The Reliability of Hair Drug Tests and Their Impact on Criminal and Child Protection Proceedings

BlogArticlesThe Reliability of Hair Drug Tests and Their Impac...

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Ontario’s child advocate is praising a decision to investigate the reliability of hair drug tests performed at the Hospital for Sick Children. These hair tests are generally used on children to see if their parents or those responsible for them have been abusing them by giving them alcohol and drugs. The test has been considered the gold standard in an unknown, but likely very large number of criminal cases where parents have been accused and convicted of dosing and addicting their children with illegal substances and alcohol. The protection of children is of the utmost concern to everyone in Canada, but up until now there has been practically no transparency when it comes to the way that child protection proceedings and decisions have been made when it comes to parents and guardians poisoning their children with drugs either intentionally or inadvertently. Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur announced that retired Court of Appeal Justice Susan Lang will be the one to conduct the investigation into five years’ worth of hair drug tests done by the Sick Kids’ hospitals lab, also known as the Motherisk laboratory. It will look into whether or not these tests have been reliable, as they have been used in such a large number of criminal and child protection proceedings.

“It is important that Ontarians have confidence and trust in our health care and justice systems,” Meilleur said in a press release. “I have no doubt that a thorough review will be conducted into this matter.” Motherisk’s hair drug and alcohol tests are regularly accepted in courts as an indication of parental substance abuse, and have had bearing on an unknown number of child custody decisions.

Other prominent lawyers like Toronto criminal lawyer Daniel Brodsky, who was involved in the inquiry into incorrect child death investigations conducted by disgraced Sick Kids pathologist Charles Smith believes that the investigation into the hair testing system and their subsequent results is an excellent idea and that an independent probe into said results and procedures may identify “what may be a very serious problem”. Others are calling for such hair tests to be performed (in the future) at a forensic laboratory instead of at Motherisk, which is in fact considered a clinical lab which may lack the equipment and training needed to conduct tests in a truly accurate manner. Something that is very important when it comes to criminal proceedings and the ability for a judge to be entirely informed and convinced by the science presented to them.

There clearly needs to be a fair investigation into a system that may have incorrectly sent parents or guardians to jail, or may have seen said parents and guardians unfairly lose their children into the custody of the state. There are cases out there of parents abusing their children, but there are cases of parents being addicted to a wide variety of substances who truly do love their children but are slowly succumbing to the destructive disease that is addiction, and are making bad choices that may be having a negative effect on their children without them even realizing. Someone who is directly feeding their children drugs and alcohol does deserve to lose their kids. Children are innocent and need to be protected from direct abuse, but does a parent who otherwise takes good care of their children but also suffers from an addiction and accidentally left out their cocaine or an open bottle of liquor deserve the same harsh treatment? Kids are curious, and they get into plenty of accidents and some are accidentally poisoned by a wide array of household cleaning products and other legal substances, and those parents don’t have their kids taken away. This all points to the reliability of the hair drug tests and the possible impacts, sometimes negative, that they are having on families across Ontario and an investigation into their accuracy and the way they are done is only fair and justified.



The Reliability of Hair Drug Tests and Their Impact on Criminal and Child Protection Proceedings