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Corporate heavyweights win interveners status in Alta. workplace drug testing case

By Hempology | May 28, 2007

Friday, May 25, 2007

John Cotter,
Canadian Press

EDMONTON (CP) – More industry heavyweights will be heard in the challenge of a court ruling on pre-employment drug testing involving Alberta’s human rights commission and a large U.S.-based construction firm.

An Alberta justice ruled last June that Kellogg Brown & Root Company (KBR) discriminated against a man when it fired him from an oil sands project near Fort McMurray after his drug test was positive for marijuana.

KBR’s appeal of that ruling is to be heard on Oct. 11. 

The Alberta Court of Appeal has now granted intervener status in the case to Syncrude Canada Ltd., the Mining Association of British Columbia and the Coal Association of Canada.

Michael McPhie, president of the mining association, said pre-employment drug and alcohol testing helps make dangerous work sites safer and is a policy used by many of the group’s 60 member companies.

The Alberta case could have national repercussions if it stands, he said Friday.

“This isn’t a question of human rights. This is a question of companies being responsible to both the worker who is being tested as well his colleagues,” McPhie said from Vancouver.

“We cannot in good conscience allow people that may be under the influence of some type of substance to engage in activities that could have very lethal consequences.”

McPhie believes the challenge could go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The case began in 2002 when John Chiasson was hired by KBR as a receiving inspector at Syncrude’s oil sands plant. He was required to pass a pre-employment drug test.

Nine days after he started work the company learned his urine was positive for the active ingredient in marijuana. He admitted that he had smoked pot five days before the test and was immediately fired under the company’s zero-tolerance policy.

Chiasson complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which ruled he was not discriminated against.

Last year, Justice Sheilah Martin of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench overturned that decision, ruling that Chiasson should have been treated the same as someone with a drug addiction, which is considered a disability in human rights case law.

Martin said the company should scrap the drug tests or find a way to help people who fail them.

The human rights commission is to speak in defense of Martin’s ruling when the appeal is heard in Calgary, said Audrey Dean, senior counsel for the commission.

“The commission will ask the court to consider the fact that pre-employment testing does not show future impairment,” Dean said.

“Arbitrary firing is not the solution. There needs to be a balance between the human rights of the individual and between the needs of the employer and protecting society if employees are in safety-sensitive positions.”

KBR officials were not immediately available for comment.

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