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Trucker smoking opium while driving, police say

Driver fired and faces charges after incident on Canada’s busiest highway

Highway 401 is Canada's busiest highway. (Photo: Ryan Stubbs/Wikimedia Commons)

A trucker caught smoking opium while driving on a freeway in Ontario, Canada, was charged and fired by his employer, police said.

Police pulled over the unidentified trucker on Ontario Highway 401, among the busiest in North America, late Friday after receiving a complaint that he was driving erratically, Ontario Provincial Police spokesperson Bill Dickson told FreightWaves.

“Sure enough, he was smoking opium,” Dickson said.

Because the offense resulted in an immediate driver’s license suspension, an officer called his trucking company, Dickson said. The carrier fired the driver on the spot, he said.

The trucker faces multiple charges of drug and traffic offenses. Police did not name his trucking company. 

Dickson noted while instances of truck drivers being found smoking opium are unusual, impaired driving cases are not.

“Sadly, it’s not a truly isolated incident,” he said.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, an organization representing carriers on a national level, has been pushing the federal government to establish a national alcohol and drug testing program for trucking in line with the U.S. Currently, only cross-border drivers who go to the U.S. have to be randomly tested.   

Canadian trucking companies also can face tricky legal issues about drivers found to use drugs or alcohol in the job if addiction is a factor. While drivers can be fired for on-the-job substance use, federal and provincial laws also forbid termination on the basis of an addiction and require employers to accommodate it as a disability. 

“Employers should be treading carefully or they could be opening the door to a human rights complaint,” Sara Slinn, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto and Canadian labor law expert. She noted that the judgments for human rights complaints “can be substantial.”

The distinction between firing for the substance use itself versus for an addiction is an important one. 

An Alberta coal mine loader driver who tested positive for cocaine after an accident contested his firing alleging that he was dismissed because of his addiction. His case ultimately went to Canada’s Supreme Court, which concluded he was fired for violating his company’s drug policy, not because of his addiction.

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].