10 minutes or more, as has been the experience elsewhere, Clark said.
"We have these devices in over 40 jurisdictions around the world, including Finland, Russia at the cold end of the spectrum, and then at the high end of the spectrum, in Saudi Arabia and Australia and so on, so we know that this technology works," Clark said.
In the news release the Justice Department specifically stated that the device was approved after taking into consideration public feedback; the Drugs and Driving Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science’s recommendation; and that "this included the evaluation of proper operation within a range of temperatures, the provision of reliable test results, and device durability."
Dräger Canada has no plans to test the device in Canada, citing previous testing in other places, and the review completed by the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.
The company confirmed it will be able to provide the equipment to law enforcement agencies within four to six weeks, but declined to offer an estimate on what each device will cost, citing ongoing private negotiations, though it will be offered at a fixed price that will be the same regardless of how many devices are purchased, given that the number of devices will vary based on the size of the police force looking to procure them.
The authorization to use these kinds of devices came as part of Bill C-46, the impaired driving legislation that passed along Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, which sets up the legal regime for recreational marijuana.
Under Bill C-46, officers need reasonable suspicion that there are drugs in a driver’s system before pulling them over and testing them, though if the person fails the roadside oral test, the person will be arrested and taken in for additional testing.
Failing an oral roadside test is not a criminal offence, nor can the results be used in court. A blood test is required to determine legal impairment.
As the Oct. 17 date of marijuana legalization approaches, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair implored prospective users to “be smart, be safe and don’t drive,” in the news release announcing the device’s approval.
This is likely just the first of more similar devices that will be approved by the federal government as marijuana legalization approaches and comes into effect. It is not mandatory, but an additional tool that police forces can chose to use to detect impairment at the roadside.
“Drug screening equipment provides another valuable tool to support the enforcement of our laws. The Government of Canada is providing $81 million to provinces and territories to support the purchase of approved screening devices, as well as training and capacity building. Together, we’re determined to get this right and keep our roads safe,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in the news release.
Specific training on drug screening device will be developed by the RCMP “in the coming weeks.”