The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were expecting to see their national forensic labs flooded with requests for blood tests after Canada’s new impaired driving law came into effect, but they’ve seen just a small number so far.
The force’s National Forensic Laboratory Services operation receives bodily fluid samples, including blood and urine, that require forensic toxicology analysis to hold up in court.
The Liberals’ new impaired driving legislation introduced three new drug-related offences for drivers who have consumed drugs within two hours of driving. All of them require a positive test from a suspect before a Crown attorney can secure a conviction.
Police can demand a blood sample if they have reasonable grounds to believe a person has been driving high. ‘Reasonable grounds’ can include a positive result from a controversial saliva-testing device.
According to numbers provided to CBC, the RCMP expected to see about 800 blood sample requests during the 2018/2019 fiscal year, which covered the first few months since the law came into place in June.
As of the end of February, they’ve received just 80 requests.
The RCMP said that’s because police forces across the country are still figuring out how to actually collect blood samples.
“Police officers’ ability to draw blood depends on the jurisdiction,” said Sgt. Marie Damian in an email to CBC news. “Provinces and territories across the country are at different stages of developing regimes to facilitate blood draws.”
Police are ‘squeezed’
The national lab service receives forensics requests from every jurisdiction but Ontario and Quebec.
Each jurisdiction has the ability to identify who will be designated to draw blood for these tests, but the provinces and territories are at different stages of that process, said Natalie Wright, a spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
“At this time, our committee does not have information related to the status of these discussions across the country,” she said.
Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, said the delays in getting Bill C-46 off the ground — and the fact that there’s only one salvia testing instrument approved for use by police — have police services moving “at a snail’s pace.”
“It’s just they got really squeezed … we didn’t expect the slowness of that whole process,” he said.
“Police don’t have all the technology they were supposed to get … In fairness to projections and everything, nobody expected any of this. We all expected it to move faster.”
A spokesperson for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair, the government’s lead on impaired driving, said the government is still working with police services across the country to make sure they have the the training and tools they need.
“While we are pleased to hear that there has not been a noticeable increase in impaired driving since cannabis was legalized, too many Canadians continue to operate a motor vehicle after consuming it, putting lives at risk,” said Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux.
“Provinces and territories have access to up to $81 million for new law enforcement training, and to build capacity to enforce new and stronger laws related to drug-impaired driving. Public Safety Canada worked with all jurisdictions to identify law enforcement capacity and to inform how federal funding would be distributed.”
Access, culture could also be to blame
Kyla Lee, founder of the Canadian Impaired Driving Lawyers Association, said officers also could be steering away from blood collection and relying on urine samples.
“Although the Criminal Code now gives the police the power to take blood directly, as opposed to taking somebody to the hospital, no police, at least in British Columbia, have been trained to do that and are doing it,” she said.
“It’s a shame, really, as blood is a better tell for what is in your system and can show the particular concentration, whereas urine is more of a dumping ground for anything and everything.”
Lee said other factors, such as the delay in the legalization of cannabis edibles and the lack of brick-and-mortar marijuana stores in some provinces, could also explain the low number of forensic requests.
The RCMP based its estimates, in part, on the experience in the United Kingdom. That country saw a twelve-fold increase in bodily fluid samples submitted for toxicological analysis after increasing the number of police officers trained to recognize the signs of drug impairment.
Lee said that estimate did not take cultural differences into consideration.
“We had all of this openness around the fact that people were using it and so there wasn’t a huge increase in the numbers of cannabis users after legalization,” she said.
“If you were walking down the street smoking a joint, nobody would ever do anything about it. You might get it taken away if you encountered a police officer in a particularly bad mood, but usually they just kind of let you carry on, as it were.”
Both the RCMP and Murie said they expect the requests for blood tests to grow in number.
“It’s slow off the mark but I think you’ll see these numbers greatly increasing, especially if we’re having this conversation a year from now,” said Murie.
This story originally appeared on CBC