Ottawa schools end random drug searches

By Lunar Loops · May 13, 2006 ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    Ahh yes, civil rights, now where are those when you are trying to gain entry to Sussex (UK) pubs? This appeared in Thursday's Ottawa Citizen:
    Ottawa schools end random drug searches

    Sweeps infringe on Charter rights

    Dave Rogers, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Ottawa schools have ended random drug searches after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled spot searches without warrants violate students' constitutional rights.
    Criminal lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said yesterday a ruling that random school drug searches violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will protect the rights of all students.
    Mr. Greenspon said the decision prevents police with sniffer dogs from searching student backpacks and lockers unless school principals have reasonable grounds to suspect there are drugs in their schools.
    Students interviewed outside Sir Robert Borden High School were divided in their reaction to the court decision. Some said random searches would discourage drug use while others suggested the decision would protect students' rights.
    The Court of Appeal dismissed the Crown's appeal of the acquittal of a student at St. Patrick's High School in Sarnia after a police sniffer dog found marijuana and psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms, in the student's backpack on Nov. 7, 2002.
    The trial court in June 2004 excluded evidence that the student had drugs after his lawyer argued the random search was wrong because it violated the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prevents unreasonable search and seizure.
    Judge Mark Hornblower said at the trial the random search, which was done while students were confined to their classrooms, was unreasonable, illegal and violated the rights of the accused and every student in the school.
    In their April 28 decision, Appeal Court judges Robert Armstrong, Robert Blair and Stephen Goudge said a student's backpack should receive the same degree of respect as an adult's briefcase.
    "This was a warrantless, random search with the entire school body held in detention," the decision said. "It was not authorized by either the criminal law or the Education Act and subsidiary school policies. The breach was serious."
    Mr. Greenspon said the police usually don't have specific information about students using or trafficking in drugs before the searches.
    "For drugs, you have to have a reliable informant about a particular place and person before a judge will issue a search warrant," Mr. Greenspon said. "But in high schools the principal gives permission and the dogs sniff all the lockers."
    Mr. Greenspon added it would be legitimate for police to inspect a student's locker if the principal had information that the student had been using or selling drugs.
    "There is a wholesale suspension of the rights of students with few results," Mr. Greenspon said. "They may find some pot in a locker or backpack, but there is no justification for this because they don't uncover major drug rings this way."
    Sir Robert Borden student Sam Carson, 17, said random searches are a good idea unless they are part of a constant witch hunt. "I think random searches are a good idea because they discourage drugs," Mr. Carson said. "I don't think it is violating anybody's rights if they look for illegal drugs.
    "I think there could be more drugs in schools if there weren't searches. It seems to me that stopping the searches would be a bad idea."

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