Good afternoon, everyone.
The alcohol test committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science has provided independent scientific advice to the on the detection and quantification of blood alcohol concentrations for the past 50 years. We are a group of dedicated volunteer scientists with expertise in breath and blood alcohol testing who are committed to maintaining the consistently high standard in alcohol testing that has become the accepted norm in Canada. The ATC has created standards for, and evaluates, all equipment proposed for alcohol testing in Canada. It recommends best practices in breath alcohol testing programs and recommends the operational procedures to be followed in the use of the equipment to ensure that the results are both accurate and reliable.
My remarks say there's an appendix, and there is. I supplied it to the clerk, and I'm sure everyone will get it at some point.
My opening remarks are going to touch both on some investigative and evidentiary matters that we feel would benefit from some further scientific context.
The first thing I turn to is the investigative matters and the mandatory alcohol screening. The alcohol test committee has been on record supporting this activity in both 2008 and most recently last year when I spoke to a standing committee. What is important to realize is that impairment of an individual's driving ability can often exist when the visible symptoms that may draw the attention of a police officer are absent. Approved screening devices can detect these individuals and, moreover, these ASDs are scientifically reliable, widely deployed, and well accepted in the courts for the purposes of detecting alcohol in the human body. No alcohol testing issue exists with regard to the implementation of this initiative.
I'll turn my attention—and I've tried to do this in order—to proposed section 320.28, “Samples of breath or blood — alcohol”. I understand it's been opined that the proposed section 320.28, coupled with the proposed paragraph 320.14(1)(b), the over 80 milligram bit, would lead to officers doing tests hours or perhaps even days after the incident. This hypothetical scenario seems of little concern when I read in proposed subparagraph 320.28(1)(a)(i) that the qualified technician must take samples of breath that, in their opinion, would allow a proper analysis of the breath. In my experience, any qualified technician asked to do a test on a subject a day after the alleged incident would decline because of the training they have received to become a qualified technician.
There are some evidentiary matters that we'd like to comment on. The first thing I want to make clear for this committee is that the alcohol test committee thinks that any Canadian approved instrument is, by our very definition, accurate and reliable when operated properly according to our guidelines, and will provide accurate and reliable blood alcohol results at the time of testing. I've provided all our standards to this committee.
Proposed subsection 320.31(2) specifically deals with analysts, such as myself, and we are somewhat concerned that this section appears to open the door for the type of disclosure motions that became prevalent in breath alcohol testing in the wake of 2008 amendments. The ATC responded then with our position paper, which indicated the required data and information necessary to determine that the approved instrument was in proper working order and was, therefore, reliable and accurate. This section appears to leave accredited Canadian forensic laboratories open to what was characterized by one of my members as a full-out attack on the analytical process.
Many of us have had our files subject to full disclosure, but our fear is that the scope of the request is likely to include materials that are not relevant to the analysis. The subsequent litigation to clarify the situation will be extremely costly. All analyses done in an accredited laboratory are subject to rigorous quality assurance and are accompanied by appropriate quality control measures. The alcohol test committee feels that this should be reflected in some manner in the legislation as a mechanism to limit disclosure motions that are resource intensive and, ultimately, have no benefit to the trier of the fact.
Moving quickly, as I am, to the presumption of blood alcohol concentrations, this is certainly going to require some adjustment. Our courts may require a judicial calculator allowance. However, the main message the ATC wants to convey is that, given the new wording of the law, there's no real possibility with this approach—i.e. the approach where the court can then do some calculations—that a court would come to a conclusion about the blood alcohol concentration that would be prejudicial to the accused person.
The suggestion that somehow a court would be presented with a zero result and, following the formula, extrapolate it to 120 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood when the incident happened—and that should be 12 hours prior—seems rather extraordinary. If such a thing were to happen, I am confident that competent scientific evidence from a qualified toxicologist would be adduced to assist the court in understanding why that should not be done.
It seems clear to us that the intent of this provision is to remove the burden of requiring a toxicologist in trials every time the lowest breath alcohol is at or above the per se limit and where the statutory presumption has been lost due to the passage of time. We are somewhat interested in how the courts will grapple with the times that don't fall in perfect half-hour intervals, and that will remain to be seen, but I'm sure it won't offer too much of a problem.
I want to briefly comment on the concept that toxicology adds virtually no time to a trial for the evidence to be entered. I actually take no issue with that assertion in uncomplicated cases, but you as the committee should be aware that my quick analysis of the typical Ottawa, Ontario Court of Justice case shows that it usually takes approximately eight to 12 different steps, involving six or seven different individuals, in three different organizations, before that brief appearance happens.
Moving to the disclosure of information, the listed items in proposed subsection 320.34(1) are traceable to the ATC position paper, in which we said, “Any messages produced by the instrument during the subject breath testing procedure that indicate”—emphasis added here—“an exception or error has occurred should be provided and assessed to determine their impact, if any, on the breath test results. Messages produced at other times are not scientifically relevant and need not be reviewed.”
Our concern is that proposed paragraph 320.34(1)(c) says, “any messages produced by the approved instrument at the time the samples were taken” must be disclosed. Not all messages produced are actually written down on the test record card. For example, in one of our approved instruments, “Please Blow/R” scrolls across the screen prior to the person giving the sample. That is captured nowhere, but it is a message associated with that breath testing. It appears to be suggested that this should be disclosed and it's really not necessary for that to be done.
Moving forward to the later sections, proposed subsections (3), (4), and (5) of 320.34—and we approach this with full disclosure, as it were, from a non-legal sense as scientists reading these sections—it appears to undermine the previous proposed subsection, 320.34(1). Other information is not relevant, but those sections seem to give credence to the possibility that there may be something else that is relevant, and it sets up the mechanisms for counsel to get at it. That seems to us to be capable of reigniting what I sometimes call the “disclosure wars” that arose shortly after the 2008 amendments to the Criminal Code. In part due to our position paper, disclosure has become settled law in some provinces. However, as I said, these sections seem to us to invite a reopening of that debate.
I'll be meeting with my alcohol test committee members for the remainder of the week. is the first substantial agenda item I propose to talk to them about, and if, following discussion about today's proceedings, they feel further items need enhancement or clarification better than I have done, which is clearly possible, we will submit any comments we have. We would undertake to do that before the end of our meeting, which ends Thursday of this week. We'll try to do that rapidly, if necessary.
I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to address you.
Good afternoon. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
My name is Patricia Hynes-Coates, and I am the national president of MADD Canada.
Like so many people who get involved with MADD, my life has been forever changed by someone else's selfish choice to drive while they were impaired by drugs or alcohol. On August 16, 2013, my stepson, Nicholas Coates, was killed by an impaired driver. Nick was riding his motorcycle on his way to work. The man who struck Nicholas was driving his pickup truck. It was 11:17 in the day. That man had been drinking the night before and the morning of the crash.
Nicholas was a son. He was my stepson. He was a brother, an uncle, and a fiancé. He was a kind-hearted, hard-working young man. He was a civil engineer. He was only 27 years old when his life was tragically ripped away from him. Like all impaired driving crashes, Nicholas's loss has devastated so many people. It has forever altered our family, his friends, and our community. His death was completely senseless.
I think that's one of the hardest things to come to grips with. Nicholas died because someone made that selfish choice that day to get into his vehicle, and because of that, Nicholas is no longer with us.
There is no way to describe the pain that Nick's whole family is going through, or how deeply it's felt every waking day. Impaired driving has lifelong effects on families, on everyone involved. To this day, my husband still wakes up at night in a sweat, in a panic as he remembers his last visual memory of his little boy as Nicholas was rushed past him on a gurney, surrounded by doctors and nurses. The only thing left in that hallway was a trail of blood.
My family's story is just one of thousands that happen within our country. I have travelled throughout Canada, and I have seen first-hand the devastation of impaired driving. I recently witnessed a nine-year-old boy stumbling up to a church to light a candle in honour of his brother. The horror of his cries echoed throughout the church. It was devastating. No one should have to feel this loss, let alone a child.
