A Canadian high blood pressure study sees ‘exciting’ early results as investors bank on healthy returns


It is early days, but investors in a unique health promotion experiment are bullish.

A six-month regime of personal coaching, exercise and healthy eating sponsored by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has succeeded in keeping blood pressure in check — without drugs — for several hundred Toronto-area adults at risk of developing hypertension.

Doug Purdy, 73, walks his Wheaten terrier Chloe near his home in the Keele and Finch area. Purdy says he’s lost 16 lbs. since he signed up for the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Activate program aimed at curbing high blood pressure.
Doug Purdy, 73, walks his Wheaten terrier Chloe near his home in the Keele and Finch area. Purdy says he’s lost 16 lbs. since he signed up for the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Activate program aimed at curbing high blood pressure.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

The three-year, $3.4 million project that will eventually involve 7,000 participants in the GTA and Vancouver was launched last year as Canada’s first health-related social impact bond, or “pay-for-success” initiative.

Results for the first 500 enrolled last May are “very exciting,” says Heart and Stroke senior manager Erin Kim, who is leading the “Activate” project in partnership with the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

Eleven private investors, including businesses, charitable foundations and wealthy individuals, are funding the initiative through the MaRS Centre. The Public Health Agency of Canada will pay up to $4 million depending on how many participants are recruited, complete the program and see their blood pressure stay the same or go down.

Hypertension is the leading cause of stroke, a key risk factor for heart disease and one of the most common reasons for a person to see a doctor and be prescribed a drug, says Kim. It affects more than 6 million Canadians and costs the health-care system more than $14 billion a year.

Left untreated, half of Canadians over 60 with blood pressure in the “high-normal” range (121-139 systolic/80-89 diastolic) will develop hypertension within four years.

In the first cohort, more than 90 per cent stuck with the program for the full six months. And blood pressure readings for a sample of 100 of the first 500 participants showed an average 5.2-point drop. It means some participants moved their blood pressure readings from “normal-high” to “normal” — a significant finding for a drug-free intervention, researchers say.

Heart and Stroke is enrolling its second cohort of 4,100 participants from across the GTA between January and May. Another 2,400 participants in Vancouver will be signed up in 2020.

If the prevention initiative keeps average blood pressure stable for all 7,000 participants during the six-month program, Ottawa will pay the MaRS investors a return of 6.7 per cent. If the program overshoots this target and average blood pressure goes down, investors will receive an 8.8 per cent profit, or $600,000 in total. If the program fails to meet its goals, investors lose most of their money.

“Health promotion is hard. But it’s much better for individuals and society to adopt healthy lifestyle changes and prevent high blood pressure and the need for medication,” Kim says. “And that’s what this program is trying to demonstrate.”

Most of the support is provided through the Heart and Stroke’s “Activate” website and a specially designed app which includes coaching, health information, recipes, mindfulness training and goal setting, says Kim.

Participants with elevated blood pressure must be over 40, non-diabetic and not on medication for hypertension. Once enrolled, they are encouraged to keep a daily log of what they eat and how much exercise they get. The program includes free access to a Loblaws dietitian, a two-month YMCA membership and opportunities to meet others enrolled in the project through periodic community events. Participants receive PC Optimum Points as a reward for healthy behaviour.

The six-month program aims to help participants make “small, healthy choices” to help prevent the onset of high blood pressure, Kim says.

Toronto retiree Doug Purdy, who lost 16 lbs. “and two belt loops” between May and October, says the program changed his life.

“I always had good intentions about exercising. But this helped me get with the program,” he says.

Purdy, 73, credits his Wheaten terrier Chloe and a new exercise partner he met at the YMCA for keeping him on-track. He became so accustomed to working out at the Y, that he took out his own membership when the two-month free trial was up.

“My blood pressure is down to normal now,” he adds.

Regular exercise, along with healthy shopping and eating also produced positive results for Mississauga accountant Babatunji Farinloye, 50.

“I had a health club membership, but this program really helped me develop a habit,” he says. “Now, if I don’t work out, my body feels like something is wrong.”

