RCMP rolls out drug-impaired driving training for officers
Smoke created by water vapor billows out of the windows of a car during a demonstration by the Colorado Department of Transportation in southeast Denver, on April 16, 2015. (David Zalubowski / AP)
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2018 1:33PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 22, 2018 5:19PM EDT
OTTAWA – With marijuana legalization approaching, the RCMP is rolling out a new introductory training course for police officers across the country.
The in-person training will inform officers about the symptoms of drug impairment on drivers, “with a special emphasis on cannabis,” and includes information on impaired driving laws. The RCMP said the curriculum was developed alongside other Canadian police services.
The program, called “Introduction to Drug-Impaired Driving” will be required for law enforcement officers in addition to the preexisting standard field sobriety test training. Canada Border Service Agency officers will also be receiving the training.
The timeline and scope of the training was not announced. The federal government is eyeing late August or early September for when marijuana will be fully legalized across the country.
“Driving after using drugs, even some prescription drugs, is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. Everyone has a role to play in road safety. The RCMP is updating and expanding the training available to all Canadian police officers that will strengthen their ability to continue to detect drug impaired drivers,” said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in the statement announcing the new curriculum.
The legislation to implement new drug-impaired driving laws regarding marijuana is still before the Senate. There, senators and expert witnesses have expressed uncertainty about how to legislate and enforce ways to measure marijuana impairment.
Bill C-46 changes impaired driving laws to give police new powers to conduct roadside intoxication tests, including oral fluid drug tests, and would make it illegal to drive within two hours of being over the legal limit.
There is currently no government-approved roadside testing technology for marijuana impairment. The RCMP, in conjunction with other Canadian police departments and Public Safety Canada, has recently experimented with roadside saliva tests.
Throughout the parliamentary process, Canadian law enforcement agencies have been vocal in asking for more time to make sure police officers are properly trained. They have argued that police will not be ready to properly apply legalized marijuana laws by the time the government wants.
"There’s lots of training to be done. This is one component of it, and it will be very useful in assisting police officers to make those roadside judgment calls as to whether an individual is impaired and therefore subject to sanction under the Criminal Code," Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters Tuesday.
Drug impairment training so far
According to documents tabled in the House of Commons earlier this year outlining the number of RCMP and CBSA officers that have received drug-impaired driving training, there is a ways to go.
As of February 2018, 665 police officers in Canada have received “Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)” training, including 196 RCMP officers. An additional 40 officers were set to be trained by the end of March.
This DRE trains police to use a 12-step system to detect drug impairment in drivers, including examining one’s eyes, attention, blood pressure and pulse.
The documents, provided in response to a Conservative MP’s Order Paper Question, outlines that this training has been provided in Vancouver; Winnipeg; Jacksonville, Florida; and Phoenix, Arizona.
In the 2017-18 supplementary estimates the RCMP has been allotted $1.67 million for drug recognition training for officers.
As for border officials, as of February, 20 CBSA officers have been trained as instructors for the standard field sobriety testing, with two more being trained by the end of the year.
These officers will then train 1,425 CBSA officers between 2019 and 2021. The training of the instructors took place in Halifax and Ottawa, the documents state.
In the 2017-18 supplementary estimates the CBSA received $45,827 for officer training.