Impaired driving is not only about death. It is also devastating and debilitating in injuries, some that will never ever heal.
I recently had a conversation with a dad who told me that when his son was in a crash on Boxing Day, he had to make the decision of whether his son would live or die. He chose life and he is forever grateful for that, but that young man, who was once vibrant, can no longer dress or feed himself. That is the destruction that happens from impaired driving, all this because of somebody else's choice.
The day my husband and I put Nicholas in his final resting place we made a promise to him that he would never, ever be forgotten, and we promised him that we would not rest until we ended this fight against impaired driving. It is that fight that brought me here today.
I am here to provide a voice for those who can no longer speak for themselves, and to speak on behalf of Nicholas and other victims throughout Canada. As a mom, as a grandmother, and a wife, I know that once we lose our loved ones to impaired driving, it's too late. There is nothing else we can do, so that's why I am here to encourage the government to please move forward with the crucial laws and amendments outlined in Bill so we can reduce impaired driving, prevent crashes, and save lives.
I am going to turn the rest of my time over to my CEO, Andy Murie.
First, I'd like to thank our national president, Patricia, for her courage in sharing her story and being here representing thousands of victims from across Canada.
In my remarks today, I will focus specifically on what we consider the most important issue in Bill and what we think is one of the most important impaired driving countermeasures available: mandatory alcohol screening.
The other measures in the bill, which we support, are the evidentiary and procedural changes, which, if enacted, would address some of the technical concerns with the existing law, questionable court decisions, and other obstacles that make our current system ineffective in enforcing and in prosecuting impaired driving. Fewer impaired drivers would evade criminal responsibility due to factors unrelated to their criminal conduct, and those convicted would be subject to more onerous sanctions.
MADD Canada also strongly supports the measures dealing with drugs and driving, the three per se levels, the use of oral fluid screeners, and the reduced licence suspension period for alcohol interlock programs.
Canada's record on impaired driving is very poor. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States released a report indicating that Canada had the highest percentage of alcohol-related crash deaths among the 20 wealthy nations studied.
MADD Canada strongly supports and promotes new legislation that focuses on deterrents. We need to deter people from driving when they have consumed too much alcohol. We need to deter people before they cause a crash that kills or injures someone, and that is why we need to authorize police to use mandatory alcohol screening.
Before proceeding on the merits of mandatory alcohol screening, I need to correct some misperceptions about it. Mandatory alcohol screening best practices mandate that all vehicles are checked and all drivers stopped must provide a breath sample. Mandatory alcohol screening operates the same way as mandatory screening processes at airports, on Parliament Hill, in courts, and in other government buildings.
Some witnesses have complained that mandatory alcohol screening would open the door to police harassment, discrimination, and targeting of visible minorities. We have found no such concerns about police conduct in this fashion in the mandatory alcohol screening research literature or in practice.
Canada's current system uses selective breath testing, and only drivers reasonably suspected of drinking can be tested. Studies have shown that the selective breath testing programs miss a significant portion of legally impaired drivers. They miss 90% of drivers with blood alcohol levels between .05% and .079%, and 60% of drivers with BAC over the current Criminal Code limit of .08%.
As member of Parliament, , stated in Parliament on June 9, 2016, “The realization that they cannot avoid giving a breath sample at roadside will have a very significant deterrent effect on people who may choose to drink and drive. I would like to advise the House that this deterrent effect has been demonstrated countless times in many other countries.”
I can tell you numbers, but this slide tells it all. This is the experience in Ireland, which adopted mandatory alcohol screening in 2006. They've had a tremendous decrease in fatalities and injuries.
The other thing that's really important in mandatory alcohol screening is that, because it serves as a deterrent to potential drivers getting behind the wheel when they have consumed alcohol, they will not make that choice. It is less likely to find impaired drivers, so there is a significant drop in the number of people charged. I know that witnesses have come before you and claimed that this would overburden our court system. It is totally the opposite. There is no proof anywhere, in any country that has adopted mandatory alcohol screening, that it has caused any impact in a negative way on their justice system with charges.
We are not expecting the same results that Ireland has experienced. We are expecting somewhere around a 20% reduction in deaths and injuries in Canada, and that would result in at least 200 deaths and 12,000 injuries per year prevented from happening. It also would save our system about $4.3 billion.
In terms of public support for mandatory alcohol screening, once it's implemented, the support in the public goes up. For example, in 2002 in Queensland, 98.2% of the population supported mandatory alcohol screening.
There's already broad support for mandatory alcohol screening in Canada. In a 2009 survey, 66% of Canadians supported legislation authorizing police to conduct mandatory alcohol screening. A 2010 Ipsos Reid survey found that 77% of Canadians either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported the introduction of mandatory alcohol screening. When informed of mandatory alcohol screening's potential to reduce impaired driving deaths, 79% of Canadians agreed that mandatory alcohol screening is a reasonable intrusion on drivers.
Earlier last week, you heard from my colleague Dr. Robert Solomon on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I won't repeat those types of pieces, but let us remind ourselves that in 2015 an estimated 131 million passengers got on and off airplanes in Canada. It is not uncommon for them to take off their shoes, belts, and jewellery, show carry-on items, be swabbed for explosive devices, and be scanned for weapons and subject to pat-down searches. It's not uncommon to wait 10 to 15 minutes to be subject to one of these screening and search procedures. Such procedures are accepted because they serve a public safety function.
Put bluntly, far more Canadians are killed in alcohol-related crashes each year than in attacks on airplanes. Like airport procedures, mandatory alcohol screening is consistent with the charter.
In conclusion, MADD Canada would urge this current Parliament to show leadership and enact Bill . Thank you very much.
Distinguished members of this committee, I am both pleased and honoured to have been afforded the opportunity to meet and speak with you today.
As was the case for our CACP president, Chief Mario Harel, who spoke with you last week, it is my first time appearing before the committee—any Commons committee, for that matter—and I consider it a privilege, if not somewhat bewildering.
The CACP has already provided the committee with its position on Bill , a very technical bill, and it is not my intention to repeat what I consider its extremely thoughtful and valid insights. Undoubtedly, though, I will touch upon and reinforce some of those positions. My remarks will speak to some specifics, and I also hope to reinforce some overarching concerns and/or principles.
However, I first want to echo what my colleagues have already alluded to, that Bill contains some very positive changes that will serve to enhance the safety and security of Canadians as they relate to the scourge of impaired driving. Additionally, the recent funding announcement has, I believe, been well received by the policing community from coast to coast to coast and will go a long way as we prepare ourselves for what will flow from Bill .
My comments to you will be my own, and from the perspective of the chief of a small to medium-sized police agency. Although I'm the vice-president of the organization, I am not here representing the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police. Approximately three-quarters of all police agencies in Canada fall into the category of small or medium police forces and employ about 50% of the police officers across the country.
I'm going to suggest to this committee that what Parliament faces with Bill and the legalization of marijuana pursuant to Bill is what was popularized by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber as a “wicked problem” in public policy. It is valid in this instance to define this as a wicked problem, as Brian Head, writing on “Wicked Problems in Public Policy”, described it, because—and I'm going to paraphrase—there's no single root cause of the complexity, uncertainty, or disagreement, and hence no single best approach to tackling the issues.
You will undoubtedly have heard a divergence of viewpoints during your deliberations. Let me briefly touch upon just a few of the things I've considered when contemplating July of 2018.
It is my respectful submission that notwithstanding testing results from the oral fluid screening devices, the applicable science and/or application of the science is not ready. I believe the CACP has submitted concerns specific to the oral fluid screening devices that undoubtedly referenced language proposed in the act with regard to those devices.
