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Graphic by Marie Pier-Larose

Stripping students of their privacy

By Robin Stanford March 3, 2015

School administrators should police halls, not students

It used to happen annually in my high school.

Once a year the police would pull up outside of the building. We all knew this meant locker searches and sniffer dogs. Someone was suspected of dealing drugs. About half the time they would be given a free ride to the police station afterwards.

Graphic by Marie Pier-Larose

Graphic by Marie Pier-Larose

Many years have passed since then, but it would seem that things have changed.

On Feb. 16, news broke that a 15 year-old girl was stripped searched at Neufchâtel High School in Quebec City on suspicion of drug trafficking. Her confiscated cell phone allegedly revealed an offer to sell drugs later that day. Usually, this would have resulted in a visit from the drug dogs. What made this case different was that, instead of the police intervening, it was the school’s principal and another staff member who conducted the search. The student wasn’t asked to empty her pockets—she was required to strip.

More surprisingly, this was in line with current school board policies. In their report on Feb. 17, CBC noted that according to “a 2010 [Quebec] government policy document, the board said staff can search students’ personal effects if they have reason to believe a school rule has been broken and evidence could be located … on a student’s person.”

The justification for this policy is grounded in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling from 1998. In that specific case a principle required a student to remove their socks, under suspicion the individual was hiding marijuana.

Interestingly, the Court stated that asking a student to remove their socks was allowed was because “the search was not excessively intrusive.”

Removing one’s socks is quite a bit less intrusive, embarrassing, and violating than being forced to remove all of one’s clothes.

In this case, two principle elements are very problematic.

First, how is law enforcement the responsibility of school authorities? The austerity measures have required teachers to take on many tasks outside of their job description, but this goes too far. Quebec pays specialized people to enforce the law for a reason.

Secondly, there is the issue of potential sexual abuse. Not long ago, parents were concerned if a student was left in a room alone with a member of the opposite sex. Why are we suddenly okay with a student being forced to remove their clothing? Although two authorities are required to be present and be of the same sex as the student, that’s not a guarantee against sexual abuse.

It should be noted that this is the first time such a case has been reported since the 1998 ruling. Although this could be because no parents have come forward, it is more likely due to the fact that schools are not resorting to this drastic measure.

Initial public outcry was immense. As noted by Global News on Feb. 18, “Quebec’s education minister Yves Bolduc, who initially stood by the school’s decision … moderated his stance after harsh public criticism, calling for a change to the law.”

Mr. Bolduc has since resigned from his position, and announced his retirement from politics. Although not the reason mentioned directly in his public announcement, it’s difficult to not assume some correlation.

In addition to Bolduc’s actions, the parents of the student in question are currently exploring the possibility of bringing the school board to court.

Remember a time when the police and teachers had separate jobs?

I do.