Cases & Decisions

R v AM [Sniffer Dogs in Schools]

Court: Supreme Court of Canada, 2008

JFCY intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case against a student at a Sarnia high school.  Using a practice that some schools and boards liked more than others, the principal invited the police to drop by with their sniffer dogs to search for drugs anytime. On one such day all of the students were “locked down” in their classrooms and were not permitted to move to their next classes until the search was completed. Only one student was found with any drugs and they were inside his knapsack. He was criminally charged. At trial, the drug evidence was excluded because the judge said that the sniffer dogs and police had performed an illegal search that violated the rights of the student.

The case was appealed up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court was somewhat divided. Four judges said that what a sniffer dog does is the same as a search and that there were no grounds for this search and it was, therefore, illegal. The evidence should be excluded and the student acquitted. Two judges agreed with that result but gave much longer reasons. They pointed out that a knapsack should be as safe from searches as a briefcase held by a businessman going to his work in an office tower. They pointed out that privacy rights belong to individuals, not to places and unless there was a reason to search a school, students attending the school still have privacy rights. While students may have less right to privacy from searches by a principals who have reason to suspect them, the police have no more powers in a school than they have elsewhere.

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