British Columbia

B.C. band to drug-test chief, councillors, staff

Fearful of B.C.'s deadly fentanyl epidemic, a northern First Nation asks the chief, councillors and all band staff to pass drug tests.

'Their minds have to be clear ... to make proper decisions for the Nation'

B.C.'s Lake Babine First Nation wants to crack down on drug and alcohol use by asking all band staff and elected councillors to volunteer for drug tests. (CBC)

Fearful of B.C.s deadly fentanyl epidemic and eager for sober guidance, a northern First Nation wants its chief, band councillors and 120 band employees and contractors to pass drug tests. 

"These people are working for the Nation," said Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam in Burns Lake. "Their minds have to be clear to make the proper judgments and decisions."

'Their minds have to be clear'

As chief of the 2,500 member First Nation spread over several communities, Adam said he'll be first in line to get tested.

"This is one way to make sure the drugs and alcohol don't take over the community," said Chief Wilf Adam who volunteered to be first in line for drug and alcohol testing. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

"This is one way of making sure the drugs ... don't take over the community," he said, noting Lake Babine's substance abuse problems are not unique. 

"We keep hearing the word, 'fentanyl.'  It's a big city problem, but it's coming to a rural community like ours," said Adam. 

Adam said the tests will be voluntary, not mandatory, to comply with the law. But he said testing will be ongoing and community members will be watching closely.

Drug tests will be 'voluntary'

"If the members can look at who got tested and who didn't, they can make their own judgment," he said.

Adam says those who test positive will have to go to rehab or lose their jobs. It's the best way, he said, to keep the community safe. 

These people are working for the Nation. Their minds have to be clear to make the proper judgments and decisions- Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam 

Although some have complained the test would violate their rights, Adam said he has the support of band council and his community.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said it's a unique approach but problematic even as a voluntary initiative.

'Highly invasive' 

"I have never heard of any such thing before," said BCCLA policy director Micheal Vonn.

"You are collecting biological and biographical information that is very personal," said Vonn. "It's a highly invasive form of policing a person."

Vonn said it's sensible to want leaders and staff to be clear-headed but "it's quite a leap from that to institute a program of widespread drug ... screening that's a means to achieve integrity."