Additionally, questions linger as to where and how the use of oral fluid screening devices will fit into the continuum or the regime of the “impaired driving by drug” investigations. Another question is, what is the correlation between saliva concentrations and blood or fatty tissue concentrations of drugs, and what level or levels will constitute actual impairment, from a scientific perspective, as compared with those we have for impairment by alcohol?
As we contemplated the science, it led us to wonder about the combination of alcohol and cannabis and/or other drugs. There's the additive effect, whereby simply the combination of, say, alcohol and cannabis—one plus one—will equal two. But there's synergism with regard to narcotics and drugs, whereby one plus one can equal five, because the influence of one compounds the influence of the other, and then there's potentiation, whereby one and one plus one, as you combine more drugs and/or alcohol, can equal something like 10. I just bring the potential and problematic issue of the cannabis cocktail to your attention during your deliberations.
It should be recognized that following the legalization of marijuana there will be an increase in impaired driving; the studies show that. I think I can say with confidence, and it will come as no surprise to you to hear it, that by and large police agencies are not currently prepared for what Bill may present us on our highways and byways. Even if all the stars align for us by July of 2018 and we are ready, it will be just barely ready.
By way of example, in New Brunswick the number of police-reported incidents of drug-impaired driving have increased 193% between the years 2008 to 2016, and there has been a 54% increase since 2013. We currently have 18 DRE officers in our province, with 100 standard field sobriety test officers. We have approximately 40% of the DRE officers that our province requires, and we are a small province.
With the injection of additional training dollars and hopefully the resources to deliver the training, if we were to somehow manage to even double that number over the next five years, assuming no attrition, we would still be behind in adequate numbers. If I have my facts straight, we are approaching 50% attrition with DRE officers since 2013 in this country.
I can only speak on behalf of the Saint John Police Force, but it has been my recent experience that sourcing, securing, and funding training is challenging with the travel required to disparate locations for the wide variety of training that modern-day policing necessitates.
Ramping up the numbers of standard field sobriety test officers, which I wholeheartedly support, will, as I understand the investigative continuum for impaired-by-drug driving investigations, necessitate at least a proportional increase in DRE officers. The concern, and I believe it is valid, is that the demand will exceed availability for training. It will be like trying to drain an outdoor Olympic-size swimming pool with a garden hose in a rainstorm.
There are other implications: lab-testing capacity, Jordan decision implications, and rank-and-file training of members at the front lines. As I stated, my colleagues at the CACP have presented its position to this committee regarding Bill , and while we're supportive of the bill, I think they have urged a delay to its becoming law in July 2018. As it stands today, I would support that delay.
Procedural fairness dictates that the law is applied reasonably and equally, and in an equal manner across Canada. Procedural fairness presumes the resources to apply the law equally across Canada. In the potential absence or application of good science and sound and timely preparation, the courts might be left to define the process, standards, and best practices. With respect, this is a job for government, for the CACP, and for the community. It is patently unfair to expect the courts to do our job with potentially undesirable or unintended results.
I know a great deal of thought has gone into potential charter implications. If the legislation or regulations are couched in terms of complexity, adaptation, and this in fact being a wicked problem, and if adequate resources, training, and time are provided, we can be ready. I'm not sanguine to the possibility that we, policing, will get there by 2018, but I'm hopeful.
In closing, I would ask the committee to consider, as I'm confident it has and will continue to do, two guiding insights when considering this wicked problem. One, we must be very thoughtful and insightful in setting the initial conditions, the legislation. Two, we must design legislation and regulation to allow for constant, collaborative, and informed adaptation. As an example, I believe there is a current list of drug categories—seven, I believe—in the pending legislation. I don't draft legislation, obviously, but I simply ask the question: do we risk boxing ourselves in? Change will occur; we know that.
It is my earnest hope that we will get this right and we'll have the necessary time to get it right. Once the final product, the legislation, becomes law, the burden of effective enforcement and public safety will fall to the front-line law enforcement community. Training, adequate human resources, equipment, and solid law will be crucial. The burden can be a heavy one, and we in policing sincerely want to get it right.
I thank the committee for the invitation to be here today.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share with you the perception of the John Howard Society on Bill . We don't bring any depth of scientific expertise, but we are an organization that's fully committed to effective, just, and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime. We have John Howard offices throughout the country in more than 60 communities, and we're all extremely interested in community safety.
I think it is very timely to review the adequacy of the impaired driving provisions to address marijuana-impaired drivers in advance of the government's promised legalization of marijuana in July 2018.
I think this is a very timely exercise, but not only does Bill propose Criminal Code amendments in relation to drug-impaired driving. It repeals and replaces code provisions dealing with conveyances and toughens the provisions dealing with alcohol-impaired driving. It thus becomes a very far-reaching set of proposals in a highly litigated area, which will result in many legal challenges and delays in the courts.
Really, we just have three or four observations that we'd like to make about the bill.
The first is that there is a strong argument to focus on the immediate drug-impaired driving challenge with this particular bill. As I'm sure you've heard from others, it might be wise not to proceed with part 2 amendments and really focus on the drug-impaired elements.
We say this for two reasons. One is, and we heard it a little bit from the previous panel, that we've heard from police and provinces that being prepared for the July 2018 legalization of marijuana will be a challenge for them. Keeping the enforcement regime as streamlined and targeted as possible, then, would seem to assist in meeting the time frames associated with the marijuana legalization.
Secondly, we have heard from the courts and others that congestion and delays in the judicial process are leading to charges being dismissed, given the timelines set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. vs. Jordan. Many people feel that this is really one of the critical problems facing the justice system today.
The meaning of all new reforms is often tested before the courts, and charter compliance for some of the changes will take up further trial time. I think the brief from the Canadian Bar Association on Bill sets out a number of elements that raise charter concerns and will certainly take up a lot of time in our courts. Those reforms have unintended consequences of exacerbating serious delays, leading to a failure to hold people to account for serious crimes.
I think it's very important, therefore, to think about the breadth of this bill and what it would mean in terms of other important issues that the courts are facing.
The other issue we would like to raise is to question blood drug levels as an accurate measure of impairment. For us as an evidence-based organization it is important to look at the effectiveness of the proposed test for assessing impairment. While it simplifies enforcement to have a level of drugs in the blood that indicates impairment, the science may not support such a simple test. Relegating the level that's appropriate to regulations may avoid the immediate challenge, but embeds the presumption in legislation that a drug-blood level test of marijuana impairment is possible and desirable.
What we're hearing from experts suggests that those acclimatized to higher doses of marijuana may be less impaired than those with lower doses who are not regular users of marijuana. You could thus have the unfortunate effect that the level of marijuana in the blood does not equate to the level of impairment. Reliance on a blood-drug measurement as an indicator of impairment could have really unjust results and lead to convictions of those who are not impaired. Rather than focusing on the level of drug in the blood, a better test of impairment should perhaps be considered.
The standard field sobriety test could be used, which would indicate impairment, and this would avoid the problems of an intrusive procedure to obtain blood, which raises some charter issues in and of itself. Such a test would be available without the need for legislative amendments.
I also think that in this age of higher technology it might well be possible to have a different type of test for impairment that looks at the speed of reflexes and the variety of things you would worry about to which marijuana consumers, in terms of their impairment, might be subject. If you got a good program for a computer or something, you could also have some quantifiable results, which I think puts the mind of law enforcement a little more at ease. That's the second issue that we would raise for consideration.
The third is the mandatory minimum penalties. The John Howard Society opposes mandatory minimum penalties, believing that judicial discretion is needed to promote fit sentences that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. We are disappointed to see that mandatory minimum penalties are included in this bill and would recommend that they be dropped.
In conclusion, while we share an interest in ensuring that our streets and communities are safe from drug-impaired drivers, this bill may not achieve our shared goals. It risks an inaccurate test for assessing impairment based on drug-blood levels that would have unjust results. It risks clogging the already overburdened courts with trials and charter challenges to the changes, and many of these are in part 2 of the bill. It risks disproportionate sentences by maintaining mandatory minimum penalties.
