HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Right To Privacy Diminished At School
Pubdate: Wed, 02 Oct 2002
Source: Burlington Post (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 Burlington Post
Author: David Harris, Criminal Law
Bookmark: (Youth)


Young people are in no different position than adults when it comes to 
police searches. In fact, in some circumstances, such as searches in 
schools, youths may have fewer rights than adults.

The school year has just started, so let's take a look at this. The Supreme 
Court of Canada considered the issue in a case from Nova Scotia where a 
vice-principal had heard from students that a 13-year-old was selling drugs 
in the school and would be carrying drugs at a school dance. The V-P called 
the RCMP to attend and then asked the accused to accompany him to his 
office. He then questioned the boy until a police officer arrived. The 
officer advised the boy the V-P was going to search him. A plastic bag 
containing a small amount of marijuana was found and the boy was charged 
with possession.

The Supreme Court assumed for purposes of the case that schools constitute 
part of government and that the vice-principal was acting as an agent of 
the police. Accordingly, the Charter of Rights applied to his actions. They 
found however, the search was not unreasonable and the marijuana was not 
excluded from evidence during the trial. The Charter of Rights provides 
that "everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and 
seizure." What is considered to be unreasonable in a particular case will 
be determined largely by the degree of privacy that any individual might 
reasonably expect to have in those circumstances. While a student does have 
a reasonable expectation of privacy, it is significantly diminished in a 
school setting.

While warrantless searches are normally considered to be unreasonable, a 
more flexible and lenient approach is required in schools. A school 
authority must have reasonable grounds to believe there has been a breach 
of school regulations or discipline, and that a search of a student will 
uncover evidence of that infraction. The reasonable grounds may include 
information received from one or more credible students or from a teacher's 
or principal's own observations. Such searches are not limited to drug 
cases and may be permitted in cases where the school officials have 
reasonable grounds to believe that weapons, alcohol or any other contraband 
will be found.

As a result of this decision, students in school have lost a number of 
rights that they enjoy when not in school and a student's expectation of 
privacy is greatly reduced.

At the same time, teachers and principals have been given a great deal of 
deference regarding the information they act on, its reasonableness and the 
credibility of any source. They now have broad powers to search students 
and their lockers.

This decision should not, however, be taken as authority to strip-search 
students. As a teacher and vice-principal at a high school in southwestern 
Ontario learned a few years ago, students still have some expectation of 
privacy, even in a school setting and such invasive proceedings as these 
will be seen to be an unreasonable invasion of the student's rights.

The Supreme Court noted that schools have a duty to foster the respect of 
their students for the constitutional rights of all members of society and 
that learning respect for rights should be part of the education of 
students. Further, values are best taught by example and those values may 
be undermined if students' rights are ignored by those in authority.

David Harris is a Burlington resident with a criminal law practice in 
Oakville. He is writing a series of columns on criminal law. To find his 
past columns, visit the Web site
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