Pubdate: Tue, 18 Nov 2003
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2003 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Nick Martin


Ombudsman Discourages Winkler School's Plan

IT would have been unlawful and unnecessary for Garden Valley School 
Division to subject Winkler high school athletes to random drug testing, 
the provincial ombudsman has concluded.

In fact, the provincial agency said, Winkler seems to have done a very good 
job of promoting abstinence from drugs among its young people.

Trustees dropped their controversial plans last month for random urine 
testing of 300 student athletes after receiving the ombudsman's report.

"The proposed collection of personal health information would not be 
lawful, or necessary, or effective," the provincial ombudsman's office 
emphasized in the lengthy report that was made public yesterday.

Never before has an issue investigated by the ombudsman received so much 
local, national and international attention, the report said.

The ombudsman said the division showed no evidence that there is a drug 
problem in the Winkler high school, and did not show a single case of a 
student being injured because of drug use. The division's own student 
survey last year found less than one per cent of junior high students using 
drugs, seven per cent of senior high students using marijuana, and less 
than two per cent of senior students using other drugs.

"It would appear that there are factors in the school and the community 
that successfully promote abstinence," said the ombudsman.

Garden Valley Collegiate in Winkler drew media attention throughout Canada 
and from the U.S. after convincing school trustees to back a plan to 
randomly test student athletes for use of marijuana, cocaine and other 
drugs. The testing would not have covered steroids and other 
performance-enhancing drugs.

The school would have randomly picked students and sent them to a nearby 
clinic in Winkler to provide a sample, which would have been sent to a lab 
for analysis.

The division held off on testing until it heard from the ombudsman, which 
has the authority to investigate if personal privacy is being violated 
under the Personal Health Information Act.

"Unlike reasonable suspicion testing, random testing presumes everyone is 
guilty" until proven innocent, said the provincial agency. The division 
said most drug use takes place outside school hours and testing would be 
largely directed at what students do outside school, which the ombudsman 
found troubling: "It is our view that the collection of drug test results 
for that purpose would not be lawful."

Testing urine does not show when and where a person consumed drugs, nor 
does it show if someone is impaired, said the report, adding that the fear 
of being caught could drive a drug user out of a positive influence such as 

Students being tested would also be forced to disclose if they had taken 
medication for a variety of reasons, such as depression, sexually 
transmitted diseases, schizophrenia or birth control, all protected by the 
PHIA, said the report.

Collegiate principal Dan Giesbrecht has argued that the ombudsman's report 
is just advice and has so far unsuccessfully urged the school board to take 
the random drug testing to a Charter of Rights and Freedoms court challenge.
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