We would urge the committee to sever part 2 from the bill and deal with that when we've addressed the delays in the court and the important challenges that are there. We would urge the committee to adopt a more accurate tool for assessing actual impairment by marijuana that would be better than a faulty blood-drug level test, and we would urge you to drop the mandatory minimum penalties or to allow judges to impose something other than a preferred mandatory minimum penalty if needed for a proportionate and fair sentence.
That's the position of the John Howard Society.
Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting Arrive Alive Drive Sober to provide our comments on Bill . My name is Michael Stewart, and I am the program director with Arrive Alive. I am joined here today by the president of our board of directors, Ms. Anne Leonard.
For almost 30 years, our charity has provided leadership and programs to eliminate impaired driving, such as choose your ride and operation lookout. We enable people and communities to share resources and information intended to prevent injuries and save lives on our roads. We are recognized as a leader in the fight against impaired driving. In a recent government survey, our slogan and messaging was recognized by four out of five Ontarians, making it the most recognized campaign.
We have 85 members and stakeholders comprised of dedicated professionals and volunteers. We frequently partner with community groups, police services, public health units, schools, businesses, and government entities. Each year, we distribute for free over $100,000 in printed materials across Canada and receive over $12 million in donated television and radio airtime. In March of this year, one of our countermeasure campaigns, our wrecked car coasters received national and international media coverage, with interviews from coast to coast and as far away as Australia. Since the inception of our organization, impaired driving fatalities in Ontario have declined by almost 75%, demonstrating that comprehensive legislation and enforcement requires a third partner—effective public awareness—to save lives on our roads.
Arrive Alive commends the work of the federal government and its commitment to creating new and stronger laws to combat impaired driving. Introducing three new offences for drivers having specified levels of drugs in their system, making changes to the “over 80” offence, as well as increased penalties are improvements that will help us all arrive alive.
Drug-impaired driving has been included in our messaging for over a decade, but it has recently become of greater concern for Canadians due to the pending legalization of cannabis. In a recent nationwide survey conducted by State Farm, 80% of respondent’s voiced concern about people driving under the influence of marijuana, and 83% felt that there is not enough information about the risks that come with driving while high.
Bill is an important step forward, but it's critical that it be accompanied by a comprehensive plan of education and public awareness. We have heard a common misconception from both youth and adults that driving while high on cannabis is not only safe, but makes them better drivers. This dangerous myth underscores the critical need to ensure that all drivers know that driving while impaired by drugs is just as dangerous as driving while impaired by alcohol. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction reports that in 2011, 21% of high school students who were surveyed in Canada said that they had driven at least once within an hour of using drugs, and 50% had been a passenger in a vehicle where the driver had used drugs. This data, in combination with these dangerous myths, creates a road safety hazard in and of itself that must be addressed not only by enforcement but by fulsome education.
According to Statistics Canada, police reported that drug impaired driving incidents have doubled since 2009. As well, our colleagues in states where cannabis has been legalized, such as Colorado and Washington state, have seen marked increases in drug-impaired driving. We have no reason to believe that this experience will not be replicated in Canada, but education and awareness are key to reducing the numbers of people who combine drug use and driving. We have seen sustained and consistent reductions in alcohol-impaired driving incidents. It clearly appears that the population of drivers who combine drugs and driving is distinct or different from the population that is well aware of the dangers of drinking in combination with driving.
Health Canada has stated that the government is committed to investing in a robust education campaign to inform youth of the risks and harms of cannabis use. We urge the members of this committee to accelerate the government’s pace and economic support when it comes to public awareness efforts. It is crucial to the safety of Canadians to be educated not only about the dangers of driving in combination with drugs, but also about the new consequences and blood drug concentration levels set out in Bill . An absence of awareness and education will limit the impact and deterrent effect these increased penalties are intended to have. Given the brief time between now and July 1st, 2018, we encourage you to explore strategic opportunities for partnership on education campaigns.
Arrive Alive has been at the forefront in raising awareness about the dangers of driving while impaired by drugs. Our drug-impaired driving efforts to date include The Sober Truth About Driving High, a video PSA filmed in partnership with the CACP and the RCMP in 2012; our award-winning iDRIVE educational video that was shared, in partnership with Transport Canada, with every high school in Canada in 2011; a radio PSA entitled Potchecks in 2015; and our ongoing Eggs on Weed campaign that began in 2014.
We are going to continue to do our part, but we will need help, especially with the legalization of cannabis and Bill .
Training officers and ensuring that they have the necessary tools in place to detect and remove impaired drivers from the road has been a key concern of our membership for many years. We know that training these officers to detect impairment and supplying them with devices takes time and money. While the federal government has announced $161 million to be divided up amongst the provinces, our police partners have warned us that there is neither enough time nor funding to have sufficient officers and approved screening devices ready for legalization. We encourage the government to continue to work with police services to determine what amount is needed to fulfill their training and research requirements. As the bill provides necessary tools to help law enforcement in this fight, it is paramount to ensure that they can be fully utilized across Canada.
While Bill is an important step in the right direction, it is unfortunate that the bill itself perpetuates a myth or misunderstanding amongst the public that accidents are the result of drug- or alcohol-impaired driving. Referring to drug- or alcohol-impaired driving that causes bodily harm or death as an “accident” implies that the criminal conduct and consequence happened for no apparent reason when, in reality, it was a person’s decision to drive impaired. We ask that the committee consider changing the terminology to “collision” to recognize this fact.
In conclusion, Arrive Alive Drive Sober supports the government’s efforts to create stronger legislation. It is with the help of tough legislation that we have continued to see alcohol-impaired driving incidents and fatalities decrease in Canada. However, effective public education and awareness was also instrumental in reducing those numbers. To combat drug-impaired driving like we have with alcohol, the government must provide ample funding and resources. Additionally, with the legalization of cannabis fast approaching, the government must look to strategic partnerships to create public awareness initiatives, both to educate Canadians about driving high, as well as to educate them on the new consequences outlined in Bill . We would be happy to bring forward our track record in this area to assist you in this endeavour.
Thank you for your time and for the invitation to appear.
First of all, I'd like say that it's nice to come to Ottawa to see our tax dollars being well spent in renovating a building such as this. It is one of the nicest rooms I have ever appeared in. Good job.
Getting to the bill before us, I don't know why I am here. I checked to make sure I was supposed to be here and I was told I was. What I've tried to do is assemble my 35 years as an emergency physician and as someone who advocates for injury to share with you what I think are the most salient points that I've heard to date and in my preparation for coming here today.
Canada already has one of the highest rates of utilization amongst our young, and they are already driving on our roads. For those of you who are foolishly thinking this problem is going to start in July 2018, the problem is before us right now.
That's why when the CDC takes a look at how we compare internationally with other countries, we don't fare very well. This gentleman, Michael, just alluded to part of the reason. He said these things are called “accidents”. They're not accidents. They're part of a disease process, and that disease is the leading cause of death for Canadians under the age of 45. Under the age of 35, motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death in that age group. Between the ages of one and 19, injury is the leading cause of death.
What Canada has is thus an injury problem that's about to be compounded by new legislation that's going to legalize the use of cannabis. What you're going to see is what we've seen in Washington and Colorado. There's going to be an increase in fatalities. There's going to be an increase in young people, especially, trying cannabis. One in six of them is going to become addicted.
Addiction is a disease. It's not a weakness of character. These young addicts—and they are before us today, showing up in our emergency department on a regular basis—are not getting the treatment they need. If we cannot meet the demand today, we are definitely not going to meet the demand in July.
My recommendation is that we stop for a second and say that if Canada is really only the third country starting to dabble in legislation, we could do something that's uniquely Canadian and establish robust datasets that allow us to actually measure the consequences—the human consequences, the financial consequences, the disruption to our health care system and to our justice system—so that we have evidence to base our decisions on.
