Evidence of meeting #76 for Justice and Human Rights in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was alcohol.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Brian Hodgson  Chair, Alcohol Test Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science
  • Shirley Treacy  Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science
  • Douglas Beirness  Manager, Research and Policy, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
  • Tamra Thomson  Director, Legislation and Law Reform, Canadian Bar Association
  • Mitchell MacLeod  Executive Member, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association
  • Louise Dehaut  member, Alcohol Test Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science
  • Jacques Lecavalier  Associate, Research and Policy, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse

10 a.m.

Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science

Shirley Treacy

That would be correct, yes. For a paragraph 253(a) charge, there first of all has to be evidence of impaired driving. If they don't feel it's alcohol and they think it's drugs, if this legislation were to pass, the person would then be demanded to do roadside screening, like the standard field sobriety tests at the roadside. If they were to fail those, then that would give the police the opportunity to demand that the person complete a DRE evaluation, which is much more intensive and takes longer to do. It looks at clinical indicators as well as some of the standard field sobriety tests. If the DRE then says, yes, this person is impaired in their ability to operate a motor vehicle, and they are able to identify the drug class, then they will demand a sample of a body fluid—it could be urine or saliva or blood—for analysis by the lab to corroborate that finding.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Once they have the sample done, is there a level in a person's body of particular drugs, like cocaine, that would suggest that every person would be impaired at that level?

10 a.m.

Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science

Shirley Treacy

No, particularly not in urine. You cannot correlate pharmacological effects in the body with what you find in the urine. So we're corroborating the finding. Based on the clinical indicators and the problem the person has in completing divided attention tasks, we can say they are under the influence of a drug, or drugs. What the lab does, or what a toxicologist does, is corroborate that finding and says the DRE evaluator says it looks like this person is under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant. I will analyse the urine sample and I'll find cocaine, and cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant; therefore I can corroborate their findings.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

So in alcohol, if it's about 0.08, that in itself would be enough to convict and suggest the person is impaired. But in drugs it doesn't matter what the level, at least in a urine test. It doesn't necessarily suggest the person is impaired.

10 a.m.

Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science

Shirley Treacy

That's right. There is no correlation for drugs. There just isn't enough literature out there. But for alcohol it's 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres, and that's based on blood levels, not urine.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Is there a difference in the blood test and the urine test in the drugs?

10 a.m.

Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science

Shirley Treacy

In what regard?

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

You were explaining how urine tests couldn't determine impairment. Would a blood test give any different results?

10 a.m.

Chair, Drugs and Driving Committee, Canadian Society of Forensic Science

Shirley Treacy

There is more stuff in the literature about blood levels, but blood would be considered more invasive. So the program, as it stands in the U.S., is based on collecting urine samples—I guess saliva samples are another possibility—because they're less invasive than collecting blood.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Would the Canadian Bar Association agree, and also the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, that the process that was just outlined would basically result in convictions similar to alcohol, without more excessive litigation and problems that would tie up the whole system?

10 a.m.

Executive Member, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association

Mitchell MacLeod

I apologize, Mr. Bagnell. At the time you were asking your question I was contemplating some notes I had written about something Ms. Treacy said. I would just ask you to repeat that for me.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Okay. Basically the question is this. Under the process that Ms. Treacy just outlined—the parallel process for drugs that is used in the States—if we applied this law as it's presently written, would we then get a number of drug convictions without too much legal hassle, or no more than we get in alcohol? Obviously there are always challenges. Would it result in a number of successful convictions, similar to the percentages in alcohol, without too many legal problems or hassles?

10 a.m.

Executive Member, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association

Mitchell MacLeod

No, that's not the way the criminal justice section sees it. Indeed, in my deep contemplation of moments ago, I was taking a couple of notes. What Ms. Treacy had spoken about was some testing that, let's say, is suggestive of a central nervous system stimulant, and then there's corroborative testing of the urine, and in that testing of the urine it shows there's cocaine in the urine. I think the conclusion the court is going to be asked to draw, or that people are going to be asked to draw, is that the detection of the cocaine in the urine is somehow corroborative that a central nervous system stimulant, and specifically cocaine, was impairing that person's ability to drive a motor vehicle.

We see that type of logic generating an unbelievable amount of litigation. It would be our view that you cannot necessarily draw the conclusion that the presence of cocaine in the urine is corroborative of either the fact that the person was under the influence of cocaine as the central nervous stimulant—it might have been a different central nervous system stimulant—or indeed that a central nervous system stimulant was the precursor to the symptoms that the drug recognition expert found. I think you're going to have court challenges at every step of that process, arguing about what symptoms are indicative of what drugs, about what the differential diagnosis is. If a person is exhibiting symptoms A, B, and C, yes, it could be a central nervous system stimulant. What else could it be?

Those aspects of it, in the view of the criminal justice section, are just part of what we see as a set of circumstances in Bill C-32 that are going to generate an unbelievable amount of litigation, and attendant costs, both in terms of resources and in terms of the time the cases are tied up in the system.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Derek Lee

Thank you, Mr. MacLeod and Mr. Bagnell.

Monsieur Ménard, vous avez sept minutes.

June 12th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Thank you. My three questions are for Mr. Hodgson.

First, I want to know whether you officially support the bill. Second, it seems increasingly clear to me that we will not be able to support this bill without specific training on new detection technologies. It's not enough to take 10 minutes at the end of the meeting, particularly since we will have to go and vote at 11 a.m. The division bells will begin to ring at 10:30 a.m. or 10:45 a.m.

I would like for us to be briefed on the available technologies. You talked about a new generation of devices. Would you be in a position and able to provide us with a very in-depth information session, so that we can truly understand what we're talking about? Not only will the offence system change, but this change will have repercussions on the presumption of innocence as well as on the administration of justice in relation to impaired driving. For that reason, I believe it is important for us to truly understand new screening technologies.

If I understand correctly, you are saying that these devices are not effective or operational when it comes to roadside drug screening tests.

In short, here are my three questions. Do you support the bill? Could you provide us with proper training? What can you tell us about this new generation of devices? Finally, when it comes to roadside screening tests, we must distinguish between alcohol and drugs. Have I understood correctly?