Canada Has Approved Roadside Saliva Tests

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Canada’s Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has approved roadside swab tests as a new approach to attack drug use and driving. This will be the first test of its kind in Canada. Police officers will instantly be able to check saliva for traces of THS (the psychoactive component in marijuana).

Currently, there is no accurate way for police officers to assess if an individual is driving under the influence while using cannabis products. Police officers use sobriety tests to check impairments of drivers they suspect are high. In the very near future, Canadian police will have a new tool to use to accurately confirm intoxication – the cannabis roadside saliva drug test.

The roadside saliva test is part of Canada’s revamp to its impaired driving laws. This test is part of Bill C-46, legislation that we have previously blogged about, which will come into force on October 17, 2018.

Wilson-Raybould approved the saliva test device after an independent panel of traffic safety experts and toxicologists evaluated and critiqued the test’s effectiveness.

HOW DOES THE SALIVA TEST WORK?

The saliva testing device will be able to immediately detect traces of cocaine and THC use within the last six hours. Police officers will use a small and portable machine to swab a driver’s mouth and receive results in real time. This testing device will provide a more accurate and reliable upgrade to the current field sobriety tests used by police officers (i.e. walking a straight line or standing on one foot).  A failed test gives police reasonable grounds to bring a driver in for further testing, including a blood test or an examination by a drug recognition expert.

It has been reported that the government will be investing $81 million over a five-year period to buy screening devices and provide officers with comprehensive training on drug-impaired driving.

The federal government is considering using the Draeger DrugTest 5000. This is a German-made mobile drug screening system that uses oral fluid to detect seven types of commonly used drugs. This device has already been approved for use in the United Kingdom and Germany.

This particular device may require modifications in order to operate in Canada’s tough winter climate. Early tests of this device in Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan found that “there were some temperature-related issues that arose when the devices were used in extremely cold temperatures”.

LEGAL CHALLENGES TO ROADSIDE SALIVA DRUG TEST RESULTS

Although the Canadian government is confident in the validity of the roadside saliva tests, the results of these tests will likely face multiple legal challenges from defence lawyers.

Bill C-46 allows the police to charge a driver with drug-impaired driving based solely on the presence of THC. There is no requirement for officers to prove actual impairment. However, unlike alcohol, the presence of THC does not always indicate intoxication.

We can expect that in the future many court cases will shed light on how individual tolerance of THC affects a person’s motor skills and how long cannabis can stay in an individual’s body.

BILL C-46 DRUG-IMPAIRED DRIVING

At the present time, the federal government has released a draft of its planned drug concentration levels and associated offences.

Three new offences for drug-impaired driving have been created under the drafted legislation of Bill C-46:

  • Drivers who have a blood drug concentration of more than two nanograms of THC (per milliliter of blood) but less than five nanograms could be found guilty of impaired driving under the proposed summary offence, which has a maximum fine of $1,000;
  • Drivers who have a blood drug concentration of more than five nanograms of THC in their blood could be found guilty of impaired driving similar to an alcohol-impaired driving conviction, including mandatory minimum penalties of a $1,000 fine on a first offence, 30 days imprisonment on a second offence, and 120 days imprisonment on a third offence;
  • Drivers who have a mixture of a THC level above 2.5 nanograms of THC in their blood and a blood alcohol concentration above 50 mg per 100 mL would be subject to the same penalties as above.

In addition, each province has the right to implement their own drug-impaired driving rules.

TIPS TO AVOID IMPAIRED DRIVING

Here are a few simple tips to avoid driving while you are impaired by drugs and/or alcohol:

  • Always have a plan to get home safely (a designated driver, use public transportation, call a friend or family member, call a taxi or ride share, or stay overnight);
  • Ask your doctor about side effects that may occur when using prescription medication;
  • Read the information on the package of your prescription or over-the-counter medication;
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how a prescription drug can affect you when using alcohol or drugs of any nature; and
  • Remember that fatigue and stress will also affect your ability to drive safely.

If you or a loved one have been charged with an impaired driving offence or any other driving offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times. Contact our office online or at 905-404-1947.