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Are Canadian politicians and bureaucrats on drugs? 

[PoliticsWatch updated 4:00 p.m. October 2, 2007]

Canada has the highest marijuana consumption rate in the developed world and does not screen or test its public servants or political staffers for past or current drug abuse.    

OTTAWA -- While most people were on vacation over the summer, a British Columbia courtroom heard a stunning revelation about how prevalent drug use can be in Canada.   

A crew member of the HMCS Saskatoon  based at CFB Esquimalt testified in court that one-third of the 31-member ship crew were regular cocaine users. 

The fact that nearly one-third of a military unit would be frequent users of a hard drug such as cocaine should be  shocking to the average Canadian. 

However, the issue runs much deeper than just one ship.  

According to a recent media report, Canadian Forces bases in Canada are seeing dramatic increases this year in the number of troops referred for drug addiction treatment. Over the last two years, 2,500 Canadian soldiers have been treated for addictions. The increased number of cases has placed a strain on some bases' ability to offer treatment and counselling.  

On the whole, Canadians are gaining a reputation for tolerating illicit drug use. 

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for example, released a study this summer that found Canada had the highest percentage of regular marijuana users in the developed world. 

According to the survey, 16.8 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 used marijuana in 2004. In fact, Canada's usage is higher than Jamaica, where 10.7 per cent of the population used marijuana.    

However, there could be a change in direction coming soon from Ottawa. 

Health Minister Tony Clement said in late September the federal government planned to launch a $64 million anti-drug strategy before Parliament reconvenes in mid-October. The objective is to end conflicting messages Canadian youth received over recent years about drugs. 

"We intend to reverse the trend toward vague, ambiguous messaging that has characterized Canadian attitudes in the recent past," Clement said. 

Under the previous Liberal government, legislation to decriminalize possession of marijuana under 15 grams was introduced. The tabling of the bill received headlines around the world, but it was eventually abandoned by former prime minister Paul Martin.  

With Canada's drug culture at a crossroads, PoliticsWatch conducted an investigation of how serious the Government of Canada takes drugs when it comes to its own employees. This PoliticsWatch feature looks at drug policy in the military, public service, ministerial and Hill staffers and the U.S. government. 

What we found was that with the exception of the military, there are no drug policies for those who work in government.  

This is in direct contrast to the U.S. where drug testing and drug screening of federal employees was mandated by an executive order from former president Ronald Reagan in 1986. 

However, things haven't always worked smoothly, particularly in political offices, when it comes to keeping a drug-free workplace in the U.S. federal government. In the mid-1990s, Secret Service agents told a congressional committee that 21 political staffers in Bill Clinton's White House had to be tested for drugs to maintain their security clearance. 

The landscape is different in Canada where Canadian public servants do not have any drug screening or testing policy to worry about. The Canadian Human Rights Act views people with drug or alcohol problems as being disabled. Testing them would be considered discriminatory. 

Although the government plans to release an anti-drug strategy for Canadians soon, the Prime Minister's Office and the federal public service supports the view that drug problems are a disability.

Canadian politicians create more drug policies for citizens, yet they have no drug policies in place for themselves or for bureaucrats. 


Click on the stories below to get more details on drug testing in politics.

> Drug Testing in the Canadian Military

Soldiers headed to Afghanistan are now tested for illicit drugs, but drug testing is the exception and not the rule in Canada's military. 

 



> Drug Testing in U.S. Government and Politics

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan mandated a drug-free federal workplace, but his successors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all brought their own drug issues to the White House.  


> Drug Testing in the Government of Canada

The federal government does not test or ask questions of drug users it employs or hires because they are classified as disabled under the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

 

 

 



> Drug Testing in Canadian Politics 

Are ministerial and Hill staffers pre-screened for drug use before they are hired? The Conservatives and the Liberals won't say.   

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