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Expert questions Health Canada's drug testing abilities

A defence expert called in the case of an ex-jail guard accused of smuggling drugs says the methods that identified a pill as Ritalin are not scientifically valid.

A defence expert called in the case of an ex-jail guard accused of smuggling drugs says the methods that identified a pill as Ritalin are not scientifically valid.

Suzanne Perry did not offer an alternative for what the 59 small pills might have been. But she said the conclusions reached by the prosecution’s expert should not be relied on.

The case of former guard Michael Gaber has become about the differing opinions of two chemistry experts.

Gaber is charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

For most of the three-day trial, Yukon Supreme Court focused on what was in the pills that were found on him on Boxing Day 2013.

An expert working in the Health Canada lab in B.C. testified that the one pill she tested was methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin.

Perry, who runs her own consulting company, used to manage a handful of labs at the University of British Columbia used to test substances.

Perry’s major complaint about the work done at the Health Canada lab in B.C. is about the stage of the process where the chemical make-up of the mystery drug is tested against a known sample of the drug that is suspected.

Tests on both of the drugs result in charts with a series of peaks.

Based on the report completed by the Health Canada expert, Perry said it appeared the two charts were only compared visually, not using any sort of computer database.

Identifying a drug based on a visual comparison is not something she would ever teach students, Perry said. It is “not unbiased,” she told the court.

The Health Canada expert, Sarita Jaswal, has denied that she relied only on a visual comparison. She testified that she did use a computer database to come up with her results, but isn’t required by the lab’s policies to include that in her report.

Aside from the comparison method, Perry said she also had problems with the drug the lab uses as its “known sample” to compare the unknown drug with.

In this case, the Ritalin used as the known sample in the comparison was bought by the lab in 2004, though it is verified every two years, the court heard.

If she were doing the test, Perry testified she would have used a “certified” sample which she describes as a higher standard than the one used by the Health Canada lab.

Perry also raised a concern that the pills may have been contaminated by the RCMP officer who packaged the drugs to be tested.

The court has already heard that the table where the drugs were placed prior to being shipped had not been wiped down. Any type of contaminant can affect the final results when the unknown drug is tested, Perry said.

During cross examination, prosecutor Eric Marcoux accused Perry of disagreeing with the lab’s procedures, not the work done in this specific case.

He pointed out that the lab is internationally accredited as a result of its policies and procedures. If the lab followed procedures that were enough for international accreditation, how is that not enough, he asked.

She said the standard operating procedures in the lab leave some leeway to use different methods for testing. Poor decisions were made in this case, she said.

Both sides will be back in court in March to make final arguments before the judge gives his verdict.

Contact Ashley Joannou at