Mouth swabs and plastic cups

English: Welcome to Fort McMurray sign in Fort...

LAST WORD: Mouth swabs and plastic cups

Lexpert, October 2007

by Marzena Czarnecka

It’s finally happened. I’ve become a middle-aged (well, nearing middle-age, anyway, what with the extended longevity of Canadians I’m practically a teenager… ok, the lady doth protest too much. In the 19th century, I’d likely be dead), red-necked Albertan. What I’m about to tell you puts the lie to the organically grown produce that stocks my fridge, the Green Party decal in my window, and the communally owned composter in my front yard. (OK, I don’t actually have a Green party decal in my window. How tacky would that be? But the communally owned composter—that’s for real.)

Are you ready? Don’t despise me. Here it is: I’m in favour of employee drug and alcohol testing. Pre-employment, during employment, random, scheduled, whatever. Mostly in safety-sensitive positions, but probably not exclusively. I definitely don’t want the dude that drives my children’s school bus to be a cokehead… and frankly, I’m not too thrilled about the CEO of any company I (might one day) invest in to be relieving the stresses of his or her job with illicit mind-altering substances. Nevermind anyone with a Canadian flag on his or her uniform, especially if a loaded weapon is involved…

But that’s not the biggie—I can opt out of the school bus, and who knows, a high CEO might even be kinda’ creative (where would the Beatles be without LSD, right?). But the boys and girls working the oilsands, driving those $500,000 trucks (built in China, most of them, I understand—wonder when that recall will come?), operating the oilrigs, climbing the cranes and half-finished buildings that dot the Alberta landscape? Intoxicated construction workers, truck drivers and their kin—a bad, bad idea. (Ditto pilots. Doctors, too. But that’s another story.)

You agree, don’t you? Sort of. I know. Like me, you want to be a civil rights enthusiast. You want to carry the privacy banner. You would not want to start your work day by doing your business in a plastic cup and delivering it to someone up on high for analysis. The whole thing is distasteful and icky, and if you must think about it, you’d rather think of it in a scenario that casts you as the liberal-minded, privacy-conscious defender of individual rights who opposes this US-imported gross invasion of privacy… and what business of yours is it if I inhaled last night?

I get it. That’s exactly how I’d like to think of it too. But obviously, I’m getting old, safety-conscious and risk-averse. Because all of a sudden, drug testing, for a variety of occupations, looks pretty good.

And please don’t think I’m unduly prejudiced against the salt of the earth that makes the oilpatch tick. You’ve probably never gone a-drinking with oil rig workers. I have. I’m a prairie girl, and I’ve periodically lived next door to some. They give great parties. And I’m no angel. There have certainly been periods in my life where the spectre of a random drug test for the most innocuous of substances would have sent me running away from an employer’s bathroom. In fact, there was this one time—but I digress. In one thing my conscience is clear: at no time afterwards was I supposed to operate a massive, limb-shearing, potentially people-killing, half-of-Fort-McMurray exploding machine.

The case law flowing out of Alberta (as well as Ontario, but that’s hardly surprising) on this issue these days continues to adhere to the Canadian, un-American view that subjecting employees to drug tests is well, just not the thing. As I so uneloquently said earlier, icky. We Canadians just don’t go in for that sort of thing… well, except occasionally in Alberta, with its sizable contingent of US-controlled energy companies.

But think about it. Never mind the traditional oil rigs. Or the construction cranes. Think about the oilsands, which are among the most environmentally troubling projects in our neck of the woods these days even when the work around them is carried out conscientiously, responsibly and soberly. My feeble efforts to save the world with a communally owned composter can be negated with a vengeance by one ugly, nasty, horrible mishap up North.

Paranoid, you say. Unimpaired workers cause accidents too. Indeed. Sober drivers frequently cause car accidents too. But fortunately, thus far, police are allowed to test them for impairment and take them off the streets. Even put them in jail. Even in Ontario, never mind Alberta.

I’m off to put some potato peels in the community composter now, and try not to worry about the end of the world. And you?

Marzena Czarnecka is a paranoid Calgary-based freelance writer who really, really wants to be more properly left-wing than she is. What is it with this province? Is there something in the water? In the air? Wait—it’s underground.

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