Toronto police considering drug testing for officers, chief says in year-end interview

Farah Nasser speaks with Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders in year-end interview
Wed, Dec 20: Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is officially back on the job after receiving a kidney transplant from his wife. He is already facing questions about several high profile investigations. Farah Nasser has more.

Toronto police chief Mark Saunders has revealed he’s considering implementing drug testing of the force’s officers.

“It’s a discussion that I think needs to be had in light of the new legalization of marijuana,” he said. “I need to figure out what is the best direction that we as an organization should take.”

READ MORE: 5 things to know about new Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders

Saunders made the comments in a year-end interview with 640 Toronto host Kelly Cutrara on Wednesday. He said he’s surveying police forces in North America to gather information on what Toronto’s program could look like.

He wouldn’t commit to a timeline or offer details on how the drug testing program would work, saying more research and discussion was needed.

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Saunders comments come following the implementation of random drug testing at the Toronto Transit Commission earlier this year.  The union representing workers opposed the measure and unsuccessfully sought an injunction to stop it.

The Toronto Police Association has not yet commented on the possibility of drug testing for its members.

LISTEN: Full interview with Toronto police chief Mark Saunders

In discussion with Cutrara, Saunders was asked about several key issues that made headlines in 2017, including topics as wide-ranging as the Andrew Loku inquest recommendations, gun control and the police force’s relationship with the LGBT community.

On police officers carrying Naloxone

No plans for Naloxone on police force despite Toronto officer’s overdose death
No plans for Naloxone on police force despite Toronto officer’s overdose death

WATCH ABOVE: No plans for Naloxone on police force despite Toronto officer’s overdose death

Several thousand Canadians have died as a result of opioid overdoses this year, and in November, Toronto police revealed that one of their own officers —  37-year-old Const. Michael Thompson — was among them.

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READ MORE: Canada on track to see over 4,000 opioid-related deaths in 2017: advisory committee

As cities across Canada continue to grapple with the crisis, the provincial government announced this month funding for police and firefighters to carry overdose-reversing Naloxone kits when they respond to emergencies.

Several police forces in Ontario, including the OPP, currently carry the kits, but Toronto police have not yet made a decision. Saunders said a team is currently researching the topic and will present its finding to the Toronto Police Services Board in February.

READ MORE: Ontario to offer naloxone to police, firefighters as opioid-related deaths rise

He said several “practical” factors have to be considered, noting that police officers are rarely the first to arrive on a scene relative to paramedics and firefighters.

Saunders also expressed concerns regarding how officers who administer Naloxone would be viewed by the Special Investigations Unit. If a person who is provided with Naloxone dies, the officer who intervened would be investigated under current laws, he said.

READ MORE: Toronto Fire Services now equipped with naloxone kits for opioid overdose

He also had questions about officers’ ability to safely store the drug and the possible cost beyond the initial rollout.

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“It’s over $100 a pop and I’ve got 5,000 officers,” he said, “And this thing definitely, at it’s best point, has to be changed every two years, plus I’ll have to have a surplus of that, and is the government willing to continue to pay that?”

On Tasers and the use of force

Jury at Andrew Loku coroner’s inquest recommends training in anti-black racism
Jury at Andrew Loku coroner’s inquest recommends training in anti-black racism

WATCH ABOVE: Jury at Andrew Loku coroner’s inquest recommends training in anti-black racism

This year, Toronto police were given a list of 15 recommendations following a coroner’s inquiry into the 2015 police shooting death of Andrew Loku.

Among them was that officers be given training to combat anti-black racism and discrimination against those with mental illness.

READ MORE: 55% of black Toronto-area residents report being stopped by police: survey

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The jury also recommended all patrol cars should be equipped with stun guns, also known as Tasers, to curb use of lethal force.

Saunders said he’s long been supportive of that idea, given that officers are trained to use the least amount of force possible, and said that the possibility will be discussed at an upcoming Police Services Board Meeting.

READ MORE: Closing arguments begin at inquest into death of Toronto man shot by police

“We have ‘zero harm/no death,’ that’s what our goal is, and so by implementing more less lethal options, we will be able to achieve those outcomes more successfully.”

On his health

Saunders — who has been chief of Canada’s largest municipal police force since 2015 — took a few months off after receiving a kidney transplant from his wife in October.

READ MORE: Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders set to return to work after kidney transplant

He told Cutrara he was “feeling good” after getting plenty of rest. He returned to work in early December.

“Having a good team allowed me the opportunity to sleep well at night,” he said of his time off. “And here I am, back in the game.”

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With files from the Canadian Press and Global News