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New roadside cannabis testing device will still be inaccurate, lawyer says

The Abbott SoToxa is a new device that police will use for roadside drug testing
101317-rcmp-generic-road side-checkpoint
An RCMP roadside checkpoint (Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia RCMP)

The Abbott SoToxa is a new device that police will use for roadside drug testing.

The handheld test is supposed to be an upgrade from the only device currently approved -- the Drager DrugTest 5000.

The SoToxa was recommended by the Drugs and Driving Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, and is now in a 30-day public trial period.

But not everyone believes it will improve roadside testing.

"It's exactly the same thing. The only claim to fame that it has is that it supposedly operates better in cold temperatures, which was one of the criticisms of the Drager," says Tom Singleton.

The Halifax-based defense lawyer tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show he currently has two cases involving the Drager device, which tests the levels of THC in a person's saliva.

"The problem with that kind of testing is that THC can remain in someone's system for about a week after someone has smoked a joint," he says, "It has no relationship to impairment."

The Drager takes about 8 minutes to get results on a saliva test, while the SoToxa claims to work in 5 minutes.

Singleton says that police can use the devices roadside at checkpoints or if they pull a driver over, even without smelling cannabis in a vehicle.

"They can demand that someone provide either a breath sample for an alcohol screening device, or a breath sample for the Drager 5000, as long as they have those devices with them in their car," he says.

The case of Sackville woman Michelle Gray made headlines earlier this year when police accused her of being impaired during a roadside test.

"The saliva test showed a remnant of THC in her system, and they suspended her license for a week and had her car towed," says Singleton.

But when RCMP took her to the station for 12-point drug testing, they determined Gray was not impaired whatsoever.

"They're not accurate, the science is not there yet," Singleton adds. "It's not the same way as it is with testing for impaired driving with an alcohol test at the roadside."

Singleton says the RCMP's ability to do this stems from law changes made in December 2018.

"They do not need grounds anymore to make these kinds of demands. For someone who is completely innocent of something, those are dire consequences," he says. "Especially for someone who's job depends on their vehicle."

But Singleton says it's only a matter of time before a case reaches the Supreme Court.

"I don't think the Supreme Court is going to uphold this as constitutional, because the testing has no relationship with impairment," he says. "The way the law is right now, it's a gross violations of people's basic rights."


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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