Right now, you're about to meet an industry, the cannabis industry, that is going to be far more sophisticated than the tobacco industry. They're going to normalize marijuana use, as being good for you. This whole notion of medicinal marijuana has shown you that this is a drug looking for a purpose.
People who want to smoke marijuana can go ahead and smoke marijuana. I think our responsibility as physicians and your responsibility as policy-makers is to get this right. Other countries have not gone down this path for a very good reason. If we choose to go down this path because it's an election promise or we think it's the will of the public, then let's be prepared to put our thinking hats on and actually measure the consequences, because there will be consequences.
We're stuck in old paradigms. Who says that it has to be police officers who administer the sobriety test? If you go to the County of Strathcona in Alberta, I'll tell you, those ladies and gentlemen know how to keep their roads safe. They use peace officers, sheriffs, and a combination of different tools.
I'd like to get to the question and answer period, because I would like to make absolutely sure that the questions on your minds are answered before we leave today. I can tell you right now, however, that anything that takes away from that 1.6 seconds in a vehicle.... When a driver is fully attentive—eyes on the road, hands on the wheel—and sees something and decides what to do and reacts, it takes 1.6 seconds.
We have already passed legislation that says it's okay to use a cellphone hands-free, which is faulty legislation not based on evidence. That's already causing carnage on our roadways. The chief who was sitting here talked about the cumulative effect of marijuana, fatigue, alcohol, other drugs in our vehicles, along with all the distractions. It just makes natural sense that we're going to see an increase in the carnage on our roadways.
Now, the good news is that automated vehicles are coming down the pipeline. Once automated vehicles are on their own, that is truly about the only thing that's going to save us from this carnage. People can smoke as much as they want and do whatever they want in these vehicles. These vehicles will drive themselves, and they will not crash as long as humans keep their hands off the controls.
My advice is this. Let's set up some robust data-measuring systems to truly measure the consequences of what we're unleashing here so that not only Canadians can learn, but provinces can learn, and other countries can learn from our experiment, because this is an experiment in progress.
Good evening. I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the drugs and driving committee, or DDC, of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. I will take the time I'm allotted to introduce myself, tell you about the DDC, explain our process and our role, and give some background information, and I hope to clarify any scientific questions regarding the proposed new provisions.
My name is Rachelle Wallage. I'm a forensic toxicologist. I work at the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto, where I have been employed for 17 years.
The Centre of Forensic Sciences is a provincial laboratory that functions both as a coroner's lab and as a crime lab. The predominant role of a forensic toxicologist is to provide expertise on drugs, including alcohol, and interpret concentrations as detected through analysis performed by the toxicology section.
This interpretation of prescription, over-the-counter, and recreational drugs can include concentrations that are subtherapeutic, therapeutic, recreational, toxic, or fatal in the context of many different types of cases, as well as opinions offered regarding impairment. All of these interpretations come with further explanation of what the terminology means or implies, the exceptions to the interpretation, or conditions that make it more or less likely. This frequently culminates in testimony provided to courts or coroner's inquests.
To put into context our court responsibilities, here are some examples.
I have testified five times in one workweek on different cases. I have colleagues who have testified twice in one day in two separate courthouses. Furthermore, it's not unusual to have anywhere from three to five days in a week scheduled for court appearances throughout the province. My shortest testimony I estimate as approximately four minutes, and my longest as four days. Court is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.
I fully realize that not all laboratories are this busy, but this is the reality for many of us. With the opioid epidemic that is currently happening, the legalization of cannabis, and the extensive changes being proposed for the Criminal Code of Canada, I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to address the pressure on the laboratories. The lab systems cannot continue to absorb the escalation of submissions for analysis, court appearances, and the need for technical expertise, especially in a time where there is an increased emphasis on timely trials.
Additionally, I am the chair of the drugs and driving committee. The role of the DDC is to advise the Department of Justice on issues related to drug-impaired driving. Obviously this is no easy task, considering the hundreds of impairing drugs that are available, each of which has associated complexities. When it comes to analysis, interpretation, and predictability, alcohol is the exception rather than the rule in its simplicity.
The DDC is comprised of six scientists in the field of drug-impaired driving, predominantly from the forensic laboratory systems across Canada. The DDC is a volunteer committee. We have demanding careers outside of our role on the committee, so our time is limited, and the DDC work generally occurs on weekends, on vacation days, and in any spare time we can muster that would otherwise be well spent decompressing from a hectic workday.
We are a committee comprising individuals from across the country, and in-person meetings generally occur once a year. Funding of this committee is a rate-limiting factor. The Department of Justice provides a grant, which is shared between the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, the alcohol test committee, and the drugs and driving committee. There has been a dramatic increase on the demands for our time and knowledge, and the funding is not sufficient.
The alcohol test committee has 10 members and we are at six, and I would make the argument that we, too, should be at least 10. The concern becomes that if we are 10, the yearly DDC allotment will not be sufficient to cover the cost of travel, accommodation, and meal allowances for everyone for one meeting per year, which I would also argue is insufficient at this time. There are other branches of the government that currently see the value in our expertise, and it's time to re-examine investing in the future of the DDC.
Of particular interest in the last few years has been the use of per se limits for drugs other than alcohol. Some countries and states have moved toward this approach. The DDC was asked to turn our collective expertise to the idea of per se limits or a zero tolerance approach to certain drugs.
This process started years ago, when we formulated a long list of drugs that were of particular concern to the safety of our roads. Research was conducted into each of these drugs, and the feasibility of establishing a limit was assessed. Factors that were considered included the potential for tolerance to develop with regular use; whether the drug was available by prescription, over the counter, or for recreational use; residual concentrations; and the prevalence of use in the population.
From that list, a short list was created. Further research was conducted and discussion occurred. The ultimate report outlines a per se approach for four drugs and a zero tolerance approach for five drugs. The factors that were considered when coming to the ultimate decision included analytical, storage, and stability issues; pharmacological properties; established per se levels elsewhere; the inevitable time delay to sample collection; and a lack of an acceptable back extrapolation formula for drugs other than alcohol.
To briefly explain back extrapolation or calculation, this means that for alcohol, the time between sample collection and incident can be accounted for, and a blood alcohol concentration at the time of the incident can be provided. There is no established formula for any other drug to offer a concentration at the time of the incident; therefore, the concentration detected in the sample, generally reflective of the time of sample collection unless the drug breaks down in the test tube, will be the only available information regarding the level.
There was also a request for the DDC to assess drug screening equipment, namely, oral fluid drug-screening devices. These are devices that can be used to indicate drug use. The DDC is currently looking into screeners that detect THC, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Evaluation standards are an ongoing process. Once they are set, the manufacturers will submit the devices for evaluation. The DDC will then review the data, make the final assessment, and provide recommendations for the drug-screening equipment approval list. Services that choose to purchase these devices will then have to train their officers on their use.
I will now define some terms.
“Impairment” is a decreased ability to perform a certain task, a deviation from the norm, so that if you test an individual in a drug-free state and then dose that individual with a particular drug, impairment would be present in the individual when they demonstrated performance decrements in a particular measurement. This can be differentiated from intoxication, which would be the physical signs of drug administration, such as difficulty with balance and walking.
Impairment is described by the faculties affected by the drug. Examples of such are divided attention, vigilance, reaction time, and decision-making. An individual does not need to be experiencing gross motor incoordination to be deemed impaired. Obviously, an individual experiencing those pronounced drug effects is impaired, but an individual can also be impaired without the overt symptomology.
I would like to thank the members of the DDC for their time, the sharing of their knowledge, and their dedication. I would also like to thank the Centre of Forensic Sciences librarians for their ability to jump into action as soon as I needed yet another publication.
Furthermore, I want to thank my colleagues, as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Also, it has been a pleasure to work with the Department of Justice counsel and crown attorneys from across Canada, where I've learned that a roomful of lawyers is just as much fun as a roomful of toxicologists.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Thank you very much to the chair and the committee for inviting us to sit before you today. We're now going to take the focus away from our roads to our waterways.
