SGI, Sask. police officers remind stoned drivers to stay off the road

Saskatchewan police officers and SGI have teamed up to remind the public about drug recognition evaluators trained to bust impaired drivers.

40 more police officers to undergo drug recognition evaluator training in 2019

There are 74 certified Drug Recognition Evaluators in the province. (David Donnelly/CBC)

​​Driving stoned is illegal, but Saskatchewan police officers and Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) want to make sure the public isn't confused as the legalization of marijuana looms. 

Come Oct. 17, it will still be illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired by cannabis. 

"This isn't new. People aren't just going to start using cannabis and driving. They've been doing it all along," said Cpl. Brian Ferguson, who is the Provincial Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) Training Coordinator.

But he encouraged people to consider their own limits.

There will soon be more police officers specifically trained to recognize someone under the influence of drugs in the province.

Currently, Saskatchewan has 74 police officers certified as DREs. These are officers who evaluate a suspect arrested after failing a standardized roadside sobriety test.

Regina police officer Shannon Gordon and RCMP officer Brian Ferguson are both certified Drug Recognition Evaluators. (CBC)

A police officer who stops a driver and has a "reasonable suspicion" that they are impaired by drugs has two options. They can conduct a Standardized Field Sobriety Test or administer a federally approved saliva test.

This device doesn't measure level of impairment, rather it shows if cocaine, marijuana or methamphetamine are in the suspect's system. Should the suspect fail either option, the police officer can arrest the driver and bring them to the nearest DRE.

The DRE will conduct a 12 step evaluation. The evaluator can proceed with criminal charges if the person fails. Ferguson said he's confident the evidence presented by a DRE will be held up in court.

High 'level of intrusion': lawyer

Saskatoon defence lawyer Ron Piché suggested there might be legal hang-ups. He noted it wouldn't be hard for an officer to declare they had reasonable grounds to suspect someone was impaired by drugs.

He also questioned whether the saliva testing devices would detect the active ingredient of the drug that causes impairment.

"Once the drug is detected then it's a long, long arduous process for the suspect who might not even be impaired." A DRE officer could be located as far as 60 kilometres away and the examination could take around 45 minutes depending on level of the person's behaviour.

"If all of that comes together then there can be a request for a urine or blood sample, so the level of intrusion is much higher than it was in the old days," he said.

DRE programs have been in Canada since the 1990s, but the role was formally added to the Criminal Code in 2008.

SGI has provided about $500,000 for DRE training during the last three years.

There are 40 police officers set to complete DRE training in 2019. A spokesperson for the Crown said it will stop funding training once the federal government steps in. 

The government previously announced it would pay to train 750 more DREs over the next five years