Supreme Court says teachers can search students

By Juli Taylor
Port Hardy Secondary School
Port Hardy, British Columbia

You think the stuff in your lockers and backpacks are safe in school? Think again.

A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that teachers have more rights than police. Now, because of the new ruling, a teacher or principal won't necessarily be required to obtain a warrant to search a student.

The incident began in 1995, when a junior high school vice-principal was told by a group of students that another student was selling drugs at a school dance. The vice-principal asked the accused and his companion to come to his office. He then asked if they were in possession of drugs and told them he was about to search them. Following school policy, the vice principal called the police.

A plain-clothed RCMP constable was present but said nothing while the vice-principal questioned and searched the students. The vice-principal seized a hidden bag of marijuana taped to one student's leg. He gave the drugs to the constable, who then advised the student he was under arrest for possession of narcotic.

The case was taken to the Youth Court of Nova Scotia. The judge found that the vice-principal was acting as an agent of the police and the search violated the student's rights under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The charges against the student were dismissed.

The decision was then taken to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal where a new trial was ordered. The teen then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that principals and teachers are not subject to the same rules as police when conducting searches.

This means that teachers everywhere can now search students without reasonable or probable grounds. Instead, a search may be undertaken if there is reasonable grounds to believe that a school rule is being broken and the evidence of a violation can be found. Teachers will not need to obtain a warrant. The teachers will also be the ones who will determine if reasonable grounds for the search are there. The search must be carried out in a reasonable matter and the circumstances considered should include age and gender of the student.

Some schools have already taken advantage of the new rule. At the last North Island Secondary School dance, every bag, purse, backpack and jacket that went into the dance was checked. An even more unbelievable incident happened in Kingsville, Ontario when 20 boys in gym class were strip searched by their physical education teacher and a first year vice-principal after $90 was reported missing.

The boys were taken one at a time into the to the Physical Education office and ordered to take off their pants so the men could check the pockets. They were then told to take off their underwear and bend over to make sure they weren't hiding any money. Not only is this outrageous, but is a violation of the students' civil rights. Not only did the two educators strip away the students' clothes, but their dignity and respect as well. This new decision seems to leave the door wide open for sexual harassment allegations.

Our school superintendent has stated that nothing like that would ever happen in Port Hardy, and that we already have a policy which does not need to be altered. Besides he says students have to realize that lockers are not property of the students, but property of the school district.

Certainly, at our recent dance, things were as normal as ever -- backpacks and jackets were placed in the physics lab as they always are and Students' Council advisor, Norm Prince, has stated that he doesn't think there is any reason to start checking bags at dances unless it is absolutely necessary.

Still, this Supreme Court decision seems to have more cons and disadvantages than pros and advantages.


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