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Feds announce funding to fight drug-impaired driving in Ontario

Last Updated Apr 29, 2019 at 5:25 pm EDT

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair announces funding for Ontario to fight drug-impaired driving and deter drivers from getting behind the wheel while high. CITYNEWS/Josef Fazio

The federal government will provide Ontario with funding to fight drug-impaired driving and deter drivers from getting behind the wheel while high.

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair announced Monday that the government will give the province $17 million over five years to support various anti-drug driving initiatives.

Watch the full press conference below:

Blair said 40 per cent of all front line police officers in Ontario will have up-to-date standardized field sobriety testing skills by 2021, thanks in part to the newly announced funding. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones added that 6,916 officers are expected to receive training in standard field sobriety testing and 660 officers will be trained as drug recognition experts.

The funds will also be used to buy approved oral fluid screening devices and hire analysts who will contribute to standardized data collection and reporting practices.

Currently only one roadside drug screening device has been approved for use in Canada, but Blair announced a second device will soon be federally approved. The new device is currently going through its initial 30 days of testing and will be made available to law enforcement across the country shortly.

Sgt. Kerry Schmidt tells CityNews the Ontario Provincial Police has purchased 23 of the previously approved Drager 5000 roadside drug testing devices. Front line officers are currently being trained and he says the devices are expected to be on the roads by the end of May.

Along with funding, Blair also revealed a new ad campaign aimed at making people even more aware of the dangers and consequences of driving high.

“We know that people are deterred by a greater likelihood that they will in fact get caught and that there will be significant and serious consequences for getting caught,” said Blair. “Public education and awareness are an important piece of the puzzle.”

Blair said many people demonstrate a “flippant and in some cases reckless attitude” towards drug impaired driving, making the need for  public education even more pressing.

While the campaign is aimed at drug-impairment in general, Blair says it is also focused on countering the “persistent myths and misconceptions” about cannabis-impaired driving in particular.

The new ad picks up from where the previous one left off, in which a night out with friends ends in a frightening car crash.

Blair says the previous campaign had encouraging results and had the intended effect, especially among young people. He added that despite the legalization of cannabis and the police’s increased ability to detect drug-impaired driving, there has not been an increase in cannabis-impaired driving.

“Eighty per cent of young Canadians surveyed in October of last year acknowledged that cannabis has a negative impact on a person’s ability to drive — an increase of eight per cent over eight months — this is real progress. That means that young people are starting to get it,” said Blair.

Watch the new ad below:

The ad will be seen on television, in movie theatres as well as in print, on social media, mobile apps as well as on transit.

“Our hope is that by continuing to shine a light on this issue to make people more aware of the dangers of driving high and the consequences of causing a preventable crash we can stop people from getting behind the wheel when they are in on shape to do so,” said Blair.