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Couchiching moving forward on drug-testing policy for staff

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The Couchiching band office has decided to move forward with implementing a drug-testing policy for its staff, including the chief and council—an idea it has tossed around for the last few months.

Chief Brian Perrault and four councillors were tested first earlier this month, followed by the other two councillors 10 days later.

All the tests came back negative.

Band manager Patrick Morrisseau stressed the chief and councillors need to be tested “first and foremost.”

“Legally, we have to test council first before we can test staff,” he explained.

Another reason is that they'll be consulting the band members before going ahead with testing other staff.

“We are going to start doing community consultations with youth and elders to explain the process,” Morrisseau said.

"We will ask them whether or not they advise us to pursue it.

“Once we determine that [the community] is in favour, we will proceed,” he added.

Morrisseau stressed it's important that the community knows about the process before going ahead with it because everyone who works for the reserve will be subject to a random drug test.

Even contractors if the band issues a tender.

Morrisseau noted one councillor made a Facebook status about the drug test, which already has garnered plenty of positive response from the community via social media.

One of the main reasons Couchiching decided to move forward on this issue is because they thought it would be a good way to address drug abuse in the community.

“[Drug testing] has been happening in other First Nations' communities in the area,” Morrisseau said, referring to Naicatchewenin and Rainy River First Nations, where it has been successful to date.

“A number of our council members thought it would be a good idea to implement here,” he added.

Still, the process to implement this procedure is long and it will end up costing the band a lot of money.

Couchiching employs a large number of people. Its staff consists of 125 people, all of whom will be tested once the plan is finalized.

“It is a long, drawn-out process to co-ordinate with our consultant [Hugh Dennis] and HR staff,” Morrisseau explained.

Once the community OKs the project, all of Couchiching's staff will be tested.

Then after the initial tests are completed, three people will be picked at random every month to be re-tested.

“This is all done confidentially,” Morrisseau stressed.

“If someone does test positive, it's up to [human resources] to talk to them about a plan for care.”

Morrisseau said implementing a drug-testing policy will help the band's staff understand there are certain behaviours that are expected from them.

“It is definitely needed to help assist our staff that's dealing with drug abuse,” he remarked.

“[The tests aren't] meant to be punitive in nature," he stressed. "It's to help the individuals overcome their problems.”

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