Annual National Data Report to Inform Trends and Patterns in Drug-Impaired Driving 2021

Executive Summary

In the context of cannabis legalization, the Government of Canada introduced legislation to create new offences and provide additional tools to law enforcement to detect and deter drug-impaired driving (DID). Furthermore, to support the implementation of this new legislative framework, the Government invested $161M over five years initially to enhance training of frontline law enforcement officers in how to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired driving, build law enforcement capacity across the country, provide access to approved drug screening equipment (ADSE), develop policy, bolster research, and raise public awareness about the dangers of drug-impaired driving. An important part of this initiative is to inform Canadians on activities undertaken to address DID and their results. It is the purpose of this annual report.

This is the second annual report on trends and patterns in DID. It is produced in cooperation with the provinces and territories, the RCMP, CBSA, and other partner agencies and stakeholders.

Whenever possible, it updates data from the 2020 report. However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant reduction in planned activities, in particular the training of law enforcement officers. Nevertheless, the report’s findings show that the federal initiative has continued to enhance law enforcement capacity to detect and deter DID. It has also continued to change Canadians’ attitudes towards driving after cannabis use. Furthermore, data from police and border-reported incidents as well as toxicological analyses from coroners and medical examiners indicates that the number of incidents involving drivers with drugs in their system, including cannabis, has been constantly increasing since 2008 as a proportion of all impaired driving incidents.

Work to address outstanding data gaps (e.g., lack of some law enforcement or toxicology data) as well as issues with the completeness and comparability of data has continued in 2020.

Introduction

In spite of significant declines over the past 30 years, impaired driving, whether by alcohol or drugs, continues to kill or injure more Canadians than any other crime (Moreau, 2021). It also remains the single most important factor contributing to serious road crashes (CCSA, 2019). Furthermore, recent statistics show that the number of police reported drug-impaired driving (DID) incidents have increased by 19% from 2019 to 2020 (Moreau, 2021).

It is no surprise then that with the legalization of cannabis, Canadians expressed concerns over road safety. Public opinion surveys showed that well over 80 percent of Canadians believed that DID would likely increase as a result of cannabis legalizationFootnote 1. This is why new Criminal Code provisions were enacted in 2018 to criminalize driving with prohibited levels of certain drugs in blood, strengthen penalties and provide additional tools and means to law enforcement to detect and deter impaired driving, including DID. Furthermore, in September 2017, the federal government announced $161 million for training frontline officers in how to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired driving, building law enforcement capacity across the country, providing access to approved drug screening equipment (ADSE), developing policy, bolstering research, and raising public awareness about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.

Part of this initiative included a commitment to report to Canadians on activities undertaken to address the issue of DID and their results; it is the purpose of this report.

The report focuses on three broad questions:

This report is the result of a collective effort undertaken in 2018 by the Federal/Provincial and Territorial (FPT) working group (WG) on DID. Comprised of representatives from all jurisdictions, as well as key stakeholders from the Department of Justice Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Transport Canada, the WG set out to work on identifying a series of indicators to help address these questions. The WG also engaged with key expert organizations such as Statistics Canada (STC) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions (CCSUA) as well as selected academics, to assess the relevance, reliability, availability and accessibility of data for these various indicators. In conducting this analysis, the WG benefitted in particular from a comprehensive exercise undertaken by the CCSUA to identify a set of national indicators on DID. The WG agreed on a preliminary set of indicators in spring 2019, which was further refined in September 2019. Subsequently, jurisdictions were asked to collect, collate and report data on as many of these indicators as possible. The first annual trends and patterns report was published in 2020, and covered the 2019 calendar year.

This report synthesizes the data for calendar year 2020 provided by jurisdictions in their annual reports, as well as data from the RCMP and the CBSA. Data from reports and research studies from other sources (e.g., STC; CCSUA) is also used.

The first section of this report, sets the context by describing the new legislative regime on DID and the accompanying federal initiative. The following section presents available data on trends and patterns in DID. The final two sections present data on what is done to address DID and results achieved. The conclusion summarizes the key findings and discusses next steps.

As every Canadian knows, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly affected our lives and activities in 2020. It was no different for activities planned under this initiative. For the most part, no training of law enforcement officers including border services officers (BSOs) was delivered during 2020. It is also likely that, in addition to law enforcement interventions, patterns in DID were affected by the general reduction in professional and social activities requiring Canadians to use their vehicles. In addition, the closure of the Canada-United States land border to all but essential traffic has also presumably impacted enforcement data. As such, while the annual report is designed to monitor the evolution of trends and patterns in DID year-over-year, 2020 is most likely an unusual year.

The Legislative and Programmatic Context

Driving while impaired by a drug has been a criminal offence since 1925, but this offence has always been challenging to prove.

Detecting and proving impairment caused by drugs is different and more complex than detecting and proving impairment caused by alcohol. Alcohol is a simple molecule with predictable impairing effects. As alcohol is consumed, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises; and the higher the BAC, the more profound the impairment and the greater the risk of a serious road crash. The same correlation does not always exist for other drugs since their impairing effects and impacts on driving behaviour may vary depending on the substance, method of ingestion, and characteristics of the person and their consumption habits. In the case of cannabis, it is generally agreed that it can impair a person’s ability to drive. However, there is no scientific consensus on the relationship between the concentration of THC, its main psychoactive substance, in blood and the degree of impairment.Footnote 2

In 2008, new tools were authorized to facilitate the investigation of drug-impaired driving. These include the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) used at the roadside (a three-pronged test consisting of walk and turn, one leg stand and horizontal gaze nystagmus) and the Drug Recognition Evaluation conducted at the police station by a certified drug recognition expert (DRE). The Drug Recognition Evaluation is a 12–step evaluation that is designed to determine if the individual is impaired by a drug. In order to use either of these tools, the officer has to be specially trained in accordance with standards developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

In the context of cannabis legalization, it was determined that more needed to be done to strengthen the criminal law regime with respect to drug-impaired driving. This was done as part of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which enacted new offences, and authorized new tools to enhance the detection and prosecution of drug-impaired drivers.

Specifically, the new measures:

With the addition of the new offences, the text of the Criminal Code impaired driving offences currently reads as follows:

320.14 (1) Everyone commits an offence who

(a) operates a conveyance while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug;

(b) subject to subsection (5), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood;

(c) subject to subsection (6), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation; or

(d) subject to subsection (7), has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined.

320.14 (4) Subject to subsection (6), everyone commits an offence who has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a conveyance, a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation and that is less than the concentration prescribed for the purposes of paragraph (1)‍(c).

