Mr. Chairman, committee members, I am the manager of research and policy at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, also referred to as CCSA. I'm a behavioural scientist, and over the past 24 years my research has focused almost exclusively on impaired driving issues. With me today is Monsieur Jacques LeCavalier, former CEO of CCSA and a current associate and senior advisor. We appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today to share our views on the issue of drugs and driving in Canada as you consider Bill C-32.
CCSA is Canada's national non-governmental organization established in 1988 by an act of Parliament to provide national leadership and evidence-informed analysis and advice on substance use and abuse issues in Canada. Accordingly, the issue of drugs and driving is of great interest to our organization, and we believe we're well positioned to contribute meaningfully to the discussion.
My colleagues and I at CCSA believe impaired driving is an area of serious concern for Canada. We've addressed the issue in a number of publications, copies of which have been provided to the clerk. We've also agreed to work with the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators and Transport Canada to facilitate the goals and objectives of the strategy to reduce impaired driving. Collectively, our work reflects our level of interest and expertise in the area of drugs and driving.
In general, we at CCSA support the overall purpose and intent of the proposed legislation, particularly the requirement for drivers who are suspected of driving while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol to submit to physical coordination tests, such as the standardized field sobriety test, to submit to an evaluation of drug influence conducted by an officer trained in these techniques, such as the drug evaluation and classification program, also known as the DRE program, and to provide a bodily fluid sample for analysis. These provisions help to create a process comparable to that currently used for alcohol-impaired driving. However, there are a number of important considerations regarding Bill C-32 that we would like to bring to the committee's attention.
Our work on the issue illustrates the extent of the known risks posed by the impairing effects of drugs in traffic. At the same time, our work illustrates that relative to the knowledge about alcohol and driving, the knowledge base about drugs and driving is quite limited. To a large extent, this is because drugs and driving is a far more complex issue than alcohol. These complexities have hindered progress in the field, rendering tenuous any attempt at unequivocal statements about the magnitude of the problem of drugs and driving. As such, there's a dire need for credible scientific research to shed light on the true nature and magnitude of the problem of drugs and driving in Canada.
A difficulty that has persistently plagued research in this field is the detection and measurement of impairing substances in drivers. Whereas the presence and quantity of alcohol can be easily and reliably determined through breath analysis, no valid and consistently reliable comparable device currently exists to test drivers for other substances. Technological innovations using oral fluid samples hold promise for a device that will reliably detect the presence of certain substances, but practical devices may be many years away. Moreover, unlike alcohol where agreed upon levels of blood alcohol content consistent with impairment exist, such levels have never been established for other substances.
The alcohol crash relative risk curve, presented in a classic study by Professor Borkenstein back in the early 1960s, has yet to be established for other drugs. Hence, it's critical that tests to determine the extent of driver impairment accompany the collection and testing of bodily fluids for the presence of psychoactive substances.
My colleagues and I at CCSA have been working with the RCMP on an evaluation of the implementation of the DRE program here in Canada. Both Monsieur LeCavalier and I have taken the DRE course and we are very familiar with how this program operates.
You have previously heard from other witnesses, including Corporal Graham of the RCMP, that the DRE program is a systematic and standardized protocol to assess suspected impaired drivers for signs and symptoms associated with impairment by psychoactive substances. As part of our project we've had the opportunity to review the scientific evidence on the accuracy of the DRE program and have concluded that the ability of trained officers to identify the drug category responsible for the observed signs and symptoms in suspected impaired drivers is very good indeed, with measures of accuracy typically exceeding 85%. False negatives were not uncommon, but false positives were relatively rare.
A paper reporting the results of our study has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal, Traffic Injury Prevention. A copy has been provided to the clerk.
We've also examined drug evaluations of suspected drug-impaired drivers, conducted by Canadian officers trained in the DRE protocol in Canada. The findings demonstrated that the judgment of the evaluating officer concerning the category of drug responsible for the observed impairment matched the drug category in the toxicology analysis in 98% of cases. Again, a draft copy has been provided to the clerk.
In an ongoing study, we're investigating the reliability of the DRE protocol; that is the degree to which different officers are able to agree on the drug category involved for a given individual. To do this study we provided a randomly selected group of certified DREs with evaluation test results from 23 actual cases. The information provided included only the results of the test performed during the original DRE evaluation. Missing were the report of the arresting officer about driving impairment, the evaluating officer's narrative during the evaluation, and any admissions of drug use by the suspect. Using this limited set of information, our preliminary analysis showed that DREs were able to agree on the drug category involved approximately 75% of the time. Given that our experts were not able to observe the suspect first-hand, and only limited information was provided, we consider the results to be very good. In addition to demonstrating the reliability of the evaluations, the findings attest to the overall validity of the objective data collected as part of a DRE evaluation.
