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Drug Testing Won’t Spread in Canada

By Hempology | March 9, 2007

Times Colonist

UVic Researcher Says Most Workplace Use Will Remain In The U.S.

Drug testing in Canadian workplaces will remain prevalent in safety-sensitive sectors such as transportation and manufacturing as well as primary resource industries such as forestry and mining, but will likely never reach the widespread levels in the U.S. labour force, says a University of Victoria researcher.

Scott Macdonald said Canadian laws surrounding privacy and personal freedoms differ from the U.S. and often make cases difficult to win in Canadian courts. Those factors and the costs and logistics associated with testing, as well as the firing and hiring of employees amid a tight job market, could also make the decision to test workers difficult for companies, he added.

Macdonald is an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Victoria and assistant director of research at the UVic-based Centre For Addictions Research. He’s giving a free lecture — Weighing The Scientific Evidence for Drug Testing In The Workplace As A Safety Intervention — next Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., at UVic’s Human and Social Development Building.

A recent study conducted by the Centre For Addictions Research and B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Research Network indicates drug testing in the workplace has increased dramatically in North America over the past 20 years, but chiefly in the United States where 95 per cent of the top Fortune 500 companies have drug testing in place.

In Canada, the study involving businesses with more than 100 employees found only 10.3 per cent of the companies checked had testing.

The topic of Macdonald’s discussion will be whether the tests are justified.

“I’ll be looking at studies that have been done to justify a drug test and whether the findings are reasonable based on the methodology used. It’s a topic that people have strong feelings about. It’s not about supporting drug use. It’s about the science [involved in testing].”

Macdonald will discuss his experience as an expert witness in several court cases where drug testing was contested.

He said workplace drug testing in the U.S. proliferated under an executive order in the 1980s from then-president Ronald Reagan, starting with government agencies and filtering down to corporations, medium-sized businesses and even “mom-and-pop operations.”

But in Canada, a failed case by a Canadian subsidiary of a large U.S. oil corporation 10 years ago “put the lid on rapid expansion to drug testing.” The case clashed with human rights and other privacy issues when the company initiated random testing and also told workers they had to report whether they were receiving any treatment for drugs or alcohol.

Canada has employee-standards legislation outlining “what employers can and cannot do with employees and human rights legislation about how workers can be treated,” added Macdonald, whereas in the U.S. testing “is viewed as OK because drugs are illegal.”

The lecture in Room HSD A270 is open to the public. Video conferencing is available at

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