The federal government has approved a roadside drug tester that its manufacturer warns doesn’t work optimally in cooler temperatures common in many parts of Canada during the winter.
Late last month, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti published an order in the Canada Gazette authorizing police to use the SoToxa oral fluid collection device to help detect drivers who are impaired by drugs that include cannabis. It’s manufactured by Abbott, which was previously known as Alere.
For roadside drug screening equipment that tests if drivers have drugs in their body to be certified, the devices must first be approved by the attorney general, according to the regulatory notice. SoToxa can detect whether someone has consumed cannabis by testing for the presence of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, in someone’s body.
Lametti published a notice in April of his intention to approve SoToxa, kicking off a 30-day consultation period. According to June’s directive, the Department of Justice only received four submissions, all of which detailed questions about the efficacy of the use of the device in detecting THC levels.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said Lametti made the directive based on a recommendation from the Drugs and Driving Committee (DDC) of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.
DDC made the recommendation after testing the screener to determine if it meets its standards, which include being able to operate between 5 and 35 degrees Celsius, the department said.
Ensuring that the drug screener is kept within this temperature range will be addressed through training, similar to the approach taken with roadside alcohol breath testing devices. Some roadside alcohol screening devices also have temperature restrictions, including in cold temperatures, and have been used successfully by police in Canada for more than 40 years, the department said.
A report from Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators examined the results of a roughly four-month pilot project of two roadside drug detectors: one manufactured by Alere and the other by Securetec. For the project, officers from across Canada collected 1,141 oral fluid samples and analyzed them at roadside stops using the two devices.
The report notes that the manufacturer’s “suggested operating” temperatures range from 15 to 25 C for “the Alere cartridges,” and between 5 and 25 C for the Securetec cartridges.
But the report says the “range for the devices” runs from 5 to 40 C for the Securetec devices, but -20 and 45 C for the Alere cartridges.
The Dräger DrugTest 5000, which is another roadside drug tester approved by the federal government, has an operating range between 4 and 40 C.
As part of the pilot project, the report says 731 tests were conducted “outside of the manufacturer’s suggested operating temperatures for cartridges,” and in those instances, the devices were “proportionally” more likely to detect the presence of drugs.
While only 64 per cent of tests in projects were conducted outside of suggested operating temperatures, those tests were responsible for 80 per cent of positive results.