The Ontario Provincial Police force says it is going to buy federally approved roadside drug-screening equipment to identify impaired drivers, but it cannot say how many or when.
The announcement comes one day before cannabis is legalized across Canada.
“I have been told we will be purchasing some of these devices. I have not been told how many or where they’ll be deployed to. It’s still part of the procurement process,” Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesperson for the OPP’s Highway Safety Division, said on Tuesday.
“We will be using some of them across the province. I don’t know how long it will take to get them, but I know that process is underway.”
Schmidt said the new equipment means officers across the province will be better equipped to stop people from driving while high.
“Anytime we have tools to do our jobs, it’s always going to be moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’ll evaluate how it works and how it’s effective in the field, and that’ll be an ongoing process as these units are deployed across the province.”
The device to be purchased is known as the Dräger DrugTest 5000, which tests saliva for cocaine and THC, the main psychoactive agent in cannabis. The drug-testing equipment received approval from the federal Department of Justice in August.
Each unit of the Dräger DrugTest 5000 comes with an “analyzer” or reader that costs about $5,000, and cassettes that collect samples of saliva from drivers.
If an officer suspects a driver has drugs in his or her body, the officer would stop the driver and ask him or her to provide a saliva sample, using a cassette. The cassette is then inserted into the analyzer to be tested.
Based on the result, the officer will decide whether to request that the driver go into a station for a blood test.
Ford concerned about lack of ‘reliable’ equipment
Earlier on Tuesday, however, Ontario Premier Doug Ford accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not providing police with reliable roadside drug-screening equipment.
Ford, speaking at the annual general meeting of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, said he is “deeply concerned” about what he sees as the federal government’s approach to road safety.
“It was three years ago Justin Trudeau campaigned on legalizing cannabis. Three years later, the federal government still cannot give our police a single reliable piece of equipment to test for drug-impaired driving,” Ford said in a speech.
In a letter on Tuesday to Trudeau, Ford questioned the reliability of the equipment that has received federal regulatory approval.
“It’s our understanding that only one device has been approved by Health Canada, a device which may not provide accurate results in cold temperatures,” Ford wrote.
“As your government opens the door to widespread consumption of a psychoactive drug in our communities, it is critical that you also provide police with the necessary tools to ensure they can protect our roads and highways from impaired drivers.”
Ford calls on the federal government to take “immediate action” to address the issue of roadside drug-screening equipment.
But Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction, disagreed with Ford, saying much work has been done to ensure police are ready for cannabis legalization.
Blair said in Ottawa on Tuesday that Ford should “actually listen” to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, a national organization that he said the federal government has been working with for the past two-and-a half-years to ensure it has legislative authority, access to funds for training and access to technology it needs to deal with changes in the law.
“We came through for them. Yesterday, they held a press conference and they said they’re ready,” Blair said.
The OPP has about 5,700 employees in uniform and 162 detachments in Ontario.