A grocery store tour along with instructions from a dietitian on how to read product labels, “was a real eye-opener” Farinloye says.

“No more white bread,” he says with a laugh. “I am eating a lot more vegetables, especially colourful ones.”

Mississauga accountant Babatunji Farinloye, 50, says he's happy with the positive results produced by regular exercise and healthy eating since he became part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Activate project.
Mississauga accountant Babatunji Farinloye, 50, says he’s happy with the positive results produced by regular exercise and healthy eating since he became part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Activate project.  (J.P. MOCZULSKI)

Elementary school teacher Teresa Galati, 56, says the program has helped her manage stress — and her elevated blood pressure.

“I have learned how to take time to meditate and it really helps,” she says.

Galati found the personal coaching particularly useful.

“I was able to go online and ask questions and even if my coach wasn’t available, someone always got back to me,” she says. “If you don’t have time to meet with someone, it’s great to be able to go online. It was phenomenal.”

Investors are also happy.

“We are very pleased with how the first cohort worked,” says MaRS director Adam Jagelewski. “We are setting ourselves up for the second and third cohorts that will ultimately dictate whether investors will get their returns or not.”

While some critics say government should not be paying a “middle man” to deliver public health and social services, Jagelewski says the pay-for-success premium makes everyone involved work harder and allows public officials to show taxpayers what their money has been able to accomplish.

“It doesn’t have to be a social impact bond,” he says. “Outcome-based contracts that have rigour around outcomes-based measurement are where we ought to be going generally.”

A social impact bond using private investors to take on the risk is just one way to do it. Governments could just as easily take this approach, he adds.

“The question is how can we learn from the way this program was designed and apply it to diabetes and other chronic disease and even mental health and addictions,” he says. “I’m hoping this program is a beacon of light for preventative programs across the board.”

As Heart and Stroke gears up to enrol its next cohort, the foundation is inviting employers, unions, health care providers, community associations and other groups to encourage their staff, members, patients and clients to join the free wellness program. Staff from Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart and CAA Club Group have already participated and Deloitte and others are on board for the next cohort, Kim says.

For employers with more than 500 staff, Heart and Stroke will send volunteers to the workplace to measure blood pressure and enrol those who qualify. Those who don’t qualify still get access to the foundation’s health resources and a free two-week YMCA membership.

“As everyone knows, a healthier workforce is a happier workforce, with less days off etc.,” Kim says. “We are really keen to know if corporations would spread the word for us because it could really benefit them too.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb


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Alberta government to support safe withdrawal site for Blood Tribe – Lethbridge


A new safe withdrawal management site will provide substance use treatment services for people in the Blood Tribe community.

The Alberta government releasing a statement Thursday, stating that they will be providing $2.2 million over two years for startup and operational costs for the new program.

“The Blood Tribe has developed a community-based solution to help ease the current overdose crisis,” said Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman said in a release Thursday.

“Our government is proud to provide funding for this new program. We will continue to work with the Blood Tribe to ensure they have the support they need to provide treatment and care for people affected by substance use.”

Drug crisis on Blood Tribe sees 34 overdoses, 3 deaths in 21 days: official

Paramedics will now be able to give patients who have overdosed the option of going to the safe withdrawal management site to receive health assessment, interventions, and access to local resources and programs.

WATCH: Blood Reserve sees 34 overdoses and 3 deaths in 21 days: official

“Premier Notley, Minister Hoffman and the Alberta Cabinet have been sincerely appreciative and helpful in combating the opioid crisis that has plagued our people over the last few years,” said Blood Tribe Chief Roy Fox in a release. “We thank them for their continued involvement and providing additional resources towards the medical treatment centre that our Health Board, Department and Council have initiated.

“Many other departments, tribal members and others have worked collaboratively towards ending this drug problem and we thank them for their courage and commitment. May our Creator help those of our people who are addicted to overcome their problems and seek the help that is being offered by trained people and especially our spiritual leaders.”

Patients will also have the option of attending the Kainai Transition Society to support recovery and transition back into the community.