The prohibited BDC levels are not found in the Criminal Code, but instead, are set by regulation.Footnote 3 For paragraph 320.14(c), the prohibited BDC levels are 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood, 5 mg GHB per L of blood, and any detectable level of LSD, 6-Monoacetylmorphine (a metabolite of heroin), Ketamine, Phencyclidine (PCSP), Cocaine, Psilocybin, Psilocin and Methamphetamine in blood. For paragraph 320.14(d), the prohibited levels are a blood alcohol concentration of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood in combination with 2.5 ng of THC per mL of blood. Finally, for subsection 320.14(4), the prohibited blood drug concentration (BDC) level is between 2 ng and 5 ng THC per ml of blood.

As noted, the Government authorized the use of approved drug screening equipment (ADSE) at the roadside.

ADSE can be used by police to detect the presence of some drugs in oral fluid, including THC. The police and BSOs can demand an oral fluid sample, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a drug is in a driver's body. Reasonable suspicion that the driver has drugs in their body can be developed based on evidence of recent consumption of drugs and other objective facts, such as:

If a driver tests positive on an ADSE the positive result confirms the presence of the drug and, combined with other signs of impairment or drug use observed by the police at the roadside, may provide grounds for the investigation to proceed further by making a demand for a blood sample or a drug recognition evaluation. Similar screeners are used in other countries including the United Kingdom and Australia.

Currently, there are two approved devices available for use by law enforcement in Canada: the Dräger DrugTest® 5000 and a Dräger DrugTest® 5000 STK-CA, when used together, and SoToxa™, an Abbott SoToxa™ Test Cartridge and an Abbott SoToxa™ Oral Fluid Collection Device. They will be referred to as the Dräger and SoToxa in the remainder of this report.

The Federal Initiative

In September 2017, the Government of Canada announced that it was investing $161 million over five years to support the implementation of the new legislative regime on DID and build law enforcement capacity across Canada to recognize the signs and symptoms of DID, provide access to ADSE, develop policy, bolster research, and raise public awareness about the dangers of DID.

Of this funding envelope, $81 million was set aside specifically for Provinces and Territories (PTs) to ensure that they would be able to provide police officers with the training and tools they need. In particular, this funding was designed to enhance training on the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) and the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program; support the acquisition of ADSE; and collect standardized national data on DID trends and patterns. In addition, $12 million was allocated to the CBSA to provide BSOs with the training and tools to interdict impaired driving at the land border.

At the time when the federal initiative was launched, there were approximately 13,000 SFST trained law enforcement officers and close to 600 DREs across the country. Prior to this initiative, the CBSA did not train BSOs on detecting drug-impaired driving; officers were only trained in detecting alcohol-impaired driving. The CBSA committed to training 1,425 BSOs in the administration of the SFST. The objective is that 33% of front-line law enforcement officers and 30% of BSOs working at the land border will have been trained in SFST, and there will be 1250 active DREs by the end of the initiative, which is currently set to end in March 2025. Currently available statistics indicate that there are now approximately 27,300 SFST trained officersFootnote 4 and over 1,100 DREs. Public Safety Canada continues to work with PTs to help meet their training and capacity needs; over $16 million in funding was available in FY 2020-2021.

A significant part of this initiative, in the context of cannabis legalization, is to monitor trends and patterns in DID. As such, Public Safety Canada (PS) is expected to:

As noted earlier, a FPT DID working group (DID WG) comprised of data analysts hired by PTs with the contribution program funding, PS representatives, and key stakeholders (e.g., RCMP, CBSA, Justice) has been created. In 2019, the WG developed a common framework and set of indicators which have since been used for the preparation of the annual data report. The WG continues to share information on current data collection practices, gaps and challenges, and next steps to improve data coverage and completeness.

Provincial and Territorial Initiatives

In response to cannabis legalization, all provinces and territories modified their existing legislation, including on drug-impaired driving. Most jurisdictions have adopted some form of zero tolerance policy for some categories of drivers: young, novice, and commercial motor vehicle drivers. Sanctions are generally graduated and can include administrative license suspensions (e.g. immediate, 30, 45, or 60 days), fines or license reinstatement fees, ignition interlock requirements, and vehicle impoundment. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has prepared an overview of administrative sanctions in provinces and territories which can be consulted online.

Trends and Patterns in Drug-Impaired Driving

There are various ways of measuring DID occurrences and incidents: population surveys asking a sample of Canadians to report on their driving behaviour after drug use; roadside surveys collecting oral fluid samples from a sample of voluntary drivers generally at night time and during summer months; police and border services officer (BSO) reported incidents; and toxicological analyses of fatally injured drivers by coroners and medical examiners.

No single source is sufficient on its own and each has its limitations. Self-reported behaviour is hampered by accuracy and/or unwillingness to disclose behaviour. Roadside surveys’ limitations include: the drug detection method (oral fluid) only indicates presence or absence of drugs; they are conducted in a small number of locations and at very specific and limited points in time; and they only involve drivers who agree to participate. Police and border service officer reported incidents only include incidents detected by or which come to the attention of law enforcement and may significantly under-estimate the true prevalence of impaired driving. Finally, coroners’ toxicological data is limited by factors such as the level of toxicological analyses conducted (e.g., in some cases once alcohol is detected at an impairing level, they will not proceed with drug analysis), variable methodology between jurisdictions, and insofar as cannabis specifically, issues related to the unique characteristics of THC in blood.

The following sections present available data from each of these various sources.

Self-Reported Behaviour

Conducted by Health Canada, the Canadian Cannabis Survey (CCS) measures a variety of indicators related to cannabis, including self-reported driving behaviour following cannabis use among a sample of Canadians. The latest figures show that some 22% of past 12-month users with a valid driver’s license reported driving a vehicle within two hours of cannabis use, a reduction from 26% in 2019.Footnote 5 Results by jurisdiction are as follows:Footnote 6

Table 1 - Driven a vehicle within 2 hours of smoking or vaping cannabis among past 12-month users, by province/territory, Canada, 2019-2020
Province and Territories % of people who drove within 2 hours of smoking cannabis How long ago did this happen?
Within the past 30 days Within the past 12 months
2019 2020 2019 2020 2019 2020
BC 32% 27.5% 41.3% 39.4% 33.8% 35.8%
AB 30.5% 22.1% 43.0% 35.9% 34.5% 34.0%
SK 34.6% 32.9% - - - -
MB - 29.2% - - - -
ON 22.3% 20.8% 38.7% 38.1% 28.8% 28.0%
QC 26.5% 17.0% 54.9% 39.5% 26.9% 39.2%
NB 24.8% 22.4% - - - -
NS 25.1% 17.4% - - - -
PEI 27.9% 25.4% - - - -
NL 27.3% 25.3% - - - -
Territories - - - - - -
Canada 26.4% 22.0% 43.5% 39.2% 31.3% 32.0%

Starting in 2020, the CCS has added a similar question but focussing on ingested cannabis products. This is an important addition since the effects of edible cannabis products on driving behaviour are likely different from those of smoked or vaped cannabis.

