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The Longtin and Godfrey Cases - The Presumptive Value of Internal Drug Tests

In cases like Mr. Newsome’s, where prisoners are found to be in possession of small amounts of what is believed to be drugs, these are tested internally. This is done by the IPSO using a testing kit manufactured by the Becton Dickinson Corporation, designed for identification of narcotics. Upon completion of this test, if a drug has been identified as a narcotic, a form is completed, the bottom line of which reads "the article/substance tested positive (presumptively) for and is identified as heroin" (or some other specified drug). These certificates generated through an in-house testing procedure are regularly relied upon to secure convictions for possession of contraband in disciplinary court. The reliability of this testing procedure is therefore a critical issue. When prisoners questioned the reliability of the test results in disciplinary court, they were invariably met with the response by the IPSO that the tests, according to the manufacturer’s material, had a very high rate of reliability exceeding 99 per cent. Several cases at Kent, however, suggested that the accuracy of the test, as conducted in the standard operating conditions of an IPSO’s office, may fall far short of the kind of reliability claimed by Becton Dickinson.

Mr. Longtin and Mr. Godfrey were both charged at Kent with possession of drugs based upon field testing of the substance by Mr. Dick, the IPSO. In both cases the substance was sent out to the Federal Health and Welfare drug lab for further testing, the results of which indicated that the substances were not illegal drugs. The charges were then withdrawn by the institution. In the case of Mr. Godfrey, the substance was found to be sugar and in the case of Mr. Longtin, it was camphor. In most cases, however, there is no further test conducted beyond the field test. If there were, would these two false positives in Mr. Godfrey and Mr. Longtin’s cases be replicated on any significant scale? I asked Mr. Dick why the samples in these two cases were sent out to the drug lab. He told me this had been requested by the prisoners and because the results of the field test, while within the colour range for heroin, were close to the borderline, he had agreed to send the samples out and the institution had paid for the tests. He told me that where a prisoner asked for the sample to be re-tested by the outside lab, but he had confidence in the validity of the field test, he would require the prisoner to pay for the lab test himself. It would seem that had the two prisoners not demanded the re-testing, it would not have been done and they would have been found guilty on the basis that the field test was presumptively correct. Mr. Dick was very experienced in the field of drug testing procedures and he told me that there have been a few other cases when he had himself sent samples out for re-testing, where he has some doubts because the case was at the margins of the colour range. I asked him whether his colleagues in other institutions, who had less experience than him, would do the same thing. He agreed that they would be less likely to do that. I subsequently questioned one of the IPSOs at Matsqui who informed me that he had never sent out a sample for re-testing at the government laboratory, even when requested to do so by a prisoner.

After the charge had been withdrawn against Mr. Longtin, I spoke with him about his experiences. He had been charged with contraband following a search of his cell in which a two-inch brown glass bottle with an applicator inside had been found in his medicine cabinet. The bottle was half full of liquid. At the time Mr. Longtin told the officer conducting the search that the bottle contained medication. The officer went to the health care unit and was told by the duty nurse that the hospital did not issue medicine in glass containers. The substance was then taken to Mr. Dick who tested it and concluded that the liquid contained heroin. Mr. Longtin was taken to segregation following the discovery of the bottle and spent seven days in segregation. He told me that he had pushed very hard to get the liquid re-tested by the Health and Welfare laboratory after consulting with a lawyer. The resulting re-test indicated that the liquid was camphor which corroborated Mr. Longtin’s claim that the liquid was medication and not a narcotic.

In Mr. Godfrey’s case, during a routine search of his cell, officers found a crystal-like substance inside a folded paper which again was tested by Mr. Dick and in his view was heroin. Mr. Godfrey from the outset insisted that the substance was sugar and the re-test by Health and Welfare again corroborated Mr. Godfrey’s claim.

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