November 18, 2019

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Border drug tests defended

They're right 99 per cent of the time, official says

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/7/2011 (3036 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/7/2011 (3036 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE erroneous drug tests that sent Janet Goodin to jail are accurate more than 99 per cent of the time, the Canadian Border Service Agency says.

"False positives occur infrequently — less than one per cent," Lisa White, a communications agent with the agency, wrote in an email. She said the agency collects data on the performance of its drug-detection technologies and performs "service" on them when necessary.

"However, CBSA officers are trained to understand any/all limitations of the CBSA's detection technologies and that is why these tests are used only as an indicator during their examination," White wrote.

The presence of a narcotic can't be ultimately proven until confirmed at a Health Canada laboratory. In this case, the Winnipeg lab proved the CBSA field tests wrong.

Winnipeg criminal lawyer Tim Killeen questions the weight given to a preliminary test that can't ultimately lead to a conviction.

"Generally speaking, a presumptive test is only an indication that further testing and investigation is warranted. It should never be used as a substitute for scientific analysis. False positives on tests for things like blood or drugs can lead to horrible consequences when there really was nothing there. A positive presumptive test should be a basis to start an investigation, nothing more," he wrote in an email.

Killeen says Goodin's age and the scarcity of heroin trafficking cases in Manitoba should have given the RCMP pause about charging Goodin.

"Heroin cases are very rare in Manitoba. There have only been a handful over the years. Why would this woman, with no record, be involved in such an unlikely crime? What other investigation was done? Was there any other fact consistent with a crime being committed?" he wrote.

A judge granted Goodin bail, said Judy Kliewer, a Crown attorney who dealt with Goodin's case, but Goodin could not provide a surety — someone who could vouch for the recognizance, the amount of the bail and supervise Goodin while the charges were still pending. So she remained in custody.

The Crown opposed bail for Goodin because she's a U.S. citizen and because importing heroin is a very serious criminal offence, Kliewer said.

"I think it's widely known that drug couriers come in all shapes and sizes," she said. "It's part of the modus operandi of drug traffickers to utilize people who come across as unsuspicious."

Drug trafficking is a "reverse-onus offence," which means the "onus is on the accused to show cause why he or she should be granted release," Kliewer said.

"This was a unique and unusual circumstance," she added.

william.burr@freepress.mb.ca

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