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Drug Testing in Canadian Politics 

[PoliticsWatch updated 3:00 p.m., August 29, 2007]

Are Hill staffers pre-screened for illicit drugs before being hired? The NDP says it doesn't do it, but the Conservatives and the Liberals won't say what their policy is.  

OTTAWA -- Two of the three major political parties contacted by PoliticsWatch would not comment on whether their staffers are screened or tested for drugs before being hired.     

When asked by PoliticsWatch if PMO and ministerial staffers were asked questions about current or past drug use before being hired, the Prime Minister's Office referred questions to the Privy Council Office.  

Sandra Buckler, director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, did confirm to PoliticsWatch that the Prime Minister's Office supported the position of the Treasury Board not to test or screen federal public servants for illicit drugs. 

The Treasury Board position is based on the Canadian Human Rights Act's position that that alcohol and substance abuse constitutes a disability and thus drug testing would be discriminatory. 

"We respect the laws of the land and the decisions of the tribunals," Buckler said.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion's office declined to comment publicly on whether or not the Opposition Leader's Office screens its employees for illicit drugs. They also would not provide Dion's views on drug testing policies in the workplace.  

The NDP was the only party to outright say it does not screen or test its Hill staffers for drug use. 

"Mandatory drug testing presents serious privacy and human rights concerns to the NDP," Ian Capstick, an NDP spokesperson, told PoliticsWatch. "We recognize the need for drug and alcohol testing in some instances: post-motor vehicle accidents, amateur sport and where the law clearly defines that drug testing is allowable."

In U.S. politics, political staffers who work at the White House are interviewed by the FBI about current or past drug use before they are given permanent passes. 

In addition, federal departments must be in compliance with the Drug-Free Workplace Act which requires federal workers not use illicit drugs on or off the job. 

While they appear not to have drug policies for their own staff, Canadian politicians are more than happy to make laws for the rest of us. 

In 2003, the Liberal government of Paul Martin introduced legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession under 15 grams. The Liberals had originally wanted to make the threshold under 28 grams. Some Liberal MPs and the Tories opposed decriminalization when the bill was introduced. 

The Liberals' legislation was pretty much abandoned and was never pushed through the House of Commons and died on the Order Paper when the Liberals lost power in 2006. 

The Conservatives have never revisited the decriminalization issue and all signs point to a new direction. 
 
In a speech to the Canadian Medical Association in August, Health Minister Tony Clement criticized the mixed messages the youth of Canada have received in recent years about drugs. 

"Canada has not run a serious or significant anti-drug campaign for almost 20 years, and the messages young people have received during the past several years have been confusing and conflicting, to say the least," he said. 

"We are very concerned about the damage and pain that drugs cause families, and we intend to reverse the trend toward vague, ambiguous messaging that has characterized Canadian attitudes in the recent past." 

The government plans to unveil a new anti-drug strategy in the fall that will cost  $64 million. The government's campaign could also include changes to the Criminal Code, as Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said earlier this summer the anti-drug strategy would be "comprehensive." 

Clement's office did not return calls to comment for this story. 

: Related Links

> Are Canadian Politicians and Public Servants on Drugs? 

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