HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug Cops Sweep Schools
Pubdate: Sat, 13 Nov 2004
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: The Windsor Star 2004
Author: Grace Macaluso, Windsor Star
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Searches Supported By Educators, Draw Fire From Civil Libertarians

Principal John Byrne wanted the students at St. Anne high school to
know he was serious about cracking down on drugs. So he chose a tactic
that combined shock and paws.

Last month, unsuspecting students were instructed to remain in their
classrooms while Ontario Provincial Police officers conducted a canine
sweep of the Tecumseh school. Four narcotics trained dogs sniffed
through the hallways and selected classrooms in the hunt for drugs
either on the students themselves or in their lockers.

"It's a great preventive measure and more effective than anything else
we've tried," says Byrne. "We wanted to let them know that drugs are
totally unacceptable and won't be tolerated."

The dogs uncovered one student possessing pot on his person and drug
paraphernalia in a locker. Though it wasn't much of a haul and no
charges were laid, Byrne was pleased with the outcome. "It was amazing
how little there was. The OPP deemed St. Anne's a clean school."

However, school drug searches have drawn criticism from civil
liberties experts who call them unconstitutional and degrading. "Our
key problem is the indignity to which a widespread number of innocent
children are subjected," says Alan Borovoy, general counsel at the
Toronto-based Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "Having dogs sniff
around your person can be intimidating, and for some, frightening. I'm
not going to be impressed with the explanation that these dogs are
trained to be civil."

Borovoy also points to "strong Charter arguments that such a search
would be unreasonable because it subjected an entire school to a
canine sweep. It's not simply directed at those against whom there is
a reasonable suspicion, but a blanket sweep."

In fact, that was the opinion of a Sarnia judge who presided over the
case of a student charged after a canine sweep of St. Patrick's
Catholic school on Nov. 7, 2002. Dogs uncovered a student's backpack
containing 10 bags of marijuana and 10 magic mushrooms, the
hallucinogenic drug psilocybin.

Charges against the student were dismissed after the trial judge ruled
the search was "unreasonable."

That case, currently under appeal, is being closely followed by local
police and education officials.

"It's clear you must have just cause before you can go into a school
with police dogs," says JoAnne Shea, principal of F.J. Brennan
Catholic high school. Though she can see the merits of canine sweeps,
Shea also has concerns about a method that appears to be more punitive
than corrective. "The objective of discipline should be to help
students get back on track. You need to foster trust with students."

Proponents, however, compare a school drug search to preventive
measures similar to the annual holiday season RIDE program, designed
to discourage drunk driving. They also say principals have a duty and
right to ensure the safety of students under Ontario's Safe Schools

"Canine sweeps are lawful searches as long as they're conducted in a
reasonable manner," says Essex OPP Sgt. Rob Fleming. He adds the
Sarnia case is important as it will likely spell out parameters for
such searches, which are more commonplace in Toronto schools.

At the Greater Essex District County School Board, Vickie Komar says
such searches involving narcotics trained dogs have taken place at
some of its schools to help principals deal with "drug issues," not to
"get a particular student arrested." She says though searches so far
have been limited to secondary schools, it does not "preclude its
elementary schools."

Fleming says the force began receiving requests last year from county
schools seeking canine sweeps. "It indicates a growing awareness and
concern about the prevalence of marijuana use," Fleming says. "I don't
get a lot of requests, but it's an extremely effective deterrent."

The dogs cannot only detect drug possession, but drug use, he notes,
adding that canine sweeps can help principals ascertain the prevalence
of drugs in their schools.

Fleming gives principals like Byrne high marks for taking a "proactive
approach" toward illegal drug use. "St. Anne's worked closely with us;
we are welcome there."
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