Table 2 - Driven a vehicle within 4 hours of ingesting cannabis among past 12-month users, by province/territory, Canada, 2020
Province and Territories % of people who drove within 4 hours of ingesting cannabis How long ago did this happen?
Within the past 30 days Within the past 12 months
BC 17.5% - 41.7%
AB 13.2% - -
SK - - -
MB - - -
ON 13.0% 30.7% 41.3%
QC 9.9% - 40.7%
NB - - -
NS - - -
PEI - - -
NL - - -
Territories - - -
Canada 13.4% 31.6% 39.7%

It appears that no province or territory conducted population surveys of self-reported behaviour in 2020. Readers interested in the findings of previous years’ provincial and territorial surveys may wish to consult the 2020 annual data report.

Roadside Surveys

No province or territory conducted a roadside survey in 2020 or 2019. However, five jurisdictions conducted surveys in 2018, prior to cannabis legalization, providing a baseline against which to measure post-legalization change. These include: Manitoba (2016), Ontario (2017), British Columbia (2018), Yukon (2018), and Northwest Territories (2018). The Canadian Council of Motor Vehicle Administrators (CCMTA) has produced a synthesis of these surveys’ findings.Footnote 7

Of the total 7,265 drivers randomly selected, 80.7% accepted to participate, 97.7% provided a breath sample to detect alcohol and 90.2% an oral fluid sample to detect the presence of drugs.

Key findings include:

Compared to data from previous surveys, there has been a significant reduction in the prevalence of alcohol use among drivers, but a significant increase in the prevalence of drug use, cannabis in particular. Similar to other types of prevalence data, roadside surveys show that male drivers are more likely than female drivers (12% and 7.4% respectively) to test positive for drugs.

All these jurisdictions, as well as Quebec, have indicated that they are considering conducting roadside surveys post-legalization.

Law Enforcement-Reported Incidents

Law enforcement officers typically come in contact with impaired drivers through a traffic stop. Officers can also come in contact with impaired drivers when attending to a traffic collision or conduct roadside checks randomly at various times during the year (e.g., Christmas and New Year). In coming into contact with a driver, police officers may do a number of things depending on the circumstances: demand a preliminary breath sample, conduct a standardized field sobriety test (SFST), or collect a sample of oral fluid using ADSE. If the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the operator of the vehicle has committed an offence, the person can be required to provide a blood sample or submit to a DRE, or imposed an administrative penalty (e.g. fine or license suspension) under the relevant provincial/territorial legislation.

CBSA officers come in contact with impaired drivers through border processing and may arrest a driver when grounds to believe impairment have been met. These grounds can be reached either directly by observing a driver who is displaying the characteristic of impairment or an officer may screen a driver when they have suspicion of a drug or alcohol (or both) in the body, in order to reach the threshold of belief. Once an arrest occurs, the responding police agency of jurisdiction is called to come to the port of entry (POE) to take custody of the driver.

Various data may be collected at each of these stages, but whether and how it is collected varies significantly both between jurisdictions and type of tool used. Data on police-reported incidents is collected systematically and reported annually through Statistics Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey. Similarly, data is systematically collected when a DRE or blood analysis are conducted. However, data is not systematically collected when a preliminary breath test or SFST is conducted or when ADSE is used. Data on CBSA enforcement actions at the border is maintained in Agency systems.

In addition to being limited to incidents that come to their attention, police data on DID incidents may under-represent their occurrence for a variety of reasons. In particular, whenever the presence of alcohol is established, officers will typically pursue the alcohol-related charge and will not further investigate for the presence of drugs.Footnote 9 Other factors may explain under-detection and under-reporting such as the number or availability of detection capacity, or the fact that information may be lost since it is mostly manually entered.

UCR data indicates that the proportion of DID incidents reported by police has significantly increased relative to alcohol-impaired driving incidents over time. This is likely due to a combination of factors including a significant increase in law enforcement awareness raising and training on how to detect and investigate DID, while at the same time a number of jurisdictions have been strengthening their administrative sanctions regime (e.g., BC’s immediate roadside prohibition policy) and using it more frequently than the criminal law route.

CBSA enforcement data shows a parallel between drug and alcohol impaired driving arrests. In 2020, the Agency made 126 drug impaired arrests, compared to 128 arrests for alcohol impaired; 88% were based on the strength of the SFST. In 2019, there were 285 arrests for alcohol impairment compared to 223 for drug impairment.

Police-reported data for 2020 indicated that in all of Canada, police reported just over 77,600 impaired driving incidents, a decrease of over 8,200 incidents from 2019 (Statistics Canada, 2021). Not surprisingly, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec reported the highest number of incidents. However, the highest rates (i.e., number per 100,000 population) were reported in Prince Edward Island, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the lowest in Ontario and Quebec. While the overall volume of impaired driving incidents declined, DID incidents reported by police increased by 15%, to 7,310, from 2019 to 2020. Provincially, Ontario (+686) and Quebec (+336) account for almost the entirety of this increase in DID. The Atlantic provinces reported the highest rates of DID among provinces, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec the lowest.

Figure 1 – Trends in annual, police-reported, impaired-driving incidents in Canada (total, alcohol and drugs)Footnote 10

Figure  1 – Trends in annual, police-reported, impaired-driving incidents in Canada  (total, alcohol and drugs)

Source: Statistics Canada.

Image description

The graph illustrates that the total number of drug-impaired driving incidents reported by police has significantly increased over time compared to alcohol-impaired driving incidents, which have significantly decreased (with the exception of 2019).

Trends in annual, police-reported, impaired-driving incidents in Canada (total, alcohol and drugs)
Year Type of Offense
Impaired Driving (Total) Operation while Impaired (Alcohol) Operation while Impaired (Drugs)
2009 88,303 81,966 1,407
2010 87,231 80,958 1,679
2011 89,607 83,337 1,836
2012 84,149 77,947 1,912
2013 77,558 71,720 1,937
2014 74,577 68,178 2,460
2015 71,870 64,781 2,698
2016 71,304 63,968 3,073
2017 69,108 61,711 3,416
2018 70,832 62,366 4,356
2019 85,804 68,823 6,285
2020 77,603 57,795 7,310

While still representing 85% of all reported impaired driving incidents, alcohol impaired driving cases have significantly declined since 2009, except in 2019 when they were at their highest level since 2011 (577 per 100,000 population, corresponding to a 19% increase from 2018; Moreau 2021). Conversely, DID incidents reported by police over the same period have increased significantly. In 2009, the first full-year when DID incidents were reported on their own, there were 1,407 such incidents, representing 2% of all impaired driving incidents. Their number had almost doubled to 2,698 by 2015, representing 4% of all impaired driving incidents, and represented 7% of all impaired driving incidents in 2019. In 2019 there were 6,285 incidents of driving while impaired by drugs, an increase of 43% from 2018.

