Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure. Teenagers are guaranteed this right to the same extent as adults. However, to engage section 8, there must be a reasonable expectation of privacy.
What about while at school? Does a student have a reasonable expectation of privacy while within school walls? There seems to be conflicting case law suggesting that determining whether a reasonable expectation of privacy exists depends on context.
In R v Z (SM) (1998), a vice-principal search the locker of one of his student’s. There had been reports that the student likely participated in drug use. On the day of the search there were other factors that led the vice-principal to believe that the student was in possession drugs. Upon search of the student’s locker, marijuana was found. The search was deemed unconstitutional at trial and the student was acquitted. However, upon appeal, the acquittal