Edmonton police launched their annual Holiday Checkstop program on Thursday evening.
“The holidays are always a special time for friends and family coming home from around the province and country,” Sgt. Rob Davis said. “The public will see our officers working checkstops across the city throughout the holidays to help ensure everyone gets home safely.”
Davis said nothing has changed for the Checkstop program this year despite the legalization of marijuana in October.
“If you’ve consumed too much alcohol, prescription medication or cannabis, plain and simple, it has always been a criminal offence to drive while being impaired,” Davis said.
“You’re risking losing your licence, your job and you’re also risking your life, the lives of any other occupants in your vehicle and the lives of those on the roads around you.”
Edmonton police said they have always had the means to test drug-impaired driving through a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). Police said the test involves questions being asked of the driver, an eye exam and movement tests.
If the test indicates a driver is impaired, the person is arrested and taken to a police station for a urine or blood sample. If the sample confirms impairment, charges can be laid, police said.
Police can also request a roadside oral fluid sample.
However, prior to the legalization of marijuana, Edmonton police had expressed uncertainty how it would conduct roadside tests to check for drugs. The Drager DrugTest 5000 was made available for police across the country, but former police chief Rod Knecht said Edmonton officers had very few of the devices and expressed concerns about its accuracy.
Last year, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police said there was not enough time before the legalization of marijuana to ensure the safety of Albertans. In an open letter, the association highlighted several issues including how officers would enforce cannabis impaired driving laws.
“We don’t have a test available to measure impaired driving. I think that’s going to cause serious consequences,” Knecht said at the time. “If we don’t have a good test to test for impaired driving under various drugs, people are going to plead not guilty and that plugs up the system, that means police officers attending court. There’s going to be a huge impact on the criminal justice system.”
On Dec. 18, mandatory alcohol screening will also take effect, which allows police to conduct roadside breath samples on any driver who is lawfully stopped — not just if they suspect a driver is impaired.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has expressed concerns the new law threatens civil rights. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she has “every expectation” the new law will be challenged in the courts, but added she is confident it is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Edmonton checkstop program involves checkstops and roving patrol vehicles looking for impaired drivers around the city.
During last year’s campaign, 42 drivers were arrested and 72 drivers received roadside suspensions.