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Police expecting the unexpected as the legalization date for recreational cannabis looms closer

'We don’t have a crystal ball on what some of the new challenges will be presented as a result of it.' North Bay Police Chief Shawn Devine.

With the legalization of recreational cannabis looming just a week away, North Bay’s Police Chief doesn’t believe any police service is 100 per cent prepared because of the unknowns.

“We don’t have a crystal ball on what some of the new challenges will be presented as a result of it,” said Chief Shawn Devine.

“We, as organizations across the province, are still looking for direction. But I don’t know whether that direction is going to be as straightforward as we want it to be. I think it’s going to be a test situation in which the government will provide some legislation and individual organizations are going to have to make their own decisions.”

Deputy Police Chief Scott Tod says like other police services, North Bay has done a lot of prep work, but agrees with Devine that no police service would say they are “absolutely ready” for the October 17 date.

“The legislation provincially seems to have changed a couple of times over the last two or three weeks. We’re keeping a close watch on that. Minister Fedeli’s office has provided information to us in a previous briefing, so I think overall we’ve done a very good job at getting prepared. But are we ready to fully switch on the 17th ? I don’t think any other police service is more advanced then we are at this time.”

Both the Chief and Deputy Chief note that there has been a lot of conversation surrounding Drager drug screening equipment intended for roadside drug testing.

”We haven’t purchased the new Drager piece of equipment yet, we are waiting. Other larger services have done significant studies on it to prove its effectiveness and value for our police,” said Tod.

‘As for equipment, I’d be very reluctant to say that there’s going to be any quick solution to a machine that somebody can blow into or take a saliva test that’s going to give you an accurate amount of what the content of cannabis is in the body,” said Devine.

Officer training is on-going. As of last month, 50 officers have been trained for drug recognition in some form.

”We have done a lot of field sobriety testing with our members to give them some skills and some abilities to test for impairment, alcohol or other drugs. We’ve also sent two officers away on the drug recognition expert course. It’s held at the Ontario Police College and the second part of it is completed in Florida,” said Tod.

“It is an expensive undertaking for this service. Hopefully next year we’ll have another two to four members attend that. Eventually, we’d like everyone on patrol to have the field sobriety testing.”

“It is still illegal to drive a motor vehicle when you’re impaired and that means by any kind of drug, whether it be medication, or legal drugs or alcohol. And there are consequences related to that,” said the Chief.

“People also have to recognize is that impaired driving can also be shown by the way that you’re driving. So if somebody is swerving, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to prove that somebody has a certain level or amount of cannabis in them, but if we can show, and it can be proven in court, that you have been using cannabis and it has affected your driving, then you can be found guilty of a driving offence under the criminal code.”

The new legislation could take up extra court time for officers.

“We are the police, we are not the legislative body. When things go to court, people have the right in Canada to challenge things. With any new legislation there’s going to be work that is involved because there isn’t a whole history of common law that is able to speak to it, so it’s going to be very new and there will be challenges out there and yeah, there probably will be court time that’s involved in it.”

Devine says the service will continue to move forward with the new legislation. He attended the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police meeting in August in Halifax and shared what the service needs to do, with board members.

The Chief is currently reviewing a document which outlines what other police services are doing within their own organizations, which he expects will open up further dialogue.