Blood Tribe issues warning about carfentanil after learning of recent overdoses

The safe withdrawal management site will include:

  • Twenty-four-hour clinical care;
  • A six-bed safe withdrawal management program with medical support from paramedics and local physicians;
  • Treatment options to support recovery; and
  • An option to move to the Kainai Transition Centre Society within 10 to 14 days to support recovery and transition back to the community.

Construction and renovations to get the site open are currently underway, with the opening date slated for early 2019.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Officer shot in Niagara had ‘bad blood with the world,’ brother says


A man whose trigger rage is described as a “red mist”.

Who once punched a sibling in the face so hard that the youth was knocked out cold, according to his brother.

Who began using steroids as a teenager — synthetic drugs linked to aggression and uncontrollable wrath, his brother said.

Who strikes fear in the heart of family members.

Father of 18-year-old triplets who must now come to grips with the fact their police officer dad has been shot full of bullets — at least five, his life saved by a Kevlar vest.

Const. Nathan Parker, a veteran with 28 years on the force, was the “victim” in Thursday’s cop-on-cop shooting between officers with the Niagara Regional Police Service.

Det.-Sgt. Shane Donovan, identified as the cop who fired his police-issue gun, has been designated the only “subject officer” by the Special Investigations Unit, arising from a violent confrontation, purportedly a fist fight, during what should have been a routine followup — reconstructing the scene — of an impaired driving collision 17 days earlier, down a rural road about 22 kilometres south of St. Catharines.

“Nathan Parker is no innocent person,” his brother Phillip Parker told the Star on Sunday. “I can tell you … that if he got shot, it’s because he made the other person fear for his life. He’s a frightening person.”

In a phone interview and email communications, Phillip Parker recounted a lifetime of bullying, threats and physical violence at the hands of his three-years-older brother, leading ultimately to complete estrangement in 2012. “I won’t let him anywhere near me and, more importantly, I won’t let him anywhere near my daughter.”

Philip Parker writes: “As a family member, I am supposed to be shocked and filled with emotion, but my first reaction is, ‘What took so long?’

“My brother is a violent man. Niagara should have fired him years ago. Maybe the other officer will face real consequences. Then again, maybe he was defending himself from my brother and his uncontrollable rage. I was on the receiving end of that rage while growing up, so my assumption leans toward self-defence.”

One of the final episodes in which the brothers had contact was when Philip Parker’s ex-wife tried to arrange a get-together with their kids. Nathan Parker responded with increasingly hostile emails accusing his sister-in-law of maintaining a friendship with his own “f—ing” ex-wife. The Star has seen some of those emails.

“I’m the one who deserves an apology and bring up my job again Phillip oh ya … you don’t have one right. Have a nice life … because obviously you think more of someone who abandoned me because she listened to other people … siding with people outside your family that’s integrity is it …”

Nathan Parker accused his ex’s sister of “badmouthing” him around Niagara region, “which even interfered with my job.”

Phillip Parker countered: “Is your reaction to rage until you suffer an aneurysm? Anger hurts only you and the kids … Do not forget, I grew up with your bullying, so I do possess some insight. Bellowing and impulsive aggression mark your pattern of behaviour. Roaring and screaming works for drill instructors, but it alienates and terrifies your family.”

To the Star, Phillip expressed regret that he hadn’t brought his concerns about his brother’s anger management issues to the police department. But Niagara Regional has been well aware of Nathan Parker’s history, which includes four disciplinary hearings involving aggressive behaviour and unreasonable use of force. In all cases he was either convicted by a tribunal or pleaded guilty. Collectively, the constable has been docked 226 hours pay since 2012. At one point, he was also ordered to take retraining and anger management counselling.

Phillip Parker suggests “it is less expensive to set legal precedent and fight the police union than it is to keep Nathan Parker on the payroll. That is my ignorance, suspicious opinion, since I have no law enforcement experience. But how else can someone explain my brother not getting fired after (a) cyclist was picked up and thrown to the pavement on his bike, with his feet still clipped into the pedals? Appalling and self-evident. Niagara Regional Police is in dire need of fresh leadership.”

