Keeping Canadian Sport Drug-Free: Anti-Drug Programs in Canada are the Strictest to be Found Anywhere

Published September 15, 2000

First, an independent adjudicator decides to reinstate Eric Lamaze from a lifetime sports ban. Then the Canadian Olympic Association decides to deny him a spot on the Canadian Olympic team competing in Sydney.

These two rulings have created a swirl of controversy.

Unfortunately, they may have undermined what is, in reality, a complex but highly regarded and effective anti-doping program.

The Canadian drug-free sport program is one of the strictest in the world. More than 75 per cent of our testing is done out of competition and on short notice, or with no notice at all -- an achievement not equaled elsewhere.

In addition, our penalties are severe and in almost all cases exceed those imposed by international sport federations and testing agencies in other countries.

Furthermore, the Canadian drug-free sport program is based upon the legal principle of "strict liability," meaning that the mere presence in the body of a banned substance is an offence, regardless of how the substance may have got there.

Under our system, the onus of proof rests with the athlete to demonstrate that doping has not occurred. In layperson's terms, the athlete is "guilty until proven innocent."

The decision of the independent adjudicator to reinstate Eric Lamaze after a second doping infraction for taking cocaine has been closely scrutinized.

The reality is that in making his decision, the adjudicator found himself between a rock and a very hard place. The rules governing the reinstatement that Lamaze was seeking did not leave the adjudicator a middle ground between a full reinstatement and lifetime ban.

The parties that appeared in this adjudication (the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the Canadian Equestrian Federation, the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Olympic Association) unanimously favoured some form of short-term penalty. But they were consistent in their position that Lamaze should not be banned for life from an activity that all acknowledged is his life. It is not only his sport, but also his livelihood.

Within the parameters of the policy and the rules, the adjudicator did not have room to decide such a compromise.

Left with the choice to reinstate Lamaze immediately on the basis of exceptional circumstances surrounding his infraction or to uphold a lifetime ban, the adjudicator decided to reinstate.

As it turned out, the outcome that the parties favoured and that the public has supported was achieved when the Canadian Olympic Association chose not to allow Eric Lamaze to rejoin the Canadian team at the Olympics.

In response to this complex case we offer these observations:

The Canadian Policy on Doping in Sport -- a policy adopted by every sport-governing body in Canada -- is not a simple one. Just as the practice of doping in sport has become more complex since the time of the Dubin inquiry, so too has the necessary legal and policy response.

Canada has a comprehensive drug-free sport policy that addresses many very subtle issues, but by and large sport organizations, athletes and the public do not appreciate these complexities. If we are to be satisfied with the outcome of athlete drug testing, then we must be better informed about the policy and rules that guide drug findings and the ensuing penalties.

Second, penalties under the Canadian policy are severe. These penalties have widespread support from athletes and the Canadian sport system. But as shown in the Lamaze case, such severe penalties may not be justified in all circumstances and may not be desired by the organizations that prescribe the penalties in the first place.

Lamaze used cocaine for recreational purposes and as a result received a penalty exceeding any penalty that would be applied in a criminal proceeding.

Third, the Canadian policy treats all athletes uniformly, regardless of their status as "amateurs." Many have said that the policy should recognize the growing number of "commercial" athletes - - athletes like Lamaze, who is not only a successful competitor but also a teacher, trainer, coach and stable owner.

A lifetime ban on participating in any role in any sport, as was required by the Canadian policy in Lamaze's case, precludes him from earning a livelihood now and in the future.

Lamaze is an athlete who consumed a recreational drug that did not enhance his athletic performance. Nonetheless, this drug is a substance that is banned in sport and is also an illegal narcotic.

There are many who say Lamaze should be treated more lightly than the athlete who takes steroids to enhance performance, and thus "cheats." On the other hand, he took a substance that is banned and illegal. The feeling of most is that the rules are the rules and there must be consequences for breaking the rules.

Unfortunately, in this case, it became apparent that none of the parties who made the rules were prepared to live with the consequences that those rules imposed.

This sad episode should encourage us to undertake some thoughtful reflection on the purposes of the Canadian policy and on the nature and extent of penalties we impose on athletes.

The area is complex and there are no simple answers.

Originally published: The Standard, St. Catharines ON, Sept 23, 2000 pg. A 14

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