Arbitrator upholds sniffer dog search grievance

25 Feb

On January 5th, Arbitrator Norman of Saskatchewan held that an employer breached its collective agreement by periodically deploying drug detection dogs to screen people entering its mine.

Arbitrator Norman held that the process intruded on a reasonable expectation of privacy based on evidence that the dogs would likely identify off-duty drug use. Though Arbitrator Norman characterized the search invited by a dog sniff as minimally intrusive (and less intrusive than the sampling of bodily substances), he nonetheless held that the employer’s safety-related process was unreasonable. He drew heavily from the Supreme Court of Canada’s Irving Pulp and Paper decision, stating:

The prior threshold stage in the justificatory argument limiting rights under the Charter sets the bar very high; calling for proof of a pressing and substantial objective demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, for the challenged measure. Under ‘Charter values’ analysis, I take the threshold bar to have been set by Irving as “… evidence of enhanced safety risks, such as evidence of a general problem with substance abuse in the workplace.”

While many might agree with the outcome, this reasoning is questionable. The resolution of privacy issues call for a highly contextual balancing of interests. Irving speaks to a particular balance that relates to universal random drug and alcohol testing, a process Arbitrator Norman reasons is relatively intrusive; Irving establishes no “bar” to meet in implementing other safety measures in the workplace whether or not they are related to drug and alcohol use. Moreover, the reference above to the Oakes test is flawed; under a Charter analysis (if such analysis is necessary), the question of whether a search is an “unreasonable search” is distinct from the question of justification under section 1 and Oakes.

USW, Local 7552 and Agrium Vanscoy Potash Operations (5 January 2015, Norman).

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