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Study Up: Drug and Alcohol Testing in Canada

In the aftermath of wheels-up Lance Armstrong’s not-so-surprising confessions to Mme. O last week, now’s as good a time as any to put together a snapshot of the Canadian employment landscape insofar as drug-and-alcohol testing practices go here. Here’s a half-dozen data points thereon:


  1. Wildly inconsistent rulings by various courts, labour boards and human rights tribunals across the country have created a climate of confusion on the subject of random workplace tests for drugs for workers engaged in jobs that are not considered “safety sensitive.” The uncertainty stems from efforts to strike a balance between ensuring a safe working environment and protecting individuals’ basic human rights.
  2. As of April 2012, only eight jurisdictions in this country had a policy on drug and alcohol testing: Saskatchewan, PEI, Northwest Territories, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
  3. The Canadian Human Rights Commission Policy on Alcohol and Drug Testing prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and perceived disability. Disability includes individuals with a previous or existing dependence on alcohol or a drug, and perceived disability refers to an employer’s perception that someone’s use of alcohol or drugs makes him “unfit to work.”
  4. Because they can’t be characterized as “bona-fide occupational requirements,” says the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the following tests are not acceptable: pre-employment drug or alcohol testing, random drug testing and random alcohol testing of employees in non-safety-sensitive positions.
  5. In Canada, the (massive) onus is on the employer to establish that drug and alcohol tests are necessary for ensuring the safe and comprehensive fulfillment of a professional position.
  6. There are currently two prominent cases before the courts —Suncor and Irving (see: — that challenge the muddiness of the “safety-sensitive work” exception and which observers hope might shed clarity on the scene.

Given the swirling uncertainty that characterizes this subject, it’s no surprise that taking a boozy workplace abuser to task in this country is a tall order.

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