In fact, while this is believed to be the first allegedly deliberate cop-on-cop shooting, possibly in the entire country, a Niagara Regional officer was killed by a fellow cop during training at the police firing range in 1993. And last year, a constable pleaded guilty to pointing an unloaded police rifle at a fellow officer’s chest in their detachment in what was apparently a jest. She pleaded guilty and was given an absolute discharge.

Nathan Parker is reported in “stable” condition in hospital. The Toronto Sun’s Sam Pazzano has reported that the officer who fired emptied most of his 15-bullet magazine at his fellow-cop during the “altercation,” as described by the SIU, and that Parker had a portion of his nose blown off.

The SIU has designated 13 cops (including Parker) as witness officers, which, as an aside, begs the question: Why was there practically an entire platoon at the scene?

Two firearms, belonging to Parker and Donovan, were retrieved by SIU investigators. As of Sunday, no charges had been laid.

But Phillip Parker asks a crucial question: Why was Parker, given his troubling history, still a cop, authorized to carry a weapon?

In Ontario, under the Police Services Act, tribunals can be held at the behest of a police chief but the chief cannot unilaterally dismiss an officer unless he or she has been convicted of a criminal offence.

“The chief is removed from the hearing to make it fair and impartial,” explains Cliff Priest, president of the Niagara Regional Police Association. “The chief has to follow the Police Services Act, which means there has to be a hearing. The tribunal decides on the resolution. At times, it can result in dismissal and (the punishment) can be accumulative.”

Yet the Act itself is deeply flawed, says Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Toronto police board.

“A police chief can recommend dismissal to the board, based on severity of the offence (under the PSA). The problem is that doesn’t happen as frequently as one would hope.’’

One reason for that is because hearings are conducted by senior officers — who aren’t trained judges or lawyers — from within the same police force of the defendant. While there are distinct “principles” to ascertain guilt and consequences, tribunal officiators tend to “apply low standards,” says Mukherjee.

Changing the Police Act to address that concern “has been a topic of conversation”, Mukherjee continues. “This system of imposing discipline is so out of date and so difficult to apply that it needs to be changed. It is a very unsatisfactory system.”

Mukherjee further asserts that the SIU — which investigates all incidents involving police that result in death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault — “tends to frame its investigations too narrowly.

“The SIU does have the ability to cast its net wide, take a broader view in justice oversight, but it doesn’t do that.”

Mukherjee can’t speak specifically to this cop-on-cop shooting. But he echoes the concern of Phillip Parker. “If there was a history with this officer, why was he able to get away with it for so long?”

Phillip Parker doesn’t much care what happens to his brother now. “My brother had bad blood with the world.

“You report that monster was in critical condition. I feel concern for his three kids.”

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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‘There is no validity’: Unproven blood tests for food sensitivity widely offered in Canada


Feeling fat, itchy or bloated? Got tummy trouble? Want to help your hair or fix your skin? Could what you’re eating be ailing you? That’s certainly the sales pitch from companies behind food sensitivity tests.

They’re often advertised as a quick solution to a range of health issues, including by two of Canada’s biggest labs — despite the fact the science behind these questionable tests has been discredited by medical groups around the world.

And consumers, including Laura Chapnick, are buying in.

While waiting for other blood tests and an ultrasound in a Dynacare clinic, Chapnick saw an ad stating that 45 per cent of people suffer from food intolerances. Desperate for answers to her ongoing stomach problems, Chapnick later asked to take the $325 food intolerance test.

She said she « genuinely believed that doing … the blood test was going to give me absolute factual answers that I needed. »

Laura Chapnick decided to ask for an IgG blood test for food sensitivities after seeing an ad in a Dynacare clinic. She was there for other blood tests and an ultrasound. (CBC)

Within weeks, she received a report outlining 26 foods she should reduce or eliminate altogether. Many were foods she had been eating regularly, including corn, potatoes, peanuts, wheat, milk and eggs.  

