Saskatchewan

Former trustee asks why Sask. school board restricted him from taking cannabis medication

A former trustee who took cannabis oil pills and opioids during school board meetings says he wasn’t expecting intrusive questions or to have his privacy violated over his medication.

Garth Hetterly says he resigned due to restrictions put in place

Garth Hetterly (back row, second from right) resigned as trustee for the Prairie Spirit School Division after issues arose when he disclosed use of cannabis and opioid medications. The school division is based in Warman, and represents schools in areas surrounding Saskatoon. (Prairie Spirit School Division/Board Highlights)

A former trustee who took cannabis oil pills and opioids during school board meetings says he wasn't expecting intrusive questions or to have his privacy violated over his medication.  

"I don't know why they would restrict a person with a disability to take medicine on premises. I think that a human right's code issue," Garth Hetterly said of Prairie Spirit School Division's actions after he disclosed his medication use.

Hetterly lodged a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner about the way his case was handled. The commissioner's report on the case was filed this month.

Hetterly said he had been prescribed cannabidiol pills and opioids to deal with chronic pain in his neck caused by a bone spur.

"I'd be surprised if people said that they didn't know I was in pain a lot of times," he said, explaining he would have to get up and stretch during board meetings to get rid of the pain, as well as take his medications.

The division, which has its main office based in Warman, Sask., put a medical marijuana policy into effect last November for its employees. After that, Hetterly decided he should disclose his medication use to the board.

Prairie Spirit School Division oversees 47 schools in communities surrounding Saskatoon. (Google Earth)

Following that, he was asked not to attend the school board sites with medical marijuana and not attend board meetings or deal with school division matters while impaired. He was asked to have his doctor fill out a medical questionnaire, so the school board could treat it as an accommodation issue.

He was asked when he'd last visited a doctor, if he'd been referred to a specialist and whether he was taking medication that had to be taken during a board meeting, among other questions.

"We normally take an Advil or a Tylenol and we don't take it at a prescribed time. We take it as needed. And every one of my pain medicines are as needed," he said, adding at no time has he ever gotten high from his medication.

He said he asked for an explanation on why the school board wanted the personal information, but never got an answer.
Hetterly launched a complaint to the privacy commissioner. The commissioner said he would begin an investigation that could take four to six months.

So when they said you cannot attend any of those sites, well, I'm really not being a very good trustee — and that concerns me because I took the job on to be a good trustee.- Garth Hetterly, former Prairie Spirit School Division trustee

Hetterly said he was concerned about that time frame, as he was restricted in attending any Prairie Spirit sites. He felt this would limit him from interacting with parents, teachers and administrators.

"So when they said you cannot attend any of those sites, well, I'm really not being a very good trustee — and that concerns me because I took the job on to be a good trustee," he said.

Hetterly decided he had to resign, and the medical questionnaire was never filled out. As a result, the privacy commissioner decided no privacy breach had occurred.

The commissioner recommended, however, that the school division consider reviewing and clarifying its medical cannabis policies. He also suggested that the division could have simply verified if Hetterly was registered with the ministry, rather than asking for his medical information.

Prairie Spirit School Division said in a statement it had "cooperated fully" with the review.

"We have received and reviewed the report and will address the recommendations."

Hetterly says he had no intent to pursue the matter further, but is speaking out on behalf of other cannabis patients.

"My only regret is that the chairman and the vice chair simply didn't [say] 'Let's go for coffee and talk about this,'" he said. "That's my only regret in this whole matter, and we could've dealt with this very quickly."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.