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Public Transit Safety

In Ottawa about two weeks ago, a double decker public transit bus crashed into a bus shelter. Three people died and 23 others were injured.

As this news broke, I couldn’t help but think of the TTC, the Toronto Transit Corporation, just a few hours’ drive away.

Within the last eight or nine years, the TTC has been conducting drug and alcohol testing on its employees in certain circumstances.

So far, the TTC has been largely successful in defending its “Fitness for Duty” policy in arbitrations and in the courts.

I imagined that TTC officials might have been feeling darn thankful that they had fought to defend TTC’s policy.

Across Canada, provincial general occupational health and safety rules may implicitly require employers to implement adequate drug and alcohol policies, including testing protocols.

Despite the fact that the Cannabis Act became effective in October, 2018, we do not yet expressly require the transportation industry to test its drivers for drugs or alcohol.

Instead, we leave it up to individual employers.

The TTC is acting responsibly, with a well thought out policy in place.

Meanwhile, recent news reports indicate that Ottawa transit busses have been involved in quite a number of crashes over the years, resulting in deaths and many injuries.

In 2013, an Ottawa transit double decker bus crashed into a passenger train, killing six people including the bus driver.

Reports have suggested that drugs or alcohol were not likely a factor in the Ottawa crash.

Whether or not that was an issue in this particular case, a question still arises.

Does Ottawa have a drug and alcohol policy that applies to its transit drivers? Does it test them?

If not, why?

Back in Toronto, in a 2017 court decision involving the TTC, a court observed that studies show “a positive relationship between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations in the blood with both being a driver of car crashes and being responsible for crashes.”

Regarding the propensity by some to assert that drug tests are problematic because they fail to detect “impairment”, the court stated:  “the question is not the extent of impairment of a TTC employee in a safety-sensitive position, but whether he or she poses a greater safety risk due to recent consumption of any of the drugs referred to in the TTC Fitness for Duty Policy.”

The court also observed that in that case, the workplace was “literally the City of Toronto and as a result all the people who move about in the City, whether or not they are passengers on the TTC, have an interest in the TTC safely taking its passengers from one place to another.”

The same applies to any community across Canada.

Readers may wonder if their local bus carrier conducts drug and alcohol testing.

It is definitely a question worth asking. Call BC Transit or your local transit operator, and find out!

We should all be concerned about the safety of our roads. We should be asking these questions, not only of our local bus carriers, but also of our politicians.

This is a modified version of an article that appeared in the Kelowna Daily Courier on January 25, 2019, the Kelowna Capital News online on or about January 27, 2019 and other online publications. The content of this article is intended to provide very general thoughts and general information, not to provide legal advice. Advice from an experienced legal professional should be sought about your specific circumstances.  If you would like to reach us, we may be reached at 250-764-7710 or