Toronto Transit Commission approves random drug and alcohol testing

Public safety fears increased after bus driver found with marijuana following fatal crash

Toronto city councillors in charge of running the city’s public transit system are introducing random drug and alcohol testing for many of its employees in the wake of a fatal bus accident.

The drug testing would be part of a new policy determining whether employees are fit for duty. An outside company would be contracted to perform drug tests on randomly selected Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) employees. The tests would involve a breathalyzer for alcohol testing and an oral swab for drug testing, which would be able to detect if someone had alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates or amphetamine in her system. Most employees, including supervisors, drivers, mechanics and collectors working in safety-sensitive areas would be subject to the testing.

The TTC has a policy in place that tests new employees and those who have received treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, as well as workers it suspects are using drug or alcohol at work. This is usually done through urine tests.

Commissioners began considering an expansion of the policy after a woman was killed in a TTC bus crash in August. The bus driver was charged with criminal negligence causing death and drug possession after marijuana was discovered in his possessions.

Despite the August crash, TTC spokesman Brad Ross told the Toronto Star incidents were rare and the current policy hasn’t reduced the number of impaired employees at work.

The union representing TTC workers has challenged the existing policy, so this new initiative could face more opposition.

“The vast majority of people who are tested will not test positive. They will be people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. Their privacy will be invaded and it will destroy their morale,” Ian Fellows, a union lawyer, told the Toronto Star.

However, to some, public safety trumps employee privacy.

“The public has to be assured that when they put their tokens into that fare box that they have absolutely nothing to worry about,” Toronto city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who is on the commission, told the Toronto Sun. “I do not want any individual that has marijuana in their briefcase or in their bag driving a bus. I don’t think any member of the public wants that either.”

UPDATE: At a meeting on Oct. 19, Toronto city counsellors on the TTC's board voted to implement mandatory drug and alcohol testing -- through breath and saliva tests -- for employees in safety-sensitive positions. Though the number was initially thought to be more, the actual proportion of employees subject to testing was estimated to be about 10 per cent of TTC workers.

In approving the testing, the TTC indicated its existing policy of limited testing didn't reduce drug and alcohol use on the job by its workers and it needed more of a deterrent.

Bob Kinnear, president of the TTC's union, said the union was considering legal action.

"The testing they’re proposing will not determine impairment. It will, however, determine what has been consumed by that individual over the last three weeks," Kinnear told the Toronto Star. "Sleep deprivation is probably our biggest impairment within the industry.”

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