Saskatoon

Lawyer says high profile Saskatoon driving fatality will test cannabis impairment laws

How police decide whether a driver is impaired by cannabis will be tested in a high-profile case in Saskatoon.

Baeleigh Maurice killed in September, driver now facing cannabis impairment charge

Community members rallied after the death of Baeleigh Maurice calling for police to lay charges. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Cannabis driving impairment laws will be tested in a high-profile Saskatoon case.

A 28-year-old woman is charged with "impaired operation while exceeding the prescribed blood-drug concentration of THC causing death" after nine-year-old Baeleigh Maurice was killed crossing 33rd Street W in September 2021.

The woman will make her first court appearance in April.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018. Since then the laws around assessing and enforcing cannabis impairment have evolved, veteran Saskatoon defence lawyer Ron Piche says

Piche said it's not as straightforward as with liquor.

There is a body of data that police can draw on when a person is suspected of alcohol impairment — blood alcohol levels and how they relate to impairment — and machines available to most police that are capable of giving precise readings in the field.

Not so with cannabis.

Piche said assessing cannabis impairment is a three-step process. The first two steps are relatively subjective, when compared with alcohol impairment.

Ron Piche says cannabis impairment laws are evolving. (CBC)

In the case of liquor, an officer can do a roadside sobriety test on a driver suspected of impairment. Should the driver fail, then they can be taken to the station for further testing and investigation.

"There's supposed to be an approved screening device that tests for drugs but, in the many files we've had, we've yet to see one of those used," he said.

Piche said an officer who suspects a driver is impaired by cannabis can bring that person to the station. That's when step two kicks in, and the suspect is quizzed by a trained drug recognition expert.

"They're looking at everything from visual examinations of injection sites to the muscle tone," he said.

"At the end of that process, if the officer concludes that indeed a demand should be made for urine or blood, then off we go and we have that process completed. Then a toxicologist analyzes the blood or the urine."

Kelsie Fraser with the Saskatoon PoliceService said in an email that this is what happened in this case.

"Toxicology results determined the level. This was what we had been waiting on for some time," she wrote.

Piche said the reality is that there are simply more subjective steps in the cannabis impairment process.

"When you're dealing with so many different steps in the process, in such a subjective analysis by the officer and the drug recognition expert as the investigation continues, there's not going to be an easy case for it, for the Crown," he said.

"There's just too many different ways to look at something."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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