HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Teen Vows To Fight 'Zero-Tolerance Gone Insane'
Pubdate: Thu, 28 Mar 2002
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 The Ottawa Citizen
Authors: Melanie Brooks and Jennifer Campbell
Bookmark: (Youth)


Family Wants School Board to Apologize After Boy Suspended, Without 
Evidence for Drugs

A 15-year-old boy suspended from school because a police dog smelled 
marijuana on his jacket has retained Lawrence Greenspon, one of Ottawa's 
top criminal lawyers, saying he won't let the school board trample his rights.

Chris Laurin -- who had no drugs in his possession -- wants the 
Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board to apologize and erase his 
suspension, or face a lawsuit.

"Chris chose to become an advocate for youth," said the boy's father, 
Michel Laurin. "We're looking at litigation to change rights for teens. 
Chris is being humiliated in front of his peers, and he didn't do anything 
wrong. I'm very proud about how Chris is handling this."

Just after Chris arrived at St. Matthew high school in Orleans Tuesday 
morning, the school principal announced there would be a "lockdown," a 
situation where police officers, at the request of the school, would search 
the premises for weapons or drugs. Minutes later, Chris's Grade 10 class 
was told to wait outside while a police officer and drug-sniffing dog went 
through the classroom. They came out holding Chris's ski jacket.

Chris was taken to the principal's office, where the vice-principal 
questioned him and searched his jacket, his bag and his locker. Even though 
they didn't find any drugs -- and the vice-principal admitted she couldn't 
smell marijuana on the jacket -- Chris was suspended, and sent home.

He was initially told he would be suspended for three days -- the minimum 
for such an "offence" -- but vice-principal Dan Kennedy later called Mr. 
Laurin and said Chris was suspended for two days and will have to see a 
drug counsellor when he returns to school.

When Mr. Laurin first heard about the suspension Tuesday, he talked to 
Chris about it, and gave him a choice: they could accept the decision, or 
they could fight it, and bring attention to the way teens are treated in 

"I feel very good about bringing out this issue," Chris said last night. 
"It's not fair. I didn't do anything wrong, so why was I suspended? I don't 
understand how they can do this to a student who didn't do anything wrong."

After calling the Human Rights Commission and being told Chris's rights had 
likely been violated, Mr. Laurin decided to pursue the matter legally. He 
called Mr. Greenspon last night and the lawyer agreed to take on the case.

"This is zero-tolerance gone insane," Mr. Greenspon said in an interview 
with the Citizen earlier in the day. "I read this article and as I was 
reading, I was thinking 'I don't believe this, this is not happening.' "

Mr. Greenspon is to meet with Chris and Mr. Laurin today, on what will be 
Chris's first day of school after being suspended Tuesday.

Mr. Laurin wants the school board to apologize for suspending Chris 
"without reason" and to erase the suspension from his record. He also wants 
the board to re-examine the lockdown policy that he says strips students of 
their rights. If the board refuses, Mr. Laurin said he will seek 
remuneration for the damage done to his son.

"I look at him, and I wonder, what kind of an example is this setting for 
him? What is this teaching him?" said Mr. Laurin, who has another son, 
Andrew, 12. "I look at Chris, and just hope this will make his character 
stronger, and he'll learn from this to stand up for what's right. You have 
to stand up for your civil liberties."

Parents -- not the student -- have the right to appeal a suspension, but 
the appeal usually takes longer than the suspension itself.

Michael Baine, the superintendent of student services for the school board, 
couldn't comment on Chris's case specifically because of student privacy 
concerns, but said suspensions aren't given lightly.

"There are policies in place we have to follow," he said. "The province's 
Safe Schools Act, which went into effect this year, required all boards to 
establish a stricter policy. It has some pretty tight restrictions. The 
principal considers this, and determines an appropriate punishment.

"We have to remember, this policy is for the safety of the students. Nobody 
wants drug-sniffing dogs in schools, but we don't want drugs on school 

Mr. Greenspon called that policy "nothing short of ridiculous.

"Are they seriously saying there's a school policy that says if a dog 
sniffs a coat, and barks a certain way, and they find no drugs, they have 
to suspend the student anyway?"

Besides the fact that the boy was punished even though there was no 
evidence of a breach of school policy or a law, he said using drug-sniffing 
dogs cannot and would not be done in public places such as libraries or 
shopping malls.

But the expectation of privacy in schools is different, said Robert 
Solomon, a professor of law at the University of Western Ontario.

"Canadian courts have been willing to give educators considerable 
discretion when it comes to drugs in schools," he said.

Eugene Oscapella, an Ottawa lawyer and founder of the Canadian Foundation 
for Drug Policy, said he doesn't like the message this case sends to teenagers.

"Will they grow up thinking that people who have authority over them can 
run roughshod over their rights?" he asked. "Our job in a democracy is not 
to make the police's job easy. And last time I checked we still had some 
democracy in this country."
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