Court issues injunction against random drug tests for Suncor employees

An Edmonton judge has ordered oilsands giant Suncor not to proceed with plans to start random drug tests of its employees.

Judge says random testing would cause 'irreparable harm' to employees. Suncor says it will appeal the decision

Suncor has been ordered not to start random drug and alcohol testing of its employees. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

An Edmonton judge has ordered oilsands giant Suncor not to proceed with plans to start random drug tests of its employees.

The union representing 3,000 of the company's workers, Unifor 707A, applied on Nov. 30 for an injunction to halt the testing.

Unifor's lawyer, John Carpenter, argued that random drug and alcohol tests violate privacy, dignity and bodily integrity.

In his ruling Thursday, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Paul Belzil agreed.

Belzil issued an interim injunction to prevent random drug and alcohol tests until an appeal stemming from an arbitration between the union and Suncor can be decided.

Ken Smith, president of Unifor 707 A, said he's pleased with Thursday's decision.

"We really do believe ... it was an infringement on workers' rights," he said.

Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said the company is unhappy with the ruling and will file an immediate appeal against it.

"We're surprised and disappointed by this decision, especially in light of the evidence we put forward regarding pressing safety concerns associated with ongoing alcohol and drug problems in our workplace," Seetal told CBC News.

"It's our perspective that one fatality, one incident, is one too many, and that's why we will file an immediate and expedited appeal."

Years of court battles

The battle over random tests between started in 2012, when Unifor filed a grievance with a labour arbitration panel.

The three-member panel allowed the grievance in a 2014 decision.

Suncor successfully appealed that decision and a new arbitration was ordered.

The union lost its appeal of that decision before the Alberta Court of Appeal on Sept. 28, 2017.

Unifor is now seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In Thursday's decision, Belzil said the parties agree the Suncor site is dangerous but "agree on virtually nothing else."

He said he was presented with conflicting evidence on whether random tests make a workplace safer.

He also said there was substantial disagreement between the parties on whether drug use at the work site is increasing.

Privacy as important as safety

Belzil wrote that the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that privacy rights of workers are as important as safety concerns.

Employees who have no drug or alcohol problems and who have not been involved in workplace incidents would be impacted by random tests, he wrote.

Belzil found that employees would suffer irreparable harm if random drug and alcohol tests are allowed to happen before a final decision is reached on the arbitration ruling.

With files from Stephanie Rousseau