It is also interesting to note that the proportion of impaired driving cases cleared by charge has declined from 89% in 1998 to 71% in 2015, 64% in 2018 and 56% in 2019. Compared with 2009, the rate of alcohol impaired driving incidents cleared by charge fell by 27% and 11% for DID incidents (Perreault, 2021).

As noted by Perreault (2021: 14):

The decrease in the proportion of incidents either cleared by charge or without charge is mainly because of an increase in the proportion of incidents not cleared, which rose from 22% in 2018 to 33% of all police-reported incidents of impaired driving in 2019. Of these uncleared incidents, the vast majority (97%) could not be cleared because of insufficient evidence. Incidents that were still under investigation when the data were submitted to Statistics Canada represented 2% of impaired driving incidents that were not cleared. Changes to the definitions of founded and unfounded criminal incidents may have led to an increase in the number of uncleared incidents, which could, in large part, account for the decrease in the relative proportion of cleared incidents.

In addition, while more than 76% of alcohol-impaired driving incidents are cleared by charge within a day or less, the proportion for DID cases is 59%. Furthermore, 37% of DID incidents took 31 days or more to clear by charge, compared to 17% of alcohol-impaired driving cases.

Coroners’ Toxicological Data

Coroners and medical examiners report data from toxicological analyses of different body specimens (e.g., blood, urine, hair, etc.) in fatally injured drivers. However, similar to police investigations, many coroners will not conduct further analyses if alcohol is present and can clearly be established as a probable cause of death. Furthermore, if the cause of death is obvious, many will not conduct toxicological analyses; this decision is, in part, related to the time and costs of conducting such analyses. Furthermore, methods may vary between jurisdictions, making it difficult to compare data.

No new coroners’ toxicological data is available at this time. For more information relating to research from the Traffic Injuries Research Foundation in 2017, please refer to the previous Annual National Data Report to Inform Trends and Patterns in Drug-Impaired Driving.

In Nova Scotia, the annual data report for 2019 indicated that the number of total fatal collisions dropped by 54% between 2012 and 2017; however, the proportion of total fatal collisions that were THC positive increased nearly every year. There was a 7% decrease in the proportion of fatal collisions that were THC positive between 2017 and 2018. Another important observation to make from this data is that while there was a spike in total fatal collisions in 2018 (n=53), the percentage of total THC positive fatal collisions (26%) comprises a much greater proportion than seen in other years with high total fatalities. From 2010 to 2013 there was an average of 55 total fatal collisions and the average proportion of THC positive total fatal collisions was 16%.Footnote 11

Figure 2 - Proportion of total fatal collisions by type of toxicology result and number of total fatal collisions in Nova Scotia from 2010 to 2018

Proportion of total fatal collisions by  type of toxicology result and number of total fatal collisions in Nova Scotia from 2010 to 2018

Image description

This graph illustrates that in Nova Scotia, the number of total fatal collisions, dropped by 54% between 2012 and 2017; however, the proportion of total fatal collisions that were THC positive increased nearly every year (with the exception of 2014 and 2018). There was a 7% decrease in the proportion of THC positive fatal collisions between 2017 and 2018.

  • Moving from left to right, the bars represent the following:
    1. Total percentage of fatal collisions where the driver tested positive for THC.
    2. Percentage of fatal collisions where the driver tested positive for THC and alcohol.
    3. Percentage of fatal collisions where the driver tested positive for THC only.
    4. Percentage of fatal collisions where the driver tested positive for poly-drug use and THC (no alcohol).
  • The horizontal line represents the total number of fatal collisions, with or without the presence of alcohol/drugs.

What is Being Done to Address Drug-Impaired Driving

Similar to other crimes, DID can be addressed through a gradation of interventions including prevention, detection, and deterrence. Upstream, efforts are made to prevent its very occurrence, in particular through awareness raising and education which can be universal or targeted to specific at-risk groups of the population. Detection will be done through traditional policing methods including road checks and the use of tools such as ADSE and SFST. When impaired driving behaviour is detected, additional investigation may be conducted through requesting a DRE and/or blood samples. If the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the driver is impaired, criminal charges can be laid and/or administrative sanctions imposed, in order to deter future similar behaviour, either of a specific individual or of the larger community (general deterrence). This section presents activities undertaken by the jurisdictions under these various approaches.

Preventative Interventions

Most jurisdictions have conducted various forms of preventative interventions both before and after cannabis legalization. These interventions included public awareness campaigns on all types of media but mostly on social media channels, as well as targeted education campaigns in high schools, directed at drivers or at cannabis users in cannabis retail stores.

In addition, in most jurisdictions, local and regional law enforcement organizations also conduct targeted awareness and education campaigns at selected periods of the year such as Christmas and the New Year, and highly publicized roadside checks operations, such as the Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere (R.I.D.E.) operations conducted by the OPP.

Public Safety Canada’s campaign, Don’t Drive High, continued to raise awareness amongst young Canadians from April 2020 to March 2021, featuring:

Law Enforcement Capacity Building

As previously mentioned, key tools available to law enforcement include using the approved drug screening equipment (ADSE) and the SFST to detect DID, and DRE and blood draws to support the prosecution of DID offences. The federal government’s initiative to support the implementation of the new DID legislative regime by law enforcement provides the opportunity for enhanced training in SFST and DRE, increased capacity to procure ADSE, and increased funding for the RCMP laboratory to conduct toxicological analyses.

Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Training

Originally designed for the detection of alcohol-impaired driving, SFST is an observational test consisting of three key components: Walk and Turn, One Leg Stand, and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. While used to detect DID in the USA since 1981, SFST was formally authorized as a screening tool for law enforcement to detect impaired driving in Canada in 2008, and training offered on its use in all provinces and territories. Although research is still ongoing to determine SFST’s scientific validity for drugs (Porath & Beirness, 2014), extensive Canadian case law has recognized its use.

SFST training takes different forms. In some jurisdictions, it is only delivered in police colleges (e.g., Quebec), but in most cases it is delivered by a combination of colleges and local law enforcement organizations (e.g., BC, Ontario). In Quebec, training on SFST is mandatory and is part of the initial training program for police officers at the police school. Also, SFST training is available to police officers on duty (course lasting 24 hours).

As part of the federal initiative to support the implementation of the new DID legislative regime, the national target is that 33% (or approximately 21,000) of all frontline law enforcement officers will have been trained in SFST over five years.Footnote 12 The CBSA initiated SFST training in 2018 as part of the DID initiative.