I'm going to take a few minutes to talk a bit about our organization and who we are, so that you have an understanding. We're a national organization. Directors and members come from coast to coast to coast. We have 20 directors, with me and an executive committee. We're run by volunteers. We have no ongoing paid staff and no ongoing government funding support, and we've been established for over 25 years.
Our mission is to reduce the incidence of deaths that occur as a result of boating activities; to cultivate partnerships with government, water safety organizations, and the boating industry; and to partner to provide significant boating safety outreach to various boating communities across Canada.
As for what we do, we offer safe boating campaigns. We conduct research. We have a number of boating safety resources. We carry out cold-water training. We offer the Canadian safe boating awards to recognize the efforts of others. We conduct an annual symposium. We conduct international and government liaisons with organizations such as the U.S. National Safe Boating Council, which would include the International Lifejacket Wear Principles agreement, and also with the national recreational boating advisory council and the Canadian marine advisory council.
I'd like to say in starting that we support the amendments in Bill . We're in strong support of the amendments in the bill, and we also believe that the bill should reflect the consequences of the operation of all modes of transportation while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
We have a recommended change to the current proposed amendments. In proposed section 320.11 currently, the definition of vessel “includes a hovercraft, but does not include a vessel that is propelled exclusively by means of muscular power” or human power. The Canadian Safe Boating Council's proposed change to the definition of vessel is taken from the Canada Shipping Act, 2001:
vessel means a boat, ship or craft designed, used or capable of being used solely or partly for navigation in, on, through or immediately above water, without regard to method or lack of propulsion, and includes such a vessel that is under construction. It does not include a floating object of a prescribed class.
Really, in simple terms, this is the change we're requesting: the consideration that muscular-powered or human-powered vessels not be excluded under the definition of vessel. In the Canada Shipping Act, just to point this out, some of its objectives are to “protect the health and well-being” of individuals who participate in marine transportation, to “promote safety in marine transportation and recreational boating”, and to “encourage the harmonization of marine practices”.
Here are some statistics from the Canadian Red Cross on recreational and daily living boating immersion deaths by type of craft, by alcohol involvement, for victims of 15 years of age or older in Canada through the 20-year period from 1991 to 2010. The total number of boating deaths is 3,324. The total number of boating deaths with alcohol suspected or involved is 1,066, or 32%. For all powered vessels, it's 611, with alcohol involved or suspected in 18%. For all unpowered vessels—so this would be muscular-powered vessels, human-powered vessels—it's 375, with alcohol involved or suspected in 11%. Then there is the unknown type of vessels at 80, with alcohol involved or suspected in 3%.
According to a 2016 economic impact study by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the NMMA, about 43% of Canadians, or 12.4 million, go boating each year. There are about 8.6 million boats in use in Canada. About 60% of those boats are human-powered vessels, such as canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle-boards, etc.
For our conclusion and our recommendation, we at the CSBC believe that the definition of a vessel in Bill should include all vessels, even those that are exclusively muscle powered, and be consistent with the definition used in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.
We are encouraged by the preamble of Bill , which states that dangerous and impaired driving “are unacceptable at all times and in all circumstances”. As this is intended to modernize the statute to better reflect current impairment issues, societal changes to boating activities should also be considered.
Incidents involving powered vessels often include other vessels and others in boats. In the case of muscle-powered vessels or human-powered vessels, these incidents also involve the lives of others in the boats, the rescuers, and the consequences experienced by family members and the systems that support them. One just has to look at the statistics to see that we have a very high number of incidents involving alcohol in both powered vessels and muscular- or human-powered vessels.
I offer my thanks and will see if Michael has anything to add.
Good morning from Brisbane, Australia. I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you today about Australia's approach to reducing alcohol-related road crashes. I hope this will assist you in your deliberations relating to Bill .
Over the last 30 years, there has been a substantial reduction in alcohol-related road fatalities in Australia, as well as a major shift in community attitudes relating to drink driving. Today I would like to give you a brief overview of the various countermeasures that have contributed to these changes.
To set the scene, this graph shows the long-term trend in the percentage of drivers and motorcycle riders killed in Australia with a blood alcohol concentration of .05 grams per 100 millilitres or more, which is the general alcohol limit across the country. As can be seen, Australia experienced a major decline in alcohol-related fatalities during the 1980s and 1990s, similar to many other motorized countries around the world, including Canada. While the number of fatalities plateaued during the early 2000s, there has been a renewed decline since 2008. This long-term reduction in alcohol-related fatalities is one of the major road safety success stories in Australia, and has involved the introduction of a range of countermeasures.
Moving to the next slide, I would like to summarize the evolution of drink driving countermeasures in Australia. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and I've kept the time frames relatively broad, since the countermeasures were implemented at different times across our states and territories. The foundation for our approach was laid in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when all the states adopted per se drink driving laws. During the 1980s, this approach was strengthened by the lowering of our general alcohol limit from .08 to .05, and by introducing random breath testing, or RBT, and mandatory penalties for drink driving, including licence disqualification for all offenders.
During the 1990s there were further refinements, with the introduction of a zero alcohol limit for learner, provisional, and professional drivers, and ongoing strengthening of penalties. While most states introduced some form of rehabilitation for offenders during the period, it remains voluntary in some states. Since the early 2000s, most of the Australian states have introduced alcohol ignition interlocks and vehicle impoundment for high-range and/or repeat offenders.
To illustrate the impact of these countermeasures, I would like to present a case study from my home state of Queensland. We commenced breath testing in the late 1960s, and moved to a .05 alcohol limit in 1982. However, we delayed introducing random breath testing, despite its widespread adoption in other states, due to the perceived civil liberty concerns on the part of the then Queensland state government. Instead, the government introduced a weaker form of breath testing in 1996, called “reduce impaired driving”, or RID. This program was similar to the sobriety checkpoints currently relied on in many countries. The police could randomly pull over drivers, but could only breath test those they suspected of drinking. Finally, after mounting pressure from road safety advocates and encouraging evaluations from other states, the Queensland government introduced full-blown random breath testing in 1988, which enabled the police to pull over drivers at any time or place and request a breath test. These changes were each supported by the strengthening of penalties and extensive public education.
To illustrate the effects of these initiatives, this graph compares alcohol-related fatalities in the time periods following the introduction of each of the key countermeasures. As can be seen, the introduction of the .05 limit, RID, and random breath testing were all associated with stepwise reductions in the number of alcohol-related driver and rider fatalities, all of which were significant and consistent with other evaluations. The data indicated that the introduction of .05 was associated with a 12% decline in alcohol-related fatalities, while the introduction of random breath testing was associated with a further 18% decline in fatalities over and above what was the case when the sobriety checkpoint program was in place.
The next slide leads me to tell you a little bit more about random breath testing, since it is the primary drink driving law enforcement tool used throughout Australia. As already mentioned, the legislation underpinning random breath testing allows the police to pull over and breath test drivers at any time, irrespective of whether or not they suspect that they've been drinking. The majority of RBT operations across Australia are conducted in a highly visible stationary mode, using either large buses, colloquially known as “booze buses”, or marked police cars. While these operations are designed to catch drink drivers, the key goal is to promote general deterrence through their highly visible nature.
Over the years, RBT has been supported by extensive mass media advertising, and various evaluations have confirmed that it has produced long-term reductions in alcohol-related crashes. Importantly, there is also very strong community support for RBT, with a recent survey showing 98% approval nationally for the countermeasure.
Here are some photos of different types of RBT operations. In the top left, you can see a booze bus parked on the side of the road. Depending on the traffic volumes, the police will either pull over every driver that passes by or randomly select vehicles from the traffic stream to administer a preliminary breath test. This process is relatively quick, with drivers only detained for a minute or two. However, if the driver fails the preliminary breath test, that driver is then required to undertake an evidentiary test in the bus.
