Saint John Police Want To Train Regional Officers To Recognize Those Driving Under Influence Of Marijuana
Officers come across a horrific automobile accident that claimed the lives of two teenagers and leaves a third clinging to life.
Blood tests eventually reveal that the teenage driver of the vehicle has one of the highest levels of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, experts had ever found in anyone's system.
Police in British Columbia hadn't requested a blood test from the young driver because they hadn't seen any sign of impairment.
Last summer, the youth was found not guilty of impaired driving causing death.
Such drug-related tragedies happen more often than most people realize.
A 2002 Quebec study found that marijuana was detected in 20 per cent of driver fatalities. A 2002 national survey found that 1.5 per cent of drivers surveyed had used marijuana within two hours of taking the wheel during the last year.
Improving the prosecution of drug-impaired drivers is gaining urgency in Canada - for good reason. Consider that more than half of Grade 12 students in New Brunswick admit to smoking pot in the previous year, according to the 2002 N.B. Drug Use Survey.
But prosecuting drivers for drug impairment of any sort is not easy. For example, under the Criminal Code of Canada, police do not have the authority to demand physical sobriety tests and bodily fluid samples unless someone has been seriously hurt or injured.
Proposed changes to the Criminal Code of Canada are now in the works. Bill C-16 would give police officers more power in dealing with suspected cases of drug-impaired drivers.
Police would be allowed to conduct roadside attention tests and demand saliva, urine or blood samples if drivers fail. Refusal to comply with a demand would become a criminal offence and carry the same penalties as a charge of impaired driving.
Although Bill C-16 is still with the Commons justice committee, the Saint John Police Force wants to get the jump on the proposed legislation by establishing itself as a regional training centre for officers in the field of detecting drug-impaired drivers.
Const. Trevor Jones is one of two Saint John officers who received training in Ottawa in March as drug recognition experts. The goal is to have him sufficiently trained so that he can train other officers as drug recognition experts.
While many officers are able to recognize the signs of impairment by drugs, suspecting it and proving it in court are two very different things.
Without the use of a roadside-screening test like the one used to detect alcohol, officers have to rely on subjective signs that often resemble alcohol impairment.
Drug Recognition Experts are trained to use a 12-step evaluation checklist. The first step is to rule out alcohol as the cause of the impairment.
Once that's done, the patrol officer would call in the drug recognition expert for the remainder of the steps, explained Const. Jones.
The specially trained officer would take the driver through a series of tests that includes an eye examination, a check of vital signs that includes blood pressure, temperature and pulse, and a series of divided-attention tests.
The latter tests a subject's ability to multi-task, explained Const. Jones.
He said tasks as simple to a sober person as maintaining a stance with eyes closed or walking a straight line are impossible for a person impaired by drugs.
The checklist also helps rule out a medical condition and can even tell the officer what type of drug the driver has consumed.
The federal Department of Justice's website says research has shown the DRE evaluations to be more than 80 per cent effective.
Although Const. Jones can now use the 12-step process, until Bill C-16 becomes law, drivers don't have to agree to participate.
There are provisions under the Criminal Code to charge someone with impaired driving and Const. Jones has successfully charged drug-impaired drivers. The law even allows officers to demand a blood sample, but only if there's been an accident that results in serious injuries or death.
"That's after-the-fact legislation," said Const. Jones.
He'd like to see the law changed to allow police officers to stop suspected impaired drivers before they hurt someone.
"The object of the legislation is to get rid of drug-impaired drivers. They're just as dangerous as those impaired by alcohol. There's no difference in how dangerous they are."
Mon, 16 May 2005
Source: Saint John Telegraph-Journal (CN NK)
Copyright: 2005 Brunswick News Inc.