Excluding Quebec which trains 100% of its police officers in SFST,Footnote 13 there were almost 11,700 SFST trained officers overall across the country at the end of 2020, representing almost 21% of all police officers in the country. The distribution across jurisdictions is as follows:

Table 3 – Number of SFST trained officers per year by province/territory, Canada, 2018-2020
Province and Territories # of SFST officers trained in Average cost per officer
2018 2019 2020 2019 2020
BC 329 402 116 - $1,737.61
AB 356 348 39 - $886.21
SK 46 83 22 $1,709.75 $1,652.88
MB 98 101 37 - -
ON 2,083 1,584 512 $1,149.71 $2,110.14
QC       - -
NB 279 419 11   $365.00
NS 350 106 18 $750.00
PEI 51 2 (or 39 counting cadets) 0 (or 32 counting cadets) - -
NL 45 13 9 $131.79 -
YT 19 18 2 - $3,494.03
NT 32 37 - $3,000.00 -
NU 6 7 - - -
Canada 3,694 3,120 766    
CBSA - 567 149 - $2,479.00
Table 3a – Total number of SFST trained officers by province/territory, Canada, 2019-2020
Province and Territories Total # of officers trained in SFST as of December 31 % frontline police officers trained in SFST
2019 2020 2019 2020
BC 1,445 1,560 30% 33%
AB 1,435 1,360 25% 24%
SK 251 273 21% 23%
MB 455 492 25% 28%
ON 5,291 6,392 35% 25%
QC 15,884 15,622 100% 100%
NB 430 430 41% 41%
NS 609 627 90% 34%
PEI 108 118 55% 61%
NL 244 364 - 44%
YT 39 - 30%
NT 27 - 18%
NU 12 - - -
Canada 10,280 excl. QC 11,682 excl. QC    
26,164 with QC 27,304 with QC    
CBSA - 716 - 24%

The average cost of SFST training varies significantly across jurisdictions from a few hundred dollars to a few thousands. This may depend on such factors as the method of course delivery, geographical location (e.g., need to travel), course duration, class size, etc.

Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Training and Certification

Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) receive training on how to use the Drug Evaluation Classification (DEC) Program. The DEC is a systematic and standardized 12-step procedure used by trained officers to recognize and evaluate behaviours and physiological indicators associated with the seven different drug categories: central nervous system depressants and stimulants, inhalants, dissociative anesthetics, cannabis, hallucinogens, and narcotic analgesics. The results of the 12-step evaluation, when corroborated by toxicological evidence of drug use, provide sufficient evidence to proceed with DID charges (Porath & Beirness, 2019).

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police recognizes the DEC Program as the sole approved training provider for DID for Canadian police and, since 2005, the program has been under the stewardship of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Traffic Services. The national DEC program is managed by the RCMP which collects yearly statistics on training, certification, and re-certification of officers across Canada. Data from the RCMP national office indicates that 91 officers were trained in DRE in 2020, following almost 400 in each of 2018 and 2019, bringing the national total of DRE officers to 1,135. This represents 91% of the 5-year target (n=1,250) established by the provinces and territories as part of the funding agreements under the federal initiative. The decrease in officers trained, and in the total number of active DREs, is due in large part to the inability to hold training sessions and recertification sessions in line with new public health measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Table 4 – Number of DRE trained and certified officers in 2018, 2019 and 2020
Provinces and Territories DREs Trained in 2018 DREs Trained in 2019 DREs Trained in 2020
BC 55 63 13
AB 53 76 0
SK 17 32 0
MB 9 12 0
ON 123 127 42
QC 56 34 21
NB 23 11 4
NS 31 15 6
PEI 6 1 1
NL 9 14 3
YT 0 1 1
NT 2 1 0
NU 0 0 0
Canada 384 387 91
Table 4a – Number of active DREs in 2019 and 2020
Provinces and Territories Active DREs as of January 1, 2020Footnote 14 Active DREs as of January 1, 2021
BC 186 155
AB 172 149
SK 80 74
MB 43 37
ON 450 418
QC 160 151
NB 51 45
NS 78 50
PEI 12 16
NL 41 34
YT 2 4
NT 4 2
NU 0 0
Canada 1,279 1,135

Approved Drug Screening Equipment (ADSE)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has rolled-out a national master “train-the-trainer” curriculum on the approved drug screeners for police services across the country.

Eleven provinces and territories have purchased and deployed ADSE as follows:

Table 5 – Number of ADSE purchased, 2018-2020
Provinces and Territories 2018 2019 2020 Total
BC 15 15 32 62
AB 6   0 6
SK   30 0 30
MB 20 0 0 20
ON 0 155 23 178
NS 5 0 17 22Footnote 15
PEI   5 8 13
NL     21 21
NT 2     2
NU   1   1
YK     6 6

Law Enforcement Interventions

Collecting data on law enforcement interventions to address DID has been challenging for all jurisdictions for a variety of reasons. When this initiative started in 2017, collecting this data was a new requirement in most instances for law enforcement organizations across the country. As such, there was a need to work closely with provinces and territories to ascertain the feasibility and capacity to collect data on law enforcement interventions in DID cases. Started in late 2018, further to the enactment of cannabis legalization, this work continued well into 2019. Agreement was reached with all jurisdictions in December 2019 on the list of national indicators and data sources. Once agreement was reached on the list of indicators and data sources, jurisdictions needed to develop data collection tools and establish protocols with law enforcement agencies. Given that data collection takes time, and law enforcement priority responsibility is to respond to calls and conduct investigations, discussions with law enforcement agencies on appropriate and efficient ways to collect the required data are ongoing.

Standard Field Sobriety Testing

Historically, data has not been collected by police on the use (e.g., frequency, circumstances such as day of the week or time of day, and results) of SFST. However, some jurisdictions have started testing the implementation of a log of SFST results in 2019. The CBSA does have a process for tracking each time the SFST is administered to a driver.

Data on the frequency of use and results of SFST by law enforcement for 2020 was reported by eight provinces and territories (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories), with the proportion of positive results ranging from 39% (Saskatchewan) to 100% (Newfoundland and Labrador). The CBSA reported positive results in 53% of their 219 SFST incidents.

However, given that few law enforcement agencies across the country, and certainly not all officers within a given agency systematically collect data on the use of SFST, and that even when collected data may not always be complete or timely, this report does not present any further data on the use of SFST.

Drug Recognition Evaluation

The RCMP National DEC program and the Sûreté du Québec in cooperation with the École nationale de police in Quebec collect DRE data. Certified drug recognition experts complete a drug influence evaluation sheet (known as the facesheet), a narrative report, and the DRE report (the tracking form). The facesheet may contain large amounts of qualitative information, but none is systematically captured in electronic records. Furthermore, the database is still largely paper-based, and likely incomplete as DRE facesheets may only be transmitted to the data collectors once toxicology reports are completed and collected, which can take months.