On the right and bottom left are examples of car-based RBT operations. In this mode, drivers who fail the preliminary breath test are transported to a police station to undertake the evidentiary breath test.
As already noted, considerable police resources are devoted to RBT, with many states conducting the equivalent of one breath test per licensed driver every year. In a state like Queensland, where we have over three million drivers, that means over three million breath tests are performed each year.
As a result, exposure to RBT has steadily increased over time and now is very high across the country. As shown in this graph, around 80% of drivers surveyed nationally now report having seen RBT in the last six months. More particularly, over one-third of those surveyed report having actually been breath tested in the last six months.
To conclude, over the last 30 years, Australia has experienced a major decline in drink driving fatalities. However, challenges remain. Alcohol remains a significant factor in around 20% of our driver and rider fatalities. Recidivist drink drivers remain a concern, as they are overrepresented in offences and crashes. The uptake of alcohol ignition interlocks and rehabilitation programs remains relatively low in some states.
Lastly, as will be explained further in a later session by another of my Australian colleagues, Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer, all the Australian states and territories have now introduced random roadside drug testing based on the RBT model. This has inevitably created competition for scarce police resources, and it highlights the need to strike a balance between the amount of testing performed to detect alcohol versus other drugs. Given that research continues to show drink driving as being riskier than drug driving alone, it is essential that current breath testing levels are not compromised in order to conduct more roadside drug tests.
At the moment in Australia, there's no push to legalize marijuana. There is beginning to be a push for it to be used for medical purposes. In that respect, the Australian situation is quite different. Indeed, as you may be aware, as early as 2003, the Australian states started introducing random roadside drug testing. We have it for three specified drugs: cannabis, methamphetamine, and MDMA—ecstasy. I know one of my Australian colleagues will be telling you more about that later.
A point I'd like to make about that is that I think there was strong support for that at the time in the community. It was not necessarily controversial partly because at the time the legalization of marijuana wasn't something being considered. The Australian experience is that there's growing concern about the use of cannabis and its effect on driving. That's what underpinned the introduction of random roadside drug testing.
A point, though, that I would like to make is that, as we introduced random roadside drug testing, that meant that police resources were being used for that purpose as well as for testing for alcohol. I think sometimes there's been a tendency to think that we can take resources from drink driving enforcement, in other words from random breath testing, and devote them to random roadside drug testing.
Whilst I am not at all expressing a concern about random drug testing per se, the point I want to make is that, if you go down the track of some form of increased drug testing, it's important that you don't sacrifice breath testing for alcohol as a result of that.
If I look at the literature, from what I've seen, the highest crash risk is still being shown for the use of alcohol. Whilst there's also an increased crash risk for drugs, when it's most pronounced is when it's being used in conjunction with alcohol. From a road safety point of view, I'd be arguing that a very high priority is increasing the amount of breath testing in order to reduce alcohol-related crashes. If you go down the track of introducing some form of drug testing, that shouldn't in any way detract or cause some compromise of the amount of breath testing that is performed.
The Australian experience is that, if you can achieve high levels of random breath testing, it produces results in terms of reducing alcohol-related fatalities.
The random roadside drug testing does take a considerably longer time than the random breath testing. In the case of random breath testing, drivers are really only detained for 30 seconds to a minute, let's say.
In the case of the roadside drug testing, there's an initial saliva test done. I believe that takes about five to 10 minutes. If that's positive, the drivers are then taken to a bus, where they are given a second oral test, which takes about another 15 minutes. The overall process for testing is a longer process.
In addition, the random roadside drug testing is quite a lot more expensive than random breath testing. For example, in the case of breath testing, once you've invested in the preliminary breath-test kit, the ongoing costs are really just the cost of the tube into which the driver blows. In the case of the random roadside drug testing, the saliva tests are more expensive. I believe they're in the order of $30 each. I'd suggest that you ask that question of my colleague from Victoria, who I believe will be talking to you.
The upshot of this is that in Australia nowhere near the number of drug tests are performed at the roadside as compared to breath tests. As a result, there does tend to be more targeting of that activity. It tends to be focused more towards recreational users, and also towards truck drivers, and that is because of their use of methamphetamines for staying awake whilst driving. In other words, the drug testing tends to occur more at particular times, and particularly late at night, in areas where recreational drug users or truck drivers might be.
The overall upshot of this is that in terms of the very strong boots-and-all effect that was obtained for breath testing in Australia, it's been difficult to achieve that for the drug testing. From a resourcing point of view, the police have needed to allocate additional resources to cover the higher costs of the saliva drug tests. This really requires a specific allocation of budgets to the police for them to be able to do additional drug testing, in order to maintain the breath testing at the current levels.
Good evening. I appreciate the opportunity to share some information as you consider Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code.
I'm Tom Marcotte. I'm a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and co-director of the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. I'm an investigator on two current studies examining the impact of cannabis on driving.
Today I'd like to provide some background on the challenges in determining whether an individual's driving has been impaired by cannabis.
In controlled simulator and on-road studies, it's been well established that acute cannabis intoxication results in slowed reaction times, including delays in braking, reduced ability to maintain one's lane position—in other words, swerving—and reducibilities relating to the judgment of speed and distances. The effects of cannabis are amplified by alcohol, although it's not resolved as to whether this is an additive effect or synergistic, in which the two combined are worse than simply adding the effects together. Also, in contrast to alcohol, cannabis users are more likely to judge themselves to be impaired and to adjust behaviour, by driving more cautiously, as one example. However, of course, this is not universal.
Findings from the real world have been mixed. Some studies have found a twofold increase in crash risk when THC is present, while other studies have found no increased risk once adjusting for factors that often travel with cannabis use and risky driving, such as younger age and being male.
Here's one example of the difficulty in interpreting crash results from the states that have legalized cannabis.
In Colorado, it was widely publicized that there was a dramatic 50% increase in the number of fatalities in which marijuana was present following legalization. However, as seen in this next graph, there was only a marginal increase in the total number of crashes in that same period. This mirrored recent data demonstrating that, at a national level, there was also an increase in fatal crashes.
What is clear is that at this same time, the State of Colorado increased the amount of screening they were doing to detect THC. Therefore, it is unclear whether the increased prevalence of fatalities with THC present represents a situation in which increased cannabis use might have led to more fatalities, or whether it is primarily a case that authorities are more frequently looking for the presence of cannabis and finding it.
On the other hand, a recent report has indicated that there has been an increase in insurance collision claims in states where recreational cannabis has been legalized compared with other states. These are the much more common non-fatal crashes. When examining claim rates in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, the authors found a 3% increase in claims relative to states that did not legalize use, with there being some variability between the states.
What might be some of the reasons that we see significant effects during controlled studies but a more modest effect in the real world? There are a number of possibilities, but to name just a few, in part, epidemiologic findings are based upon imperfect data. For example, the fatality reporting system in the United States often has incomplete reporting, and there's typically a significant delay between the time of a crash and the collection of blood. In addition, THC can be detectable in the blood long after the impairing effects have resolved. Thus, the impact of acute intoxication may not be readily apparent in these analyses, since the THC-positive group includes a much larger number of individuals who might have smoked much earlier and were not impaired at the time that the blood was collected.
On the other side, it is also possible that in some of our studies, while we're able to detect acute effects of cannabis on tasks such as swerving, they may not be of significant magnitude to dramatically affect real-world driving. As an example, in a study of low-dose THC for the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis, we found a significant effect on driving two to three hours after dosing. However, the magnitude of that effect was not dissimilar to what other studies have found for individuals in the initial phases of starting antidepressants, or the residual morning-after effects of taking a sleeping medication the night before.
Drug recognition evaluations are the current gold standard for establishing substance-impaired driving. We're currently in the midst of a large study, funded by the State of California, to better characterize the impact of cannabis on driving, and to investigate whether there are additional effective approaches to identifying those individuals who are or are not impaired due to cannabis.
