Pubdate: Thu, 01 May 2008
Source: See Magazine (Edmonton, CN AB)
Copyright: 2008 SEE Magazine
Author: Exile
Bookmark: (Drug Dogs)


Ontario Student Was Right To Challenge The Use Of Sniffer Dogs, And 
School's Authority

I remember the Monday in Grade 11 when our high school population 
shrank by about 40. Kids were marched down one at a time to the 
principal's office, and make the dreaded call home to inform their 
parents they'd been expelled. Over the weekend our ex-military 
principal had arranged for sniffer dogs to go through the school, and 
those whose lockers contained drugs were marked for expulsion.

No one complained, as far as I recall, and since it was a big school, 
it's not like the classes felt empty afterwards. A few of the 
banished were in my classes, but whereas I was a "good kid," in 
general the perps were not exactly university-bound model citizens. 
The automotive program was overrepresented, as were the remedial 
academic classes.

Our principal was bent on turning around our school, which had one of 
the worst reputations in the city, and getting rid of students who 
didn't add value was one way to accomplish that. (Much like the 
principal in the Christian Slater movie Pump Up the Volume.)

We never found out what drugs were involved or in what amounts, but 
in those pre-meth days, most of it was probably marijuana. Of the 
kids I knew who were caught, none of the names surprised me. In fact, 
I was amazed at who didn't get nabbed. You didn't need dogs to see 
who showed up red-eyed in school every day or hear who boasted about 
getting "baked"-an impenetrable code word to teachers, to be sure.

None of us questioned the right of the school administration to 
conduct the search, even those of us who didn't think drugs were a 
big deal. For a while, some students lamented friends sent off to 
lesser schools, but that was about it. We good kids continued our 
pursuit of high marks while looking forward to each weekend's 
alcoholic excesses, courtesy of older friends from another school and 
the basement provided by a classmate's easygoing parents.

After last week's Supreme Court decisions on drug searches, general 
sweeps for drugs in schools may be a thing of the past. In R. v. 
A.M., a recent case brought to us by a Sarnia, Ontario student, 
judges ruled 6-3 that the use of sniffer dogs to conduct a 
generalized search in 2002 contravened the Charter, and dismissed the 
evidence found in one student's backpack. That student was charged 
with possession of pot and magic mushrooms for the purpose of trafficking.

Selling drugs to kids is bad, m'kay? I don't want to see it happen 
and I actually do sympathize with principals and others who want it 
stopped, along with other illegal and dangerous activities. Schools 
should be safe places, with zero tolerance for drug sales on school 
property. That includes alcohol, by the way.

Nothing in last week's rulings detracts from this position. But in 
the rush to keep kids safe from themselves, some of us adults have 
forgotten what we do want them to take in at school. Critical 
thinking and questioning authority should be right up there. 
Certainly, in my time we were explicitly taught the lessons of moral 
and social panics exploited by authoritarian figures. In history, for 
example, we learned about Hitler and other fascist leaders mobilizing 
supporters on this basis, and in English, we studied Arthur Miller's 
allegory about the 1950s McCarthy hearings, The Crucible.

High-school administrators and teachers aren't fascist dictators or 
witch-burners, of course, but aside from parents (and sometimes even 
instead of parents), they are the principal authority figures in 
children's lives. This is a tremendous amount of responsibility, one 
that involves not only protecting young people but also preparing 
them to be full participants in our liberal democratic society who 
can and will stand up for themselves when their rights are threatened 
by the illegitimate exercise of authority.

We don't (or shouldn't) stop people at random in this country because 
they look a certain way, and we certainly shouldn't deny basic rights 
to those who will be running things when we're old and infirm based 
on their age and school attendance.

I regret that the lessons we so smugly learned in our high school 
classes didn't filter through to other parts of our minds, and that 
we unquestioningly accepted what our authorities did to our peers. 
These were lessons many of us had to learn again and again as adults 
before they took hold with at least some of us.

By the way, I found out a few years later that two of the more 
academically-minded students expelled from my school managed to get a 
hold of some letterhead and forged transcripts that got them into 
good colleges south of the border. I guess vigilance is a relative thing.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom