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Shared in accordance with the "fair dealing" provisions, Section 29, of the Copyright Act.

 

Screening of soldiers uncovers illegal use of drugs

Gloria Galloway, Globe & Mail, 24 Nov 06

Article Link

 

OTTAWA -- Canadian troops being sent to Afghanistan in February are being tested for illegal drug use -- and about 5 per cent are failing.

 

The 2,300 Canadian Forces personnel, most of them from CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, are the first group to be checked for illicit drugs since the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, announced last November that the inspections would take place.

 

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium and the military does not want to send people who already have problems into that environment. More than that, it needs troops who are in full control of their faculties.

 

But it took some time to get the testing program up and running and two deployments have left for the war zone without being checked for drug use since Gen. Hillier's Safety Sensitive Drug Testing Directive was issued.

 

Commander Denise LaViolette, a military spokesman, said yesterday that the testing of the next group to be sent to Afghanistan began in September and, as of mid-November, 1,396 people -- both reservists and regular troops -- had gone through the program. The rest will get their tests in the coming weeks.

 

Of the tests completed so far, 95 per cent were negative, Cdr. LaViolette said.

 

"Sixty-seven samples were positive for illicit drugs. In addition to those 67, there were a number of samples that were diluted. In the case of the diluted ones, we did retesting," she said.

 

The infractions have involved several different types of drug use but the military won't reveal the types of chemicals being found.

 

The troops discovered with diluted samples, which can indicate attempts to hide the evidence by drinking large amounts of water, were sent for retesting.

 

But prior to their second test, five people admitted to their commanders that they have been involved in illicit drug use, Cdr. LaViolette said.

 

"So, in total, 72 individuals or approximately 5 per cent either tested positive for illicit drugs or admitted to their use," she said. And another three who had diluted first samples tested positive on their second round.

 

While any drug use within the military is a concern, the levels of confirmed drug use are significantly lower than sources had previously alleged in interviews with other news media.

 

One newspaper reported in October that between 16 and 18 per cent of soldiers were testing positive for substances that included marijuana, speed, cocaine and even heroin.

 

Those who do test positive will not be subjected to a court-martial or any other type of police proceeding, Cdr. LaViolette said. The military cannot use that type of disciplinary action against people who have been forced to submit to drug tests.

 

Instead, they will undergo what is called an administrative review.

 

"The two actions that can result from an administrative review are counselling and probation or release from the Canadian Forces," Cdr. LaViolette said.

 

"We want to make sure that everybody is treated the same, that there are opportunities along the process for an individual to come forth with what they might feel is new information, and we want to make sure internally that people who are observing the process are also comfortable that this process is fair and equitable."

 

The military will consider a person's career, recommendations from his or her unit, previous behaviour and the type of drug used before determining whether the person will be released from the military.

 

But "all of these people have been removed from the rotation pending the results of the administrative review," Cdr. LaViolette said. And because the process will take some time, she said, none of those testing positive will be sent to Afghanistan in February.


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