Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children. Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people���s lives, including employment law. She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, AB. Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013, Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides. photo:contributed

Kootnekoff: Ottawa bus crash and 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 thought 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 be feeling darn thankful that they had fought to defend that policy.

The policy has not been around for all that long.

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

Despite that the Cannabis Act is now in effect, we do not yet expressly require the transportation industry to test its drivers for drugs or alcohol.

RELATED: Police release driver after three killed, 23 hurt in Ottawa bus crash

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.

RELATED: Ottawa police identify three public servants who died in bus crash

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 proceeding 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.

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 info@inspirelaw.ca. Check out our website, www.inspirelaw.ca.

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