Volume 94, Issue 61

Thursday, January 11, 2001


Ontario finishes dead last - Education ranking puts province on defensive

Former prof talks politically incorrect

Economy slows down slightly: Ivey survey

What recession? City booms

New tax to create safety net

Drug testing could hit human rights violation snag

New club sets sights on stock market skills


Planet Me

Drug testing could hit human rights violation snag

By Mike Murphy
Gazette Staff

Despite warnings mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code, the provincial government is prepared to go ahead with an election promise to make those on welfare prove they are drug-free.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services is currently wrapping up a series of consultations designed to help it formulate such a policy, said Dan Miles, press secretary to Minister John Baird.

"We're just in the final stages of gathering that input," he said, explaining since mid-November the Minister has met with drug treatment centre workers, drug addicts, law enforcement representatives and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

"The policy still needs to be developed," he said, but added the government still has every intention of honouring its 1999 campaign promise to introduce drug testing, even in the face of OHRC concerns.

"We're developing a policy that we believe will stand up to a court challenge," he said, and added most, if not all, of the current government's welfare reforms have had to overcome court challenges.

The legitimacy of drug testing could be challenged based on an important legal decision rendered this summer by the Ontario Court of Appeals, said Afroze Edwards, senior communications director at the OHRC.

Edwards explained the case involved an Imperial Oil Ltd. employee who, in compliance with company regulations, disclosed the fact he had experienced alcohol problems eight years previously. Allegedly as a result, he was reassigned to a less important, non-safety sensitive position.

When the case reached the court of appeals, she said, the judge's decision affirmed drug and alcohol addictions qualify as "handicaps" as defined by the Human Rights Code.

Afroze added the decision also established employers have a responsibility to tailor rehabilitation programs to the needs of each individual, so a rigid set of standards could likely not be applied to welfare recipients who test positive.

"Accommodation for drug dependency must be done on an individualized basis," she said.

Gerda Zonruiter, who helps administer welfare for the City of London, said drug testing could have positive effects. "The general feeling is that there is potential for this to be beneficial because it could remove some barriers between people and jobs," said the community planning and research associate.

She added, however, there is no proof the incidence of drug addiction among welfare recipients is higher than among non-recipients.

"The underlying principle is that we're trying to help people," Miles said.

To Contact The News Department:

Copyright The Gazette 2000