Toronto police to test roadside drug-screening devices in new pilot project

Toronto police say they plan on Monday to begin testing two types of roadside screening devices that are designed to detect the recent presence of certain drugs in motorists.

No charges will be laid and drivers, passengers will have to volunteer anonymously

An Ontario Provincial Police officer demonstrates the use of a roadside drug-screening device. The Toronto Police, along with the OPP, are taking part in a pilot project testing two such devices. (Ontario Provincial Police)

Toronto police say they plan today to begin testing two types of roadside screening devices that are designed to detect the recent presence of certain drugs in motorists.

The testing is part of a pilot project on drug impaired driving that runs until the spring of 2017 and it will test how well officers are able to use the devices on drivers under different weather conditions. The project involves testing saliva.

No charges will be laid in the project, even if drivers and passengers test positive for drugs, Toronto police said on Monday.

Const. Clint Stibbe, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, said if drivers show signs of impairment, they will not be asked to take the test. Instead, they will be arrested if the impairment is by alcohol. He said officers have to make an assessment before administering a test to determine impairment. 

"The goal of this project is to see how well these devices work and if they can put into service by the Toronto Police Service as part of the drug screening protocols that may come into place once marijuana is legalized," he said.

"Anybody who takes part in this particular test, it is no risk to the driver."

Stibbe said officers will likely administer several tests of the devices during the pilot project.

He said if the test is administered, there will be no personal data collected, and the devices will test for a number of drugs.

Devices not yet approved for use 

Police said the Criminal Code would have to change before the devices could result in arrests.

"Before the Toronto Police Service can begin using the devices in actual enforcement situations, there would need to be legislative changes to allow roadside drug screening to become part of the drug-impaired-driving regime," police said in the news release.

"None of these devices has been approved for use in the field to aid in the formation of grounds to lay any type of charges. Further, none of these devices has been validated as police equipment." 

Drivers and passengers will have to volunteer to take part in the project, but to do so, they will have to show no signs of impairment. All volunteers will provide samples of saliva anonymously.

The devices selected for use in this project are the Alere DDS 2 and the Securetec DrugWipe 5S.

Devices can detect presence of pot, coke, meth

Prior testing of the devices has shown that they can detect the recent presence of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and opioids.

Police said the project will document the experience of officers participating in the project and help to develop procedures and practices on the use of what are called oral fluid screening devices in Canada.

Any samples gathered during the project will not be used as evidence to prosecute anyone for either a criminal or administrative offence, police said.

Police will provide information forms to each participant in the project for each swab obtained and the forms will be identified by a number that cannot be linked back to any personal information.

Toronto police's traffic services officers will test the devices, police said.

OPP, RCMP also taking part in project

Six police forces in all are taking part in the project. The others include police in Vancouver, Halifax, and Gatineau, Que., the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP detachments in North Battleford, Sask., and Yellowknife.

Michel Picard, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the purpose of the project is to document the best practices and procedures in the use of the devices and the experience of officers using them on drivers.

"The intent is really to evaluate the performance of the device in the field," Picard said.

"We do need efficient devices to work with to make sure we can apply the proper measure of control in cases where we can effectively establish that there is intoxication that leads to drug impaired driving."

These devices do not measure a driver's level of impairment. They only detect the recent presence of a drug.

Before police forces can begin using devices in actual enforcement situations, there would need to be legislative changes to allow for roadside drug-screening.

"It will be an additional tool that will be very useful to increase the safety of drivers and the general public."

With files from CBC Toronto`s Philip Lee-Shanok