Pubdate: Thu, 20 Nov 2003
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2003 Whitehorse Star
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Brown
Bookmark: (Youth)


While the Department of Education and the RCMP have hammered out an
agreement allowing a police dog to search high schools for drugs and
weapons, not all principals plan to take up the offer.

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Porter Creek Secondary
School principal Kerry Huff said he plans to ask the RCMP to bring one
of their drug-sniffing dogs into the building after school hours to
conduct "random sweeps" of the building in an effort to root out contraband.

"We know there are drugs in the building," said Huff. "We know people
are using them, there are people selling them."

F.H. Collins Secondary principal Darren Hays said this morning he was
one of the first to suggest more than a year ago that drug dogs be
looked at as one way to keep drugs out of Whitehorse high schools.

But a drug dog won't be sniffing student lockers in his school until
at least January, when the school council is holding a town hall
meeting for staff, parents and students to determine how much support
there is behind such a measure.

"We really want to get input from parents and for us, we're prepared
to take a bit more time for process," said Hays, who said most people
are "overwhelmingly supportive" of bringing in a drug dog.

He added there are also people who support efforts to keep drugs out
of schools, but just aren't sure if a police drug dog should be part
of that effort. Historically, some parents have been leery of police
in the schools, he said.

"If I have an overwhelming majority of support, then I would see us
using it if appropriate," said Hays, who personally doesn't have a
problem with drug and gun-sniffing dogs in his high school, where warranted.

"Because it is a big step."

Over at Vanier Catholic Secondary, principal Rosemary Burns said
everything is in place for her to have an RCMP drug dog brought in,
but it's not something she plans to do.

"I really understand that the dogs can be one way to deal with the
problem, but I also find it to be perhaps not addressing the problem
in the right way - for my kids," said Burns. "For where we are right
now in trying to combat the drug problem, it just doesn 't fit our

Vanier school is focussing on a different sort of prevention, she

Students and staff who notice a youth struggling with alcohol or drugs
encourage that student to meet with an Alcohol and Drug Services
counsellor one-on-one, she said. That same drug counsellor does class
presentations in Grades 8 through 11, and the school encourages
students to talk to their teachers when they're concerned about their
own or a friend's alcohol or drug use. The focus is connecting
students in trouble with resources in the community, she said.

As well, students are encouraged to volunteer at soup kitchens or the
women's shelter as part of their religion class. It's an experience
that opens their eyes, Burns indicated.

"All of that makes them more aware of what's out there, in terms of
what their lives could become," she said.

Using a drug dog in area high schools is just one small part of a
larger plan to keep students from being high while in class, director
of learning Chris Gonnet said yesterday afternoon as he listed off
numerous ways each of the schools is fighting drug use.

Students at the three schools have been given locker licence
agreements to sign, and much effort has been put into letting school
councils and parents know about the policy, the department official

Gonnet said there was no one incident that pushed the department into
thinking about drug dogs, and the drug situation is no different this
year than any other year.

Burns calls herself "realistic", knowing full well there is "lost of
drug use" in Whitehorse, which to a certain extent spills over into

"I think we only see a part of it at school," the Vanier principal
said, noting it's a small percentage of the Vanier student population
that tries to use drugs at school.

School administrators have always had the right to search students'

Now, if a police dog indicates the presence of drugs or weapons, it
will still be the school staff who do the searches, Yukon RCMP
spokesman Sgt. Guy Rook said yesterday. Police would need a search
warrant to go through a locker, he said.

Huff said depending on the circumstances, when he finds drugs in
students' backpacks, in their pockets or in some other way, he may or
may not ask the RCMP to look into the matter. First, he has to
determine who they belong to, and there are cases where the amount is
small, not warranting the police presence.

That's similar to the discretion the police have and use on a regular
basis, agreed Rook. Sometimes, police simply dispose of drugs they
find on people without laying charges because the amounts are so small.

Also, a school administrator may decide to call the RCMP for advice,
or simply for help disposing of contraband.

"We're really glad to be able to support them in this endeavour," the
sergeant said.

Police officers who regularly spend time in area schools are also
advising staff what various drugs look like and what sorts of weapons
are common, said Rook.

The Porter Creek principal said he's found that calling in a student's
parents often does the trick.

And laying charges isn't the goal of using drug dogs, indicated

"This is not to try and catch people and get them put into jail," said
Hays. "We're just using it as a deterrent because schools have to be
safe. It's our duty."
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