Drug testing at the military colleges

“Having now tangible, fact-based information is really great. It gives us a good assessment of the current situation,”

Brig.-Gen. Sean Friday, commandant

RMC blind drug test called ‘good assessment’

Article By Steph Crosier, Kingston Whig-Standard

Despite a completely clean campus always being the goal, top brass at Royal Military College are pleased with the results of a blind drug test conducted in mid-October that weren’t exactly perfect.

“Having now tangible, fact-based information is really great. It gives us a good assessment of the current situation,” Brig.-Gen. Sean Friday, commandant of RMC, told the Whig-Standard on Wednesday. “The whole idea of a blind drug test is so that we can get actual information to see if our [Canadian Armed Forces] drug control program at large is succeeding or not.”

For the 1,395 RMC Kingston population, a total of 1,220 samples were collected. Of the 175 people who were not tested, Navy Lt. Jennifer Fidler, public affairs officer at RMC, told the Whig-Standard in October that 99.5 per cent were accounted for.

The results showed that 2.2 per cent of military members on the peninsula tested positive for illicit substances. Of officer cadets, 18 tested positive for marijuana, two for cocaine, four for codeine and four for morphine. Of those samples, three tested positive for both codeine and morphine and one tested positive for both marijuana and cocaine.

Of the non-commissioned members, one tested positive for marijuana and another for hydromorphone. One commissioned officer tested positive for amphetamines.

The laboratory tested for fentanyl, but there were no positive results.

When first reported in the Whig-Standard on Oct. 31, officials said the tests were ordered under the Canadian Armed Forces drug control program by Lt.-Gen. Christine Whitecross, who was then the commander of Military Personnel Command and is now commandant of the NATO Defense College in Rome. Friday said he had been an advocate for the tests and assisted in the planning process. Friday said that when he made the announcement, he received a lot of positive feedback from those at the school.

“Let’s replace anecdote and people making assumptions with fact,” Friday said. “I was quite impressed with the positive reaction that the officer cadets had when they found out.”

Knowledge of the zero-tolerance policy is first presented to an applicant during the military recruiting phase. This is why the cadets, though students, are held to the same standard as everyone else in the Forces, Friday said.

“They are members of the Canadian Forces,” Friday said. “They are as much responsible to upholding the Code of Service Discipline as any other member of the Canadian Forces. “¦ Yes, they’re Canadian university students, but they are members of the CAF.”

The blind drug tests were also conducted at Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que. Those results show that of the 226 samples provided (100 per cent of the military population of the school), 1.3 per cent, or three individuals, tested positive for illicit substances, while one officer cadet tested positive for marijuana, one non-commissioned officer tested positive for both amphetamine and methamphetamine, and an officer tested positive for both oxymorphone and oxycodone.

“We are charged with the successful development and education of the officers of tomorrow, a responsibility that we take very seriously,” Brig.-Gen. Steve Whelan, current commander of Military Personnel Generation, said. “We have some of the best and brightest attending our Military Colleges every year and we want to ensure the safest environment for them.”

Despite the hard zero-tolerance policy, Friday said there is no risk to a Forces member if they come forward to a doctor and seek drug-addiction treatment. There are also little to no repercussions if a member is found in possession or under the influence of an illicit substance as long as they co-operate with their rehabilitation. The four facets of the CAF drug control program are education, detection, treatment and rehabilitation.

“Zero career implications at all. That is the best outcome, for them to respond positively to the treatment and carry on with their career,” Friday said. “That’s what we mean by rehabilitation. It’s intended to be rehabilitative and to get them back and back in compliance with what the Canadian Forces needs and expects and demands of them.

“If they respond to that, their career is intact.”

At the end of August, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance ordered Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, then the vice-chief of defence staff, to oversee an eight-person Special Staff Assistance Visit (SSAV) team at RMC Kingston. The SSAV started in November, conducted more than 400 interviews at the college and preliminary findings were presented to Vance at the end of December. Friday said the SSAV has been given the results of the drug test, but he doesn’t know how they will use the information.