An official with the Canadian Human Rights Commission says a Manitoba First Nation could be vulnerable to complaints over its policy of asking political candidates to submit to drug testing.

The Fisher River Cree Nation, 175 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has asked all candidates in its upcoming election to submit hair samples for drug testing.

The results of the testing have been posted on the band's website and sent by mail to every home on the reserve in advance of the Aug. 16 election.

Two of the four candidates for chief tested negative, according to the website; the other two are marked as "not tested." Of the 12 council candidates, nine are reported as testing negative, while three were not tested.

Sherri Helgason, who heads the commission's national aboriginal program, said mandatory drug testing has generally been seen by the commission as discriminatory.

Even though the tests in Fisher River Cree Nation are voluntary, they could also be considered discriminatory, Helgason said, adding that no complaints had been filed over the situation.

"I can't speculate on this particular complaint, but in general I do have a concern that the [First] Nation is opening itself to complaints," said Helgason, who heads the commission's national aboriginal program.

It could be difficult to lay a complaint in the situation. The Canadian Human Rights Commissionis statutorily barred from dealing with complaints relating to the Indian Act. On Parliament Hill, a Tory bill thatproposes to remove the Indian Act exemption has sparked heated debate at the Common aboriginal affairs committee.

Ifa complaint were able to move forward in the case, Helgason said, the band could argue that it has good reason for the tests.

"It could be things like the necessity of positive role models in that particular position. It could be the safety, sensitivity of a particular position. It could be other things," she said.

David Crate, who is running for re-election as chief (and listed on the website as testing negative), said it is important to protect the community from illegal drug use.

"I can understand the issue of privacy and individual rights, but we're looking at the collective in the community," he said.

Some of the candidates who were not tested said they can't afford the $160 expense.

The band already requires drug testing for its employees. Council candidate Waldie Murdock, who is listed as "not tested" on the website, said he already gave hair samples for a random drug test less than two months ago.

"I'm going to stand with my test at the care home. I'm negative there, so that's good enough for me," he said.

"I'm getting bald in the back of the head, guys," he said. "Sorry."

Corrections

  • The Canadian Human Rights Commission is statutorily barred from dealing with complaints relating to the Indian Act.
    Jul 30, 2007 8:35 AM CT