O, Canada! Sniffer-Dog Searches in Schools Struck Down

By Mark Walsh — April 28, 2008 1 min read

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled 6-3 that random searches by drug-sniffing dogs in schools violate students’ right to privacy.

In Her Majesty the Queen v. A.M. , the nation’s top court upheld two lower courts that had thrown out drug-possession charges of a student whose backpack had been searched after a police dog alerted to it and the police found marijuana and mushrooms. The principal of St. Patrick School in Sarnia, Ontario, had invited police to conduct the warrantless search. Students were kept in their classrooms while the dog sniffed their backpacks.

The majority on the Supreme Court held that the sniffer-dog search of the backpack violated Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says, “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”

“Teenagers may have little expectation of privacy from the searching eyes and fingers of their parents, but they expect the contents of their backpacks not to be open to the random and speculative scrutiny of the police,” said a plurality opinion by Justice William Ian Binnie.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reports here, CBC News reports here, and Bloomberg News reports here. (Thanks to How Appealing for the tip.)

A couple of years ago, my Education Week colleague Andrew Trotter reported that more U.S. school districts were using drug-detection dogs. A visit to a school in Oklahoma City showed that “campus searches typically cover parking lots, student lockers, and school common areas, such as the cafeteria. The dogs do not sniff students directly.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled directly on the use of drug-searching dogs in schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

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