Overall between 2018 and 2020, there has been a significant increase in the number of DRE evaluations conducted across all jurisdictions. With the exception of the Yukon, every jurisdiction reporting DRE use in 2019 has also reported an increase in 2020. Similarly, there has been a significant increase in the average number of evaluations per DRE officer.

Total Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Operational Evaluations (annual)

Total Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Operational Evaluations (annual)

Image description
Total Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Operational Evaluations (annual)
Year Total DRE Operational Evaluations
2018 2,937
2019 4,169
2020 5,948

Average Number of Evaluations per DRE (annual)

Average Number of Evaluations per DRE (annual)

Image description
Average Number of Evaluations per DRE (annual)
Year Average Evaluations per DRE
2018 2.70
2019 3.16
2020 4.28

With the exception of inhalants as an opinion category, all other categories saw an increase in 2020; in particular, Cannabis as an opinion category increased by 281 incidents. That said, similar to 2019, cannabis remains in third position, behind stimulants and narcotics analgesics, at almost the same level as depressants.

Figure 3 - DRE Evaluations: Frequency of Opinion Categories, Canada, 2020

Figure  3 - DRE Evaluations: Frequency of Opinion Categories, Canada, 2020

Image description
DRE Evaluations: Frequency of Opinion Categories, Canada, 2020
Opinion Categories Frequency (%)
Stimulants 24.68
Narcotic analgesics 22.33
Cannabis 16.66
Depressants 16.54
Not impaired 10.77
Alcohol 3.43
Refusal 2.98
Medical 1.39
Dissociative anesthetics 0.79
Hallucinogens 0.32
Inhalants 0.11

It is important to note that the tables below represent the total number of times the drug category was opined during an evaluation, not the total number of occurrences. Additionally, there can be multiple categories opined per individual occurrence.

Table 6 –Frequency of DRE Opinion Category by Province, RCMP national DEC data, 2018Footnote 16
BC AB SK MB ON QCFootnote 17 NB NS PEI NFLD YK NWT NU Total
Depressants 111 76 34 18 100 NRFootnote 18 22 32 7 29 0 0 0 429
Stimulants 247 66 25 9 87 NR 15 15 5 15 0 0 0 484
Hallucinogens 0 0 2 0 4 NR 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 8
Dissociative Anesthetics 4 1 1 1 4 NR 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 11
Narcotic Analgesics 199 69 32 6 100 NR 28 20 15 13 1 0 0 483
Cannabis 113 95 28 12 120 NR 22 35 7 18 0 1 0 451
Inhalants 1 0 0 0 1 NR 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
Medical 9 1 2 0 6 NR 1 4 1 2 0 0 0 26
Alcohol 14 8 7 1 15 NR 4 9 0 7 0 0 0 65
Not Impaired 25 40 6 6 66 NR 16 16 6 9 1 0 0 191
Refusal 28 36 1 4 8 NR 1 3 0 1 0 0 0 82
Total 751 392 138 57 511 - 109 135 41 95 3 1 0 2,333
Table 7 – Frequency of DRE Opinion Category by Province, RCMP national DEC data, 2019Footnote 19
  BC AB SK MB ON QC NB NS PEI NFLD YK NWT NU Total
Depressants 167 84 12 15 222 388 12 24 3 18 0 0 0 945
Stimulants 329 86 19 7 260 499 13 12 2 10 1 0 0 1,238
Hallucinogens 4 0 0 0 1 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 12
Dissociative Anesthetics 6 0 0 0 10 13 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 32
Narcotic Analgesics 279 68 15 1 346 90 21 21 7 17 1 0 0 866
Cannabis 187 79 17 6 277 299 28 51 8 16 0 0 0 968
Inhalants 1 1 1 1 3 7 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 15
Medical 8 4 3 NR 34 NR 3 NR 1 2 0 0 0 55
Alcohol 33 7 4 1 27 NR 1 NR NR 0 0 0 0 73
Not Impaired 28 29 9 8 278 227 19 60 7 11 0 1 0 677
Refusal 20 29 3 NR 45 32 5 11 NR 0 0 0 0 145
Total 1,062 387 83 39 1,503 1,562 103 181 28 74 3 1 0 5,026
Poly Category 356 28 12 NR 433 247 21 23 6 17 1 0 0 1,144
Table 8 – Frequency of DRE Opinion Category by Province, RCMP national DEC data, 2020Footnote 20
  BC AB SK MB ON QC NB NS PEI NFLD YK NWT NU Total
Depressants 219 55 39 9 371 441 27 33 6 40 - 0 0 1,240
Stimulants 541 85 52 11 474 591 41 18 15 22 - 0 0 1,850
Hallucinogens 0 1 0 1 9 13 0 0 0 0 - 0 0 24
Dissociative Anesthetics 7 1 0 0 22 27 1 1 0 0 - 0 0 59
Narcotic Analgesics 497 108 38 9 829 86 35 34 11 27 - 0 0 1,674
Cannabis 205 74 61 11 445 356 32 24 13 28 - 0 0 1,249
Inhalants 1 0 0 0 6 1 0 0 0 0 - 0 0 8
Medical 21 5 2 NR 49 21 5 0 1 0 - 0 0 104
Alcohol 21 20 15 0 30 157 5 9 0 0 - 0 0 257
Not Impaired 56 52 33 6 380 217 30 11 9 13 - 0 0 807
Refusal NR 37 0 NR 106 65 6 4 0 5 - 0 0 223
Total                     - 0 0 7,495
Poly Category 541 26 31 9 865 334 42 32 15 33 NR 0 0 1,928

Approved Drug Screening Equipment

As mentioned earlier, eleven jurisdictions have procured ADSE since their approval, but not all have actually used them. Data on the use of ADSE by law enforcement for 2020 was reported by seven provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories) with only five reporting on the results. In jurisdictions that reported results, the proportion of positive results (i.e., an impairing drug detected above authorized levels) ranged from 77% to 100%.

In Saskatchewan, an ADSE was used 37 times between September to December 2020, resulting in 29 positive results for drugs. Twenty-nine cases were positive for THC and three of those cases tested positive for cocaine as well.

The Newfoundland and Labrador experience with the use of ADSE is also interesting. According to jurisdictional reports from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP, ADSE were used in less than 3% of DID interactions in 2020, yielding positive results for cannabis (THC) in 100% of cases (5).

While based on limited data, indications are that ADSE achieve a high success rate when used.

Blood Analyses

Data on the number of times blood samples were demanded in cases involving suspected DID was provided by the RCMP where it delivers provincial or municipal police services (all but Ontario and Quebec). Data for 2020 may be lower due to the fact that toxicology laboratories were focusing their resources on the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, it is important to note that we can only report on the data received from the lab and cannot account for data that may be missing.

