Kootenay CSI: Drug recognition experts bode ill for local stoned drivers
RCMP Cpl. Phil Mager (ironically, pronounced ‘Major’) just came to the Koots in July, and drug users will want to know about him – he’s a drug recognition expert.
Mager is the non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the West Kootenay Integrated Road Safety Unit, and part of his mandate is to ensure drug-impaired drivers face the same stiff penalties as do their alcohol-impaired brethren.
“I’m on call and available to any detachment that needs my services, including the Nelson PD and Border Services,” he said, adding his coverage area includes Castlegar, Trail, Nelson, Rossland – in fact it runs from Kaslo all the way to the U.S. border.
How it works is this – if an officer pulls you over and develops the opinion you’re impaired, then via breathalyzer determines it’s not alcohol impairment, you don’t to go home. Instead, you’re brought before Mager or one of the other three drug recognition experts (DREs) in the region, who then undertake a scientific evaluation process to determine a) if you are, indeed, impaired; b) if you are impaired by a drug; and c)what category of drug is causing your impairment. The range here is remarkable, including everything from legal prescription drugs (under the influence of which you should not be operating motor vehicles) all the way through to illegal narcotics and everything in between – even inhalants like sniffed glue or gas or paint fumes.
The science has been applied in the US since the 1970s, Mager said, and since 1995 in Canada. But until legislation in 2009, you’d have to voluntarily undergo the process. Such is no longer the case.
“That demand (that you go before a DRE) is now the same as a breathalyzer demand – you can be charged with refusal and refusing has the same criminal repercussions,” he explained.
Once before Mager or one of his colleagues, you’ll undergo a 12-step process that includes standardized impairment testing, psychophysical tests, clinical tests, interviews of yourself and the officer who pulled you over, and so forth.
Mager said in some cases, impairment may be due to sleep deprivation or a medical condition, and he has, himself, sent people to be examined by a medical doctor. If, however, his evaluation determines you to be drug impaired, he’ll write a report that will be assessed by a senior DRE. If approved, he’ll require a urine sample from you and recommend impaired charges to Crown Counsel.
He said it’s a time, effort and man-power intensive investigatory process – but well worth it, if it keeps our roads and communities safe.
“As much or more risk is presented by drug impairment as by alcohol impairment. These people are driving erratically, driving dangerously, and causing car crashes,” he said. “We want to stop them from harming themselves and others, and make drug-impaired driving as socially unacceptable as alcohol-impaired driving is today.”
He said part of the rigorous process is to ensure the courts look favourably on a science that’s comparatively new to the Canadian criminal justice system.
“Because this is relatively new legislation, we want to make sure all the steps have been followed and they’re very solid investigations,” he said. “It’s becoming more and more accepted (by the courts). We’re getting some good case law in support of the process.”
He said the training process required to become a DRE is also intensive and rigorous, and they have to be recertified every two years to maintain their designation.