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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 departments.  

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 Afghanistan.  

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 sensitive."

"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 figure.  

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 Canadian Forces. 

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 undertake. 

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 used. 

"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. 

: Related Links

Are Canadian politicians and public servants on drugs?  
(August 29, 2007)

In this PoliticsWatch special report we examine drug testing policies for Canada's military, bureaucrats and political staffers. Just how little scrutiny there is may surprise you.  


> Canadian Forces Drug Control Policy

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