As positive as your research findings are, it is also evident that the DRE protocol is not perfect. The data indicate that the accuracy of the DRE procedure varies according to the class of drug. Some drug types are simply more difficult to detect than others. The use of more than one drug and the use of alcohol in combination with other substances can mask some symptoms and exacerbate others, leading to a mis-specification of drug category. In such cases, there is no question that the suspect is impaired. It's merely a question as to which class of substance is responsible for the observed impairment. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the DRE protocol is the best procedure available to assess drug-induced impairment. Further research and evaluation is clearly necessary to better understand the role of drugs and road safety and how best to identify and deal with those who engage in this behaviour.
The DRE protocol is an evolving process. Further research and development of the DRE protocol will ultimately lead to improvements in the extent to which these procedures can be used to detect some drug classes. Our own research continues, and we're currently using existing evaluations to identify sets of key variables in the evaluation to help officers identify specific drug categories.
We also believe there's a necessity to focus on the issue of impairment, and it's fundamental to the overall intent and purpose of the legislation. The mere presence of a drug or a drug metabolite is not sufficient to demonstrate the driver's ability was impaired. The proposed legislation outlines a process whereby the investigating officer must establish reasonable and probable grounds of impairment of the ability to operate a vehicle safely before making a demand for a bodily fluid sample. This process eliminates fears raised through the media about the possibility of criminal impairment charges being laid as a result of a positive drug test that may not be linked to actual or recent drug use. The police must first establish that the driver's ability was impaired.
It is also our belief that the legislation should maintain a focus on public safety, by controlling drug-impaired driving, and should not be used as a means of drug control. In this context, we believe that the proposed subsection 253.1(1), which makes it an offence to have a controlled substance in the vehicle, is inconsistent with the concept of impaired driving. Simply being in the possession of a drug in a vehicle does not equate with driver impairment. In addition, this particular proposed subsection specifies controlled substance as specified in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, CDSA, some of which have never been shown to cause impairment—for example, anabolic steroids. We recommend that offences related to the possession of illegal substances be tackled through the CDSA.
In addition, to further ensure that the focus of the legislation is on impairment, there is a need to define a drug. To this end, we propose the definition of a drug used by the DRE program. They say a drug is any substance that, when taken into the human body, can impair the ability of the person to operate a vehicle safely.
Although there's sufficient evidence of the dangers of drug-impaired driving to warrant the measures introduced by this legislation, the evidence is also very clear that the combination of alcohol and drugs, even in small amounts, creates a level of impairment and risk greater than that associated with either substance alone.
In recognition of this, we would like to propose that impairment due to a combination of alcohol and drugs, or a combination of two or more drugs, be treated as exacerbating circumstances in sentencing, similar to subsection 255(1), which currently considers blood alcohol concentrations in excess of 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood to be aggravating circumstances in alcohol-impaired driving offences.
Undoubtedly you have already recognized that Bill C-32 will require officers trained in both field impairment testing and DRE. There are currently 2,427 officers trained in the SFST and 153 certified DRE officers, with 97 officers in the process of certification across Canada. From personal experience, we can attest to the fact that the DRE training is demanding and intensive. It requires commitment, ongoing study, and practice. If this legislation is to have a beneficial impact on drug-impaired driving in Canada, there needs to be an ongoing commitment to the training of police officers in these techniques as well as to the continued development and evaluation of these techniques.
The introduction of this legislation and the training programs necessary to support it are bold steps needed to address a persistent and what we believe is a growing problem. But as you consider this legislation, it's important to recognize that enforcement is only one component of an overall strategy to deal with drug-impaired driving. There's a need to include prevention, adjudication, and rehabilitation as integral components of a broader strategy.
An effective overall strategy will also require coordination and cooperation with the provinces and territories that share responsibility for dealing with impaired driving. Provincial and territorial agencies should be encouraged to examine their own programs for alcohol-impaired drivers, such as administrative licence suspension, short-term suspensions, interlock programs, and rehabilitation programs, and ensure that appropriate options are available for drug-impaired drivers as well. In the absence of these changes, drivers will quickly begin to perceive drug-impaired driving as a less severe offence than alcohol-impaired driving, and this is clearly unacceptable.
As a final note, we'd like to recommend that due consideration be afforded to the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the legislation and the introduction of the DRE program. Evaluation is more than a simple process to determine the success or failure of a program. Evaluation serves to inform policy-makers such as yourselves as to where improvements may be needed to maximize the effectiveness of a program and where efficiencies can be introduced. In the area of drug-impaired driving, a commitment to ongoing monitoring and evaluation is critical.
In closing, we appreciate the opportunity to present our views on drugs and driving in Canada to the committee. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to your questions.