Fourteen year-old Rachel had never really thought about skipping class before. She knew her friends skipped once in a while, but she had never done so herself. Then, one fall day, during lunch hour, Emily and Mike asked Rachel if she wanted to skip the next period, get something to eat, and hang out until the next bell rang. Rachel wasn’t too keen on the idea, but it was November of grade nine and she was still trying to make friends. Rachel agreed and off the three went.

Emily and Mike led Rachel behind the school parking lot, and sat down behind a wall that blocked them from being seen. Rachel was a little confused but went along with it. Mike then pulled out a joint from his pocket. Rachel had never tried marijuana, but she was curious, and she didn’t feel comfortable saying no. The three students smoked the joint in the back parking lot.

Mr. Smith just pulling his car into his parking space in the school lot when he noticed the three students from his science class walking out from behind the wall. He noticed that they smelt of marijuana and he also knew they were supposed to be in class. Mr. Smith immediately took the three students to the principal’s office.

Rachel couldn’t help but feel shocked by the situation that she had gotten herself into. She wasn’t sure what the implications of her actions would be – she knew that she had used the marijuana, but could say with honestly that it wasn’t hers to begin with. Rachel was worried and unsure of the consequences she was about to face…

The Law: Was Rachel allowed to skip school?
The Education Act is the Ontariolaw that covers education issues, including attendance.  It requires everyone over the age of six attend school until they graduate or reach age 18.  There are some exceptions to this rule.  For example, if a student is sick or it is a religious holiday, absences are excused.  

Every school has a school attendance counsellor who is responsible for following up when students miss school.  The counsellor at Rachel’s school will contact Rachel’s parent or guardian to let them know that she skipped class.

If you are interested in learning more about mandatory attendance in the Education Act, you can check it out online. Sections 21 and 26 contain the rules mentioned in this blog post, and Sections 30 and 31 discuss the consequences of being absent from school regularly without a legally valid excuse.  If you are under age 16, you can actually be charged with a provincial offence and made to attend court for skipping or “being habitually absent” from school! These laws have actually been changed to make the magic age 18, however, they have not yet been “proclaimed” by the government and thus the old rule of age 16 still stands. 

The Law: What about smoking marijuana?

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is the federal law that deals with drugs. Cannabis (marijuana) is a schedule II drug under the Act.  It carries criminal consequences for youth who are found guilty of possession, trafficking, exportation and/or production. There are no age parameters with regards to illegal drug use – anyone found with cannabis will be in violation of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and may charged and must attend court.  Rachel and her friends could be charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Youth who are under age 18 when alleged to have been charged with committing a criminal offence are dealt with under a separate legal system from adults.  This system, and the various rights that youth are entitled to, is outlined in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.  For more info on youth charges, check out JFCY’s Know Your Rights pamphlet.

Scenario by PLE Team volunteer Claire Bogomolny; Legal Info by PLE Team Lead Leora Jackson (a UofT law student from PBSC) and JFCY lawyer