Ontario Education Minister says no strip searches allowed in schools
There is sharp reaction today to the strip search of a 15-year-old Quebec girl suspected of carrying drugs into her high school. The province's education minister condoned the act yesterday but today, appears to be revisiting the issue. The Supreme Court does allow for student searches under certain conditions.
Ontario's Education Minister, however, is adamant that strip searches do not happen here and will not.
The 15-year-old girl was asked to undress completely with a blanket then held in front of her by a female staff member while the female principal searched her clothes for marijuana. None was found.
Yesterday, Quebec's Education Minister defended the school, saying strip searches are allowed if they are done in a respectful manner. Today, the government appeared to be reviewing its rules.
‘They’re taking away her rights of freedom and privacy,’ says 15-year-old Julien Bedard, a student at D’Arcy McGee High School in Gatineau. He and his friend, Vern Dupuis, are the same age as the student involved in the strip search and are surprised the search was legal.
‘Maybe call the police,’ suggests Dupuis, if the school was worried about the presence of drugs, ‘get the dogs to sniff the lockers instead of strip searching her.’
One of the school boards in West Quebec side, the Commission Scolaire Du Portage de L'Outaouais, says that's exactly what would happen if drugs were suspected on a student at one of their schools; they would contact police. They say even if they have the right to do a strip search, it is a question of whether they should.’
Both Ottawa's public and catholic school boards say they don't do strip searches here. They defer to police. Ontario’s Education Minister adds that strip searches wouldn't be allowed.
‘Ontario schools do not have school staff conduct strip searches, said Ontario’s Education Minister Liz Sandals, ‘Never. In any school.’
The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that schools have the right to search students if there are reasonable grounds to believe there is contraband such as weapons or drugs.
‘The Supreme Court made it clear,’ says Ottawa criminal lawyer Norm Boxall, ‘that includes the right where they have reasonable grounds to believe it, to search students to remove that contraband. They don't have to wait for police. They have right to do it and the responsibility to do it. But that power is counter-balanced with restrictions,’ Boxall added, ‘that says the search must be sensitive and minimally intrusive and so the question then becomes how far can you go in any particular case.’
Boxall says given the age of the girl, 15-years-old, it doesn't seem wise for school officials to be doing that kind of search.