As part of this study we're working with DRE instructors to explore the validity of select components of the DRE evaluation, as well as assaying for the presence of THC, its metabolites, and other cannabinoids to determine whether they might provide reliable information regarding the time since the participant smoked or, ideally, relating to driving impairment.
Another unique aspect of this study is that we are utilizing novel iPad-based assessments to see if such tests might serve as a useful adjunct to the DRE evaluation. Unlike alcohol, where impairment readily presents itself physiologically, such as staggering and difficulty walking, cannabis effects are primarily cognitive and a current DRE evaluation includes only modest assessments of these abilities.
Particularly relevant to Bill , studies to date raise concerns regarding the validity of using THC levels in blood to identify cannabis-impaired drivers. For example, a study by the American Automobile Association examined 602 cases in which DREs have identified drivers as being impaired, with THC being the only substance identified in the blood.
In this graph, the level of THC runs across the x or the horizontal axis and a per cent of drivers with that THC level is represented on the y or the vertical axis. As you can see in these impaired drivers, there was a wide range of THC levels. The median value or number where half the drivers were above and half the drivers were below was around five, indicating that 50% of these impaired drivers had values below the five nanograms per millilitre cut point at the time the blood was drawn. Thus, drivers can be impaired, yet have THC blood levels below a cut point that some governments have chosen as being indicative of driving under the influence.
Conversely, the table on the left shows that individuals who are likely unimpaired can also have detectable THC levels in their blood, even days after smoking. In this case, participants stayed in a hospital for 30 days so they could be monitored for any cannabis use. They then smoked cannabis and blood was subsequently drawn each day. As you can see in this table, some individuals were registering values of two nanograms per millilitre of THC, even though it had been up to a week since they smoked.
Why is it that we can have individuals with low levels of THC who are impaired, as well as individuals with low levels who are not impaired? The graph on the right is from Dr. Marilyn Huestis, a researcher in cannabis pharmacodynamics. Across the bottom we see THC levels and on the side we see, in essence, how high the person is feeling. This figure shows time in a counter-clockwise fashion, so as you see 1.8 minutes is the first and second is 4.5 minutes and so forth. After smoking, THC levels rise very rapidly so they reach a peak in about 10 minutes. At the same time the person is increasingly feeling high, so you see going to the right it's increasing, but it's also going up, so they're feeling higher. At this point, however, THC levels begin dropping to the point where about an hour after smoking they're now down to fairly low levels as you move across to the left in this graph.
The person, though, is still feeling high during this time. A few hours after smoking the highness starts diminishing, so it starts dropping down the vertical, but THC levels are not changing dramatically during this period. As you can see, it's between zero and 10. This tells us that someone can be high with elevated THC levels, someone can be high with modest levels, someone can be high with low levels, and someone can also have low levels and not be high. To further complicate this, Dr. Huestis has demonstrated that these patterns vary, depending upon whether one is a frequent or infrequent smoker.
At least for screening, oral fluid instruments hold some promise, they're easy to administer, relatively non-invasive, and may help identify individuals who recently used cannabis. This approach, however, is also not without complications. This graph shows results from a study of oral fluid THC levels in individuals who smoked a 6.8% THC cigarette. More studies are needed and ours is assessing the issue, but in general it's believed that the most significant impairing effects happen within the first few hours of smoking and then dissipate over the following few hours.
As you can see here in this graph, however, at least in this one study, a proportion of individuals were at or above a five micrograms per litre cut point in oral fluid eight to 10 hours after smoking.
I mentioned earlier that we have a study going on. If the group is interested, during the discussion I'd be happy to provide more details, but for this purpose I'll skip it and just end with a few concluding points.
Per se laws can be very effective, but this is particularly true when there is a robust relationship between fluid levels and actual driving impairment, as there is with alcohol. As can be seen in some of the data presented earlier, I don't think this is yet the case for cannabis. I'm also aware from attending many meetings that prosecutors remain concerned that a cut point designating impairment may lead the public to assume that a driver below that cut point is not impaired or is less impaired. As seen in the DRE data I presented earlier, low levels do not necessarily mean low impairment.
Some individuals have also expressed concern that the DRE evaluations may not be adequately sensitive to the effects of cannabis and that one should use fluid levels to identify impairment. I would argue that it is very important to continue to use behaviour as a key indicator of driving-related impairment given the uncertainty in interpreting fluid levels.
Last, I encourage you to support additional research into identifying new methods that might help law enforcement identify both those who are impaired and those who are not impaired due to cannabis. This includes biological, psychophysical, and behavioural approaches.
As you know, the complexities associated with detecting cannabis-related driving impairment also have increased our awareness regarding the continuing problem of impairment due to prescription medications. Perhaps new approaches to detecting impaired driving would end up being applicable to these drug classes as well.
Thank you, and I'm happy to take any questions.
Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to address the standing committee, and hello from way down at the bottom of Australia.
My name is Doug Fryer. I'm the assistant commissioner of road policing in my state. Just to paint the landscape, Victoria has a population of six million, and we have a driving population of four and a half million people who either ride or drive. My role as the head of practice for road policing is to guard the state around all activities of law enforcement. Our police force is quite large. We have about 19,000 police for our state, and my command of just road policing is about 1,100 highway patrol professionals.
Relevant to your standing committee, I suppose you have activity around both drink and drug driving. To lay the landscape, Victoria, Australia, was the first in the world to bring in randomized drink driving testing in 1976. In 1976 we had about 950 people die on our roads. The population was then three million. Close to 450 of those who died had in excess of .05 in their system for alcohol, and that is our legal limit right across Australia. In contrast 40 years on, last year we had 291 die on our roads, and we had 26 people who had in excess of .05.
In 2007 again Victoria was leading the world in studying randomized drug testing. Unlike, I believe, both the United States and Canada, we practise a general deterrence model in both drink and drug driving. We aim every year to test 4.5 million people for alcohol on the side of the road. We do very general deterrence. We block roads and put everyone through drink driving testing, but our drug testing regime, again, is leading our nation with 100,000 randomized drug tests of drivers or riders every year.
What concerns us, whilst I mentioned that 26 people died in excess of .05 last year, was that we had 57 who died with illicit drugs in their system, and there were a further seven who had both drugs and alcohol.
Relevant to your committee in relation to cannabis, last year we tested 100,000 people. We used a roadside saliva test 100,000 times. That's the style. It takes just a swipe of the tongue, and within six minutes we get a result. Of the 100,000 tests we did, we had 9,200 then move to the evidentiary test, so 9,200 people out of 100,000 tested positive for illicit drugs at a strike rate of one in 11, which really concerns us.
The idea of a general deterrence model with the preliminary oral fluid test is not around impairment. If we see drivers we believe to be impaired by either drugs or alcohol, my members are supposed to do what you would call a roadside sobriety test, and if they fail the sobriety test, we then take blood from them. The method we used for the 100,000 tests is around general deterrence, and it's off the back of our learnings from our drink driving general deterrence.
Of the 9,200 that were positive last year, about 73% were with methamphetamine, and the rest were with cannabis. We have zero tolerance. I know there was discussion around the five-nanogram level. Our threshold is that if we can detect it—and this has been tried and tested in our courts since 2007—then there is impairment. As Dr. Marcotte advised, the level of impairment we see for any detectable level is equivalent to that of about .1 for alcohol and doubles the chance of having a crash. For me, it's about separating the behaviours of using any type of illicit drug and driving. It's not the moral debate of whether they should use it or not. It's around separating the behaviours of getting behind a wheel, and really the human rights of other road users who have a right to be safe from those who may choose to use drugs and then drive.
I was over in Banff only last month at an international road policing conference and I presented on this there. Some of the road policing models in both Canada and America are very different to ours because we have the luxury of a general deterrent model. As I've said, we test 4.5 million people just in Victoria for alcohol, and we have 4.5 million people who are licensed, so we aim for one test per year per driver.
I'm happy to take any questions or I could keep talking, if you like, but perhaps your questions may be more relevant.