« These tests scared the crap out of me, » she said. « These food tests scared me into believing that whatever I put in my mouth was toxic. »

Grocery shopping and eating quickly became a challenge. « I felt like a prisoner in my own head almost, » Chapnick said, « and became very obsessive, trying to figure out what can I eat. »

  • Also on Marketplace this week: Investigating the rise of ‘tech abuse’ and the truth about popular (and pricey) ‘teatoxes.’ Watch at 8 p.m. Friday on CBC TV or online.

Chapnick is not alone. The value of the global food allergy and sensitivity industry is expected to hit a whopping $24.8 billion US by 2020. And with food sensitivity tests specifically ranging in cost from more than $100 to nearly $400, companies are cashing in on the craze.

Two of Canada’s biggest labs, Dynacare and LifeLabs, promote and offer something known as IgG food tests at their labs, marketed as a way to test for food sensitivities.

But medical experts, including the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), call IgG tests for food sensitivities « unvalidated, » and more than two dozen organizations warn about the misuse of such tests.

The reports being generated by the IgG test taken by Chapnick and countless others are being grossly misinterpreted, critics say.

Food sensitivities are different from food allergies. An allergy is an immediate, immune response, and foods like nuts and seafood are often known to cause allergic responses that can be life-threatening.

Sensitivities or intolerances, on the other hand, are not related to the immune system and often take hours, if not days, to take effect — and are therefore very difficult to diagnose.

Exposure not intolerance

Dr. Douglas Mack, a pediatric allergy, asthma and immunology specialist, argues the results of an IgG test are an indication that you had exposure to the foods — not an intolerance of them.

IgG tests measure levels of an antibody known as Immunoglobulin G — or IgG, for short.

« It should be used to track whether a patient actually is developing tolerance, not intolerance, » he said.

Dr. Douglas Mack is a pediatric allergy, asthma and immunology specialist. (Dave MacIntosh/CBC)

Interpreting the test otherwise is not only incorrect, but potentially hazardous to your health, Mack argues. By unnecessarily eliminating foods, he says he sees « kids that are coming in with nutritional deficiencies, with failure to grow very well. »

Removing foods from your diet could also lead to development of a food allergy, especially in children, says Mack. One young patient of his developed a milk allergy after eliminating it from his diet when a food sensitivity test suggested he had a milk intolerance.

« If these tests result in the harm of a child, we really gotta think twice about whether or not these labs should be offering these, » he said.

Putting the test to the test

To test the accuracy of these food sensitivity tests, Marketplace ran several different kinds on host Charlsie Agro, including drawing blood for the IgG tests offered by Dynacare and Rocky Mountain Analytical, which is owned by LifeLabs.

Both tests require a requisition from a naturopathic doctor or licensed physician. LifeLabs’ test is typically offered through naturopaths or other health outlets, however, while Dynacare’s food intolerance test is advertised and promoted directly to the consumer in its clinics.

The results from the Rocky Mountain Analytical test reported intolerances to 52 foods, while Dynacare reported 30 intolerances.

The tests offered by both Dyancare and Rocky Mountain Analytical require a requisition from a naturopathic doctor or licensed physician. (Tyana Grundig/CBC)

Before taking the tests, Agro had tracked what she was eating. Yet both tests reported intolerances to foods she regularly consumed, with absolutely no adverse reactions.

For example, Agro had a smoothie, which included flax seeds, for breakfast daily. Yet both tests suggested Agro is intolerant to flax. She also ate vegetable soup — containing barley, kidney beans and corn — without problem. Both IgG tests again claimed Agro is intolerant to these foods.

Both sets of lab results also showed Agro is « intolerant » of egg whites, all milks, wheat and gluten — all foods she eats regularly without issue.

What the results say

IgG is really a memory antibody, says Dr. David Stukus, an associate professor of pediatrics with the allergy and immunology department at the Ohio-based Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

« Measuring specific IgG levels merely detects that the person has eaten it at some point in the past, » he said. « It is a normal physiological response to eating. »

Stukus also said it wasn’t surprising that foods Agro hadn’t consumed in the weeks leading up to her blood tests showed up in her results.

