Drug Testing in the Military
[PoliticsWatch updated 3:00 p.m., August 29, 2007]
|Canadian troops headed to Afghanistan have
been the subject of pre-mission drug testing since 2006.
OTTAWA -- The Canadian Armed Forces has far
less tolerance for drug use when compared to federal government
Despite having a drug policy in place, there still have been well publicized problems with
Canadian military personnel using drugs.
This summer, the trial of a Canadian sailor for cocaine use heard
shocking testimony that a third of the the 31-member crew of the HMCS Saskatoon based at
CFB Esquimalt used cocaine regularly.
Two other crew members on the ship, which is armed with a 40 mm rapid-firing cannon and two .50 calibre machine
guns, had previously pleaded guilty to drug trafficking.
Despite the HMCS Saskatoon incident, the military has been cracking
down on drug use, primarily for those going to
The past two rotations of Canadian troops to depart for Afghanistan
have under gone drug testing. This came after General Rick
Hillier, chief of defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces,
declared all military positions in Afghanistan "safety
"There are positions within the Canadian Forces that are called safety sensitive, which means the people in those positions need to be alert, need to have some
judgement," Lt. Commander Pierre Babinsky, spokesperson for Canadian Forces
Legal Services, told PoliticsWatch.
"Everyone going to Afghanistan is subject to this testing."
The first round of testing attracted national media attention after
a newspaper reported that 18 per cent of troops at CFB Gagetown
failed their drug test. The military denied that preliminary
Lt. Commander Babinsky told PoliticsWatch that the actual number of
drug test failures was much lower than originally reported in the
media. Of the 2,300 soldiers tested for the February 2007
Afghanistan rotation 93 were removed based either on a positive test
for illicit drugs or for admitting using drugs.
For the latest rotation, which comes primarily from CFB Valcartier,
2,100 troops were tested and 65 were removed from the rotation -- about 3.8 per cent.
However, safety sensitive missions like Afghanistan are rare
occasions where military personnel are tested for drugs. Despite
having access to sophisticated weapons and often working with
complex equipment drug tests are the exception, not the norm in the
The military does have the Canadian Forces Drug Control Program
which provides it with wide ranging abilities to test personnel.
Created in 1992, this program prohibits personnel from using drugs in order to maintain discipline
and it outlines the various forms of testing the military can
Under this policy, the chief of defence staff has the authority to
conduct a random form of drug testing known as "blind
testing," in which a unit can be tested anonymously to gather a
baseline of drug use and determine whether there is a problem.
The military also has the power to conduct "deterrent
testing" of personnel, which is a random form of drug testing
that can be initiated by a commanding officer.
However, this stringent form of testing is virtually never
"We do not do deterrent testing at this time," explained
Lt. Commander Babinsky. "It's within our policy to do so. However, we will not do it just because we can."
The military also has the power to conduct "testing for
cause," which is when a commanding officer has reasonable
grounds to believe that illicit drug use is occurring.
Unlike the federal government, the Canadian Forces screen their
prospective employees for illicit drugs before hiring them.
Potential recruits are asked about current or past drug use as part of
their military career counsellor interview.
"One of the things we do is we ask about past drug use,"
Captain Holly Brown, public affairs officer for Canadian Forces Recruiting Group,
told PoliticsWatch in an interview.
"What happens if they admit to having used in the past will depend on a couple of things. It will depend on what type of drug is used, the frequency of the use and the time lapse since the last use."
This means that a history of past drug use may not necessarily
disqualify recruits from service in the Canadian Armed Forces.
"It's case by case because everyone has their own story, everyone's situation is
unique," Capt. Brown added. "A decision will be made whether or not to continue or discontinue the application at that time."
The military is reluctant to reveal publicly just how much past drug
use would disqualify a recruit from serving in the military,
concerned that it may give some potential recruits an unfair
advantage in pre-screening interviews.
Last year, the Canadian Forces took in 12,000 new personnel from a
pool of 35,000 applicants. The military was unable to provide
PoliticsWatch a figure on how many recruits were rejected after the
interview phase because of drug use.
© PoliticsWatch® 2007. All rights reserved. Republication
or redistribution of PoliticsWatch content, including by framing,
copying, linking or similar means, is expressly prohibited without
the prior written consent of Public Interests Research and Communications
Inc. (PIRCINC). PoliticsWatch is registered trademark of PIRCINC.