With the impending legalization of cannabis this October, Canada’s police services will be “further challenged” to ensure the safety of all Canadians – particularly when it comes to road safety – according to the director if the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police (CACP), Mario Harel.
And while the the number of trained officers will “continue to increase,” the CACP still remains at a distance from its goal of 2,000 specially-trained drug-recognition experts (DRE)’s by the time legalization takes effect this October.
However, the CACP said this doesn’t mean there’s shortage in overall police resources.
“I believe it is important to clarify that Drug Recognition Experts are not the front-line officers trained to conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) to spot drug-impaired drivers on the road,” said CACP spokesperson Natalie Wright. “DREs are further specialized to test drivers once they’ve already been stopped for a drug-impaired driving offence.”
Wright told Daily Hive that curently, there are over 13,000 trained SFST officers across Canada (April 2018) along with 825 certified DREs.
“Canadian police services are working diligently to increase the number of trained officers while ensuring that there is a strategic deployment of trained police officers across each jurisdiction,” she explained.
The increased training comes as the 825 trained officers currently falls short of a goal that was set in 2009 by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which determined Canada would need an estimated 2,000 Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to implement modifications to the Criminal Code regarding drug-impaired driving.
However, “the CACP wishes to assure all Canadians that failure to reach the estimated target of 2,000 DREs in Canada does not prevent the police from being able to detect and deal with drug-impaired drivers today and once cannabis is legalized on October 17,” said Wright.
“The number of trained DREs in Canada is rising and will continually improve with time as we continue to build capacity.”
According to Harel, drug screening devices will also assist with roadside testing.
For now, “we await approval by the federal government as to which units will meet technical specifications and will be approved by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada,” he said. “Until this process has been completed, police services are unable to make purchases and train officers in their use.”
That being said, Harel assured that “regardless of the status of drug screening devices,” their absence does not prevent us from being able to detect and deal with drug-impaired drivers.”
CAPC, he added is “very confident in our present processes knowing that they will continually improve with time as we build capacity.”
It is expected that there will be over 7,000 new SFST trained officers across Canada in the next three years.
The RCMP and provincial partners have a goal of training a minimum of 500 DRE-certified police officers over the next five years.
The training process
Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) is coordinated by individual police forces and provinces/territories. The training packages are standardized through the IACP and are made available to all Canadian police through the RCMP.
The RCMP also oversees the administration and certification for the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program in Canada in accordance with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) standards, which are outlined in the Criminal Code regulations.
DRE training consists of two parts: 10 days of classroom instruction, followed by three to five days of practical certification.
During a DRE practical field certification, DRE candidates must conduct 12 evaluations and observe impairment on at least three of seven drug categories* (confirmed by a toxicology/urine analysis) within a four-day period.
These requirements are set out by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
“There are limited number of courses offered and a limited number of participants who can take part in the program,” said Wright. “While police training programs have been ramping up, only so much could be achieved between the introduction of the legislation and its enactment on October 17.”
In the meantime, Harel has a simple but strong message for Canadians who might get behind the wheel while impaired.
“We must all remember and continuously drive home the message that alcohol and/or drugs and driving don’t mix, period.”