Table 9 displays the total number of blood analysis by type of analysis requested. It does not display the number of toxicological results received, and for many of these cases the toxicological analysis result reports are outstanding.

Table 9 – Number of DID Laboratory Blood Analysis Requests by Type and Province, 2019-2020
  Alcohol and Drug Analysis Requested Drug Only Analysis Requested Total
2019 2020 2019 2020 2019 2020
BC 48 47 63 60 111 107
AB 56 55 122 122 178 177
SK 33 19 28 24 61 43
MB 23 27 56 33 79 60
NB 17 18 8 8 25 26
NS 8 9 51 11 59 20
PE 5 3 18 19 23 22
NL 6 8 9 12 15 20
YT 1 1 0 0 1 1
NU 1 0 0 0 1 0
NT 0 0 0 1 0 1
Total 198 187 355 290 553 477

*11 cases were removed as the type of analysis requested was not specified.

Of the cases that were submitted for a blood analysis request, the below table displays the frequency of the per se drugs that were found in the blood analysis. In the cases where the blood analysis was found to be negative for drugs, it’s possible that those cases were alcohol and drug analyses, and could have been positive for alcohol.

Table 10 – Per SeFootnote 21 Limit Drug Frequency, 2019-2020
  2019 2020
n % n %
THC 140 44.7% 49 38.3%
Methamphetamine 89 28.4% 49 38.3%
Cocaine 29 9.3% 14 10.9%
Negative - No drugs found 25 8.0% 8 6.3%
GHBFootnote 22 14 4.5% 5 3.9%
THC Metabolite 11 3.5% 0 0.0%
Ketamine 4 1.3% 2 1.6%
LSD 1 0.3% 1 0.8%
Total 313 100% 128 100%

Of the cases where THC was found in the blood analysis, the table below displays the prevalence of each blood drug concentration delineated between the hybrid and summary offence categories. The results in the table are not specific to ADSE usage and are only displaying the frequency of each category of THC concentration. There can be multiple per se drugs found per incident.

Table 11 – THC Blood Drug Concentration, 2019-2020 Footnote 23 Footnote 24
2019 2020
n % n %
≥ 5 ng/mL 72 51.4% 27 55.1%
≥ 2 ng/mL and < 5 ng/mL 44 31.4% 12 24.5%
< 2 ng/mL 24 17.1% 10 20.4%
Total 140 100.0% 49 100%

The table below displays the frequency of drug categories found in the blood analysis results. The table only includes frequencies of drugs that are outside of those included in the per se limit offences. For example, since cocaine is a per se limit drug, but it is also a stimulant, it has been excluded from the below table since it would be accounted for in Table 8. There can be multiple per se limit drugs and drug categories per incident.

Table 12 – Drug Category FrequencyFootnote 25 2019-2020
  2019 2020
n % n %
Stimulants 86 41.7% 5 55.6%
Depressants 46 22.3% 3 33.3%
Narcotic Analgesic 34 16.5% 1 11.1%
Alcohol 35 17.0% 0 0.0%
Hallucinogens 2 1.0% 0 0.0%
Dissociative Anesthetics 2 1.0% 0 0.0%
Inhalants 1 0.5% 0 0.0%
Total 206 100.0% 9 100.0%

Results

ChargesFootnote 26

Statistics Canada’s 2021 Juristat article on Impaired Driving (Perreault, 2021) indicates that the rate of all impaired driving incidents cleared by charge is generally declining: it was almost 90% in 1989, about 71% in 2015, 63% in 2018, and 56% in 2019. An even smaller proportion of DID incidents are cleared by charge: 57% in 2018 and 49% in 2019. This may be due in part to increased use of administrative sanctions in alcohol-impaired driving cases as opposed to criminal charges, as well as the challenges associated with investigating and prosecuting a DID offence, as previously discussed.

Given that the legislation was only adopted in the later part of 2018 and that bringing charges to prosecution is a timely process, data presented below from provincial and territorial annual reports for 2020 may not reflect the full extent of the DID charges. The DID charges being analysed in this section include: 320.14(1)(a), (c), (d), and 320.14(4). Furthermore, and most importantly, P/T data on 320.14(1)(a) includes cases of alcohol impaired driving, which obviously skews the findings. Data provided by jurisdictions is as follows:

Youth Charged with Impaired Driving

A research team conducted a study commissioned by the CCSA to examine the impacts of cannabis legalization on youth, vulnerable youth in particular.Footnote 27 One of the elements examined was drug-impaired driving.

Based on data from Statistics Canada, the authors examined charges related to driving while impaired on drugs. Pre-legalization charges included operation of a vehicle while impaired on drugs. Post-legalization charges included: 1) operation of a vehicle while impaired on drugs; 2) operation of a vehicle while impaired on drugs and alcohol; and 3) operation of a vehicle while impaired (unspecified).

The data presented below compare rates for youth 12-17 and 18-24 to rates for older groups of the population in order to determine whether they evolved differently over time.

The data indicate that driving while impaired charges (note that this includes all drugs, not just cannabis, as well as the combination of alcohol and drugs), in Canada, increased significantly after cannabis legalization. In 2015, only 2,549 impaired charges were issued. By 2019, this figure had risen to 11,958 charges, an increase of 369%.

Table 13 – Cannabis Possession Charges in Canada, Pre-Legalization (2015-2017) and Post-Legalization (2019), By Age GroupFootnote 28
Age Group Year Percent Change 2015-2019
2015 2016 2017 2019
12-17 yrs 54 54 58 127 135.20%
18-24 yrs 572 680 695 2,052 258.70%
25-34 yrs 806 937 1,061 3,781 369.10%
35+ yrs 1,117 1,210 1,289 5,998 437.00%
Total 2,549 2,881 3,103 11,958 369.10%

All provinces and territories, with the exception of the Yukon and Nunavut, experienced a significant post-legalization rise in impaired-driving charges. However, the magnitude of this increase varied dramatically by region and age group. Three provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Manitoba) experienced increases of less than 100%. Five regions (Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories) experienced increases of between 100% and 200%. Two provinces (Nova Scotia and Alberta) experienced increases in impaired charges between 200% and 500%. Ontario experienced – by far -- the greatest post-legalization increase in impaired driving charges: from only 439 cases in 2015 to 6,334 cases in 2019 ). This represents a 1,185% increase in driving while impaired (on drugs) charges over this five-year period.

Youth 12-17 years represent a small minority of those charged with driving while impaired offences (less than 3% across the study period). While they also experienced a significant increase in impaired-driving charges following cannabis legalization, the increase was far less than for older adults. In 2015, prior to cannabis legalization, only 54 impaired driving charges were laid against young offenders. This figure rises to only 127 charges in 2019 – a 135% increase. In comparison, the rate increased by 258% for young people aged 18-24.