One set of Charlsie Agro’s test results showed flax was a problem food for her. Yet she puts flax seed into her morning smoothie daily and has never felt negative effects. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Some foods « have cross-reactivity, » he said, meaning the proteins in one food are similar to the proteins in another.

« So it is possible that [the test] is picking up the memory antibody of other similar foods that have been eaten in the past, » Stukus said.  

He points to peanuts as a common example: If you’ve eaten peanut butter, your results might suggest you are intolerant to other legumes, like soy or other beans.

Serious side effects

More than 25 leading health organizations from around the world have warned about the misinterpretation of IgG tests, including a Health Canada scientist who wrote « these tests are not reliable and should not be recommended as a single diagnosis tool. »

Position papers from international medical communities have called the IgG blood test for food sensitivities « irrelevant, » « unvalidated » and « inappropriate, » warning that the test provides « false diagnoses » and that « the test should not be performed » for such a purpose.

There can also be adverse effects to drastically limiting your diet, including malnutrition and disordered eating patterns, says Stukus.

Chapnick said her eating patterns changed significantly after she got her IgG test back, which was done by Dynacare. So she turned to registered dietitian Elke Sengmueller to develop a diet she was comfortable with based on those results.

But Sengmueller says the radical changes the test was calling for would put Chapnick’s already compromised health in jeopardy.

« Because she had drastically cut down her foods already, because of her symptoms and her pain and not getting any answers, she was afraid to eat, » she said. « If she were to continue this … for an extended period of time, given her medical history I could see it … possibly leading to death. »

Registered dietitian Elke Sengmueller said the radical changes outlined in Chapnick’s IgG food test results made her client ‘afraid to eat.’ (CBC)

Mack says he is especially troubled by the IgG claims being made by LifeLabs and Dynacare through its marketing, as these are two of Canada’s largest blood labs, conducting millions of tests annually for everything from cancer screening to workplace drug testing.

« These are labs that we send patients to to get their bloodwork done for their iron, or to see if they have cancer, or to see whatever, » he said. « But in the same place, these labs are now offering a test for which there is no validity. »

Sengmueller echoes that concern.

« I’m surprised that an organization as reputable as Dynacare would be offering this to their clients, especially while they’re waiting to get their blood work done — they’re kind of a captive audience. It’s disappointing. »

Answering for IgG

When Marketplace asked the Ontario Ministry of Health about the manner in which IgG tests are being marketed in the province, a spokesperson said that labs are « operating as private businesses … and are allowed to provide a variety of tests that they are licensed to perform. »

Health Canada told Marketplace it has issued medical device licences for some IgG tests, but that none are « intended to be a single tool to be used for diagnosis of food intolerance. »

In its response, Dynacare said that « debate exists » about the use of the tests for food sensitivities, but  « peer-reviewed articles support the use of the food IgG test as an additional source of information. »

And the company said it « relies on the expertise of the ordering health professional to determine the appropriateness of a particular test for a particular patient. »

LifeLabs, the parent company of Rocky Mountain Analytical, also said that « numerous studies in peer-reviewed journals have shown the health benefits of removing IgG-reactive foods, » and that « a test does not need to be diagnostic to be clinically relevant and useful. »

Dynacare and LifeLabs provided those peer-reviewed studies to Marketplace, which were then analyzed by clinical epidemiologist and biostatician Jason Busse, DC, PhD. He found that « all of the studies were very problematic, » and said he was « amazed that many of them were published. »

If you’re worried about how the food you’re eating might be affecting you, health professionals say the best place to start is by keeping a detailed food and symptom diary, tracking what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. It’s important to visit a registered dietitian or family physician before starting any kind of elimination diet, they say.


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RCMP expect massive spike in blood test requests with new impaired driving law


The RCMP are expecting to see their national forensic labs flooded with blood test requests over the next four years as Canada’s new impaired driving laws mature.

The force’s National Forensic Laboratory Services operation (NFLS) receives bodily fluid samples, including blood and urine, that require forensic toxicology analysis to hold up in court.

Bill C-46, in effect since Parliament passed it in June, introduced three new drug-related offences for drivers who have consumed drugs within two hours of driving. All of them require a positive blood test from a suspect before a Crown attorney can secure a conviction.

When RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki took over the top job earlier this year, she was warned those requests could increase 12-fold over the next four years.

Waiting longer for samples is only going to increase court delays.– Kyla Lee, founder of the Canadian Impaired Driving Lawyers Association

« The RCMP estimates the volume of samples submitted to the NFLS for analysis and interpretation will increase to 6,400 by 2021-22, from the approximately 550 samples already submitted annually, » notes Lucki’s briefing book, obtained by CBC under access to information law.

The national lab service receives forensic service requests from across Canada — except from Ontario and Quebec, which run their own public forensic laboratories for provincial and municipal investigations.

Unlike the case of alcohol-impaired driving, which has seen an overall decline, « the number and rate for almost all drug-impaired driving violations has increased, » notes the briefing book.

« While the actual demand for forensic services and court support required for cases involving drug impaired driving is yet unknown, the RCMP anticipates a steady increase in drug impaired service requests over the next five years, » said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Marie Damian in an email to CBC News.

Court concerns

Kyla Lee, founder of the Canadian Impaired Driving Lawyers Association, said an increase in sample requests likely will cause more court delays.

« That’s going to be completely unmanageable for the RCMP labs, » she said in an interview.

« There’s a significant wait time already for blood results in impaired driving investigations. If you increase 12-fold the number of cases that are being sent to the lab, you increase those delays 12-fold, and that has a huge impact on the administration of justice. »

Kyla Lee, founder of the Canadian Impaired Driving Lawyers Association. (CBC)

The RCMP say that, between April and September of this year, the average turnaround time for a routine toxicology service request connected to impaired driving was 130 days.

Both suspects and victims in impaired driving cases might have to wait longer to see where their cases stand if the RCMP labs are backed up, Lee said.

« Waiting longer for samples is only going to increase court delays, » she said.

« Any time you have an issue where there’s this long period of waiting, it raises certain kinds of scientific concerns about the reliability of the analysis and whether that analysis is viable as proof in court. »

Courtrooms across the country have been more conscious of delays since the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark Jordan decision in 2016, which set limits on the amount of time defendants should be expected to wait between charge and trial. Since then, hundreds of criminal cases have been tossed due to unreasonable delays.

Robert Solomon, a law professor at Western University in London, Ont., and the national legal policy director for MADD Canada, said he expects to see an uptick in convictions.

« I think the recent amendments for drug impaired driving will improve the apprehension rates, and (to) the extent you improve the apprehension rates, you discourage driving after drug use. So that’s good, » he said.

So far, there’s nothing to suggest requests for lab testing of samples gathered under the new law have started flooding in.

During a media briefing earlier this month, government officials said they weren’t aware of anyone having been charged with one of the new offences

Estimate called into question

Damian said the RCMP based their 12-fold estimate on the experience in the United Kingdom.

« After increasing the amount of police officers who were trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired drivers, the U.K. had a 12-fold increase in bodily fluid samples submitted for toxicological analysis, » she said.

Lee was quick to point out that the U.K. has a different legal system.

« They don’t have the same rules around searches and seizures and constitutional rights that we do, » she said.

In preparation, the RCMP plan to set up next year a department within the lab dedicated to drug-impaired driving investigations, and expect to hire 26 additional full time lab employees by the spring of 2021. Their training is expected to take 15 to 18 months.

Lee said the force should have started the hiring process months ago.

« Frankly, I think they’ve been dragging their heels, » she said.

In 2012, the RCMP announced the closure of forensic labs in Halifax, Winnipeg and Regina as part of a plan to save $3.5 million a year and create a more efficient service, officials said at the time. (CBC)

Solomon said law enforcement will be playing catch-up for quite some time.  

« There are inherent limitations … fact is, we have no simple, fast, highly accurate way of screening large numbers of drivers for drugs. So there are technological limitations on our ability to enforce the law, » he said.

The RCMP closed their forensic labs in Halifax, Regina and Winnipeg in 2012 and consolidated labs in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa.

The closures were expected to save the federal government $3.5 million per year.


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