Good morning, distinguished members of this committee.
My name is Mark Chatterbok. I'm the deputy chief of operations for the Saskatoon Police Service. I'm also the co-chair of the human resources and learning committee for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, along with Steve Schnitzer from the Justice Institute of British Columbia.
I am pleased to be here with you today to offer a perspective from the Saskatoon Police Service, as we, like all municipal police services across the country, look ahead to the implementation of Bill C-45. I would like to begin by telling you a bit about some of the challenges currently faced in our community and province and how the careful and thoughtful implementation of new legislation is vital.
Saskatoon has been a city of rapid growth and economic boom, largely due to its resource sector, but in recent years the growth and the economy have slowed. This has resulted in changing pressures on policing. We have seen an increase in property-related offences. Much of this increase is related to the illicit drug trade, specifically methamphetamine.
We have seen a consistency in the percentage of our citizens who live each day at a socio-economic disadvantage. Some become subject to addiction and criminal victimization, become involved in criminal activity, and live in poor housing conditions or become homeless. While this is a larger and broader community issue, it contributes to the overall environment in which we police.
I would like to address the topic of impaired driving. We anticipate that as a result of new legislation the number of impaired drivers will only increase. This increase will be realized in a city and a province where impaired statistics are already far too high.
Saskatchewan has had a long and unfortunate distinction of having the highest rates of impaired driving in the country. In an effort to reduce those numbers, the province introduced new legislation to toughen penalties for impaired driving, including a zero tolerance for motorists under 21 years of age who are impaired by alcohol or drugs.
As a police service, we are already proactive in terms of impaired driving enforcement. Each year, we conduct numerous impaired driving spot checks and openly communicate these spot checks to the public through traditional and social media, yet our numbers still remain high.
As a result, the Saskatoon Police Service has concerns about an increase in impaired driving due to drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. As our chief of police, Clive Weighill, has publicly stated, he would like to know what happens when a driver already found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.07 also has the presence of THC in his or her blood. Technically, this driver may be under the legal limit for both individual substances, but what effect does the presence of both of these drugs have on impairment?
There were 43 homicides in 2015 in Saskatchewan. That compares to 53 people killed as a result of impaired driving in Saskatchewan for the same year. In a province with a population the size of Saskatchewan's, those numbers are very concerning. Unfortunately, our police service has yet to see a significant shift in behaviour when it comes to alcohol-impaired driving. As a result, we strongly recommend considerable federal investment in public education prior to legislative implementation.
We support the proposed amendments in Bill C-46, and the Saskatoon Police Service wants to be a part of the successful implementation for legislative change. We believe this will require continued collaboration by all levels of government and support for law enforcement agencies, especially for our front-line officers, who will be facing the impact of these changes on a day-to-day basis.
As we move closer to the date for legalization, the importance of creating a strategy to educate the public is becoming increasingly important. We echo the CACP's position that the development of such a strategy should begin immediately.
A public education strategy should focus specifically on information for youth, parents, and vulnerable populations. This component needs to be developed with input from all appropriate agencies, and the police would like to be a part of this conversation and preparation. Such a strategy should be non-judgmental, relatable, open-minded, and understandable. Education programs should provide real information, and evidence needs to be developed to resonate with this target audience.
We will need to work closely with health and the school boards to adequately deliver this information to youth in our communities. Achieving a unified position will require close co-operation. Resources in our schools are already at capacity in terms of delivering drug awareness and other programming to youth, and this legislation will only increase the demand for delivery of more education.
I would now like to discuss the impact this legislation will have on police training. Considerable training will be needed in order to have specially trained officers able to detect persons who are impaired from drugs.
According to the Colorado State Patrol, drivers who were stopped and found to be impaired by marijuana had been pulled over 91% of the time as a result of speeding. Studies in Colorado also showed that the number of drivers testing positive for THC was highest during daytime hours. We know that daytime is considered the peak time, when the highest number of vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians are using the roadways.
Both of these statistics verify the need for specialized training for our front-line officers.
The Saskatoon Police Service currently has 11 drug recognition experts trained, and I anticipate that we will need to at least double this number in the very near future. I expect this will also be the case for many other police agencies across the country. However, this training is expensive; it is currently offered only in the United States; and there is limited capacity, which means this training is often delayed until a space becomes available.
For many agencies this training will be cost prohibitive, which may ultimately result in delays at the roadside, yet the courts—and justifiably so—will not see this as a bona fide reason to deny people their charter rights. As a result, I would strongly recommend that the federal government provide the funding and assistance required to implement a DRE program here in Canada, which will help to address the training costs and capacity issues I have mentioned.
One of our concerns is regarding the unknown; specifically, not knowing to a great degree what impact this new legislation will have on our existing resources. Our resources are already stretched in many different directions. The Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners recently hired a consulting firm to conduct a review of our operations, and the study found that the amount of time our front-line officers have available to conduct proactive activities is 29%, with a suggested goal of 40%.
We already know that major drug investigations take considerable time and specialized resources and they are very expensive to conduct. Can we expect that the number of major drug investigations will increase with this legislation? I believe we can.
There is the potential for an increase in what I would describe as regular complaints to the police; for example, neighbour disputes, domestic disputes, suspicious activity, and so on. We know that alcohol is often a contributing factor in these types of complaints. The unanswered question is whether or not the usage of marijuana will have similar results.
Many municipal agencies, including in Saskatchewan, have identified possible hidden costs that may arise with the new legislation. They would come in the form of social issues, which typically fall to the front-line police officers to deal with.
I will end my time by commenting on the proposed legislation around personal cultivation and possession within a dwelling. The Saskatoon Police Service supports the concerns raised by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and recommends that personal cultivation be reconsidered. We do not support home growing regardless of size and number of plants, as this will create opportunities for diversion, and it will increase complaints of overproduction, which will be difficult to investigate and will have a negative impact on our existing resources. Arguably, home growing will provide more opportunity for cannabis to get into the hands of children.
In closing, as a municipal police agency that will be on the front lines of the implementation and impact of Bill C-45, the Saskatoon Police Service wishes to express its appreciation for the government's commitment to consultation of stakeholders. We support the government's desire to implement the most effective legislation possible. We are committed to protect the public safety and to serve our citizens on a daily basis no matter what challenges we face.
On behalf of the Saskatoon Police Service, I appreciate your kind invitation to present our comments to you here this morning.