Only seven of the thirteen provinces and territories – PEI, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories -- experienced a post-legalization increase in youth impaired driving charges. All other regions remained stable or experienced a post-legalization decline. Post-legalization, the Northwest Territories has the highest youth impaired driving charge rate (59.1 per 100,000). Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Alberta also have a post-legalization youth charge rate above the national average (5.2 per 100,000). The charge rates for all other provinces and territories fall below the national average

Convictions

Over the period examined in Statistics Canada’s 2019 Juristat on impaired driving (2010/11 to 2018/19) (Perreault, 2021) DID cases (64%) were less likely to result in a guilty finding (whether by plea or decision) than alcohol-impaired driving incidents (82%). However, the proportion of DID cases resulting in a guilty finding has risen over the same period of time from 64% in 2010/11 to 70% in 2018/19.

Given the length of time required to process DID charges in court (estimated at 115 days in 2018-2019; Perreault, 2021:22), few jurisdictions presented data on convictions for DID cases in their annual report, and it was incomplete in most cases. One of the factors contributing the “low conviction rate” is the amount of time it takes to complete an investigation (including getting toxicology results) and then having the case go to first appearance date, plea date and then a trial date. Except in cases where a guilty plea is entered, it is very rare for a case to be completely adjudicated in the same year that the offence occurred. That does not mean that the conviction rate is as low as what is portrayed, as the majority of cases will be adjudicated in the following year and perhaps the majority will result in a finding of guilt.

It should also be noted that convictions under 320.14(a) include a number of cases (likely the majority) where alcohol was also involved.

Data presented by jurisdictions for 2020 is as follows:

Penalties and Sentences

The Juristat on impaired driving (Perreault, 2021:21) indicates that over the 9-year period from 2010 to 2019, the sentences most often imposed for impaired driving were fines and driving prohibitions, with the amount of fines for DID cases being slightly lower than for alcohol-impaired driving cases on average.

The following jurisdictions provided data on sentences and administrative sanctions imposed under either the criminal or administrative regime:

Table 14 – Administrative Sanctions Imposed on Drivers in Ontario Relating to Drug-Impaired Driving, 2018-2020
Suspension Type 2018 2019 2020

90-day ADLS
(Alcohol Impaired or fail/refuse to comply with a demand for alcohol/drug testing)

12,612 13,473 12,365

Warn Range
(BAC > 0.05; 3, 7, or 30 day suspension)

7,257 6,683 4,925

SFST-based
(drugs/alcohol: 3, 7, or 30 day suspension)

165 140 112

Novice Zero-BAC
(alc presence: 3, 7, or 30 day suspension)

438 529 552

Under 22 Zero BAC
(alc presence: 3, 7, or 30 day suspension)

107 139 109

DRE-based
(drug impairment; 90-day suspension)

862 1,230 2,216

Novice  Zero Drug
(oral fluid drug presence: 3, 7, or 30 day suspension)

6 63 104

Novice Under 22 Zero Drug
(oral fluid drug presence: 3, 7, or 30 day suspension)

6 15 16

Zero BAC Commercial
(alcohol presence: 3 day suspension)

44 110 103

Zero Drug Commercial
(oral fluid drug presence: 3 day suspension)

4 11 20
Total 21,501 22,393 20,522

Analysis and Conclusions

In most jurisdictions across Canada, all data sources (population surveys, roadside surveys, police-reported incidents, as well as coroners’ toxicological analyses) tend to indicate an ongoing trend over the past 10-12 years of DID incidents increasing as a proportion of all impaired-driving incidents, with cannabis being one the most frequently detected class of drug among drivers.

On one hand, there are some preoccupying indicators. Cannabis users, especially daily or almost daily users, are more likely to think that cannabis use does not impair driving. In addition, despite increased public awareness campaigns and new and enhanced tools for police to enforce DID laws, only 25% of Canadians believe that it is very likely that they will get caught if they drive under the influence of cannabis. And while police-reported data tends to indicate a significant decline in overall trends in impaired driving incidents over the past ten years, the proportion of DID incidents reported by police has significantly increased from about 2% of the total in 2009, to approximately 9% in 2020. It is possible that the increase in the proportion of police-reported DID incidents may be related more to enhanced awareness, and the increase in training and new detection and investigation capacities among law enforcement personnel, than to trends in the actual behaviour of driving after drug and cannabis use. Future year data on trends and patterns in self-reported and detected behaviour may help determine if there is indeed an increase in actual drug-driving behaviour.

On the other hand, survey data tends to indicate that public education and awareness campaigns conducted nationally by Public Safety Canada and in provinces and territories appear to have effectively changed Canadians’ perceptions around driving after cannabis use, with an increasing number of respondents agreeing that cannabis use impairs driving abilities. Furthermore, the proportion of Canadians reporting driving after cannabis use has continued to decline in 2020.

Whether the current levels of law enforcement capacity to effectively detect and deter DID are sufficient cannot be determined. Nevertheless, despite the COVID-19 pandemic halting progress in 2020, there has been a significant increase in law enforcement capacity building through enhanced training in SFST, DRE and the use of ADSE. There is well over 26,000 officers trained in SFST. While limited data is collected on the use of SFST by law enforcement, it appears to be increasing. Eleven of thirteen jurisdictions have now procured ADSEs and their use appears to be increasing. It can be expected that use will increase as law enforcement becomes more familiar with these tools. Data indicates that there were 1,389 active DREs at any point in time in 2020, compared to 1,321 in 2019. Furthermore, data on use of DRE shows that it has continued to increase in 2020 at a rate faster than the increase in the number of trained officers: use of DRE has doubled since 2018, while the number of certified DRE officers has increased by approximately 51% between 2018 and 2020. Officers conducted 5,948 DRE evaluations in 2020, an increase from 4,169 in 2019. The proportion of DRE category opinions is variable but tends to be higher for “drugs” in general than for cannabis specifically.

Furthermore, available data indicates that these tools are highly reliable: when a DRE and/or blood sample are requested further to a failed SFST, there tends to be a high level of correlation (i.e., a failed SFST tends to be confirmed by a DRE and/or blood analysis).

Given that processing time for DID cases by police and courts tends to be significantly longer than in cases of alcohol-impaired driving, data on charges and their results remains preliminary. There is a long-standing and continuing trend where charges are laid more frequently and lead to higher levels of convictions for alcohol than for DID cases. There also appears to be a trend where administrative penalties under provincial/territorial legislation may be used more often than proceeding with criminal charges. However, future year data and additional analyses will be required to validate these early trends.

Finally, work is continuing at the FPT table and with key stakeholders such as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to continue improving the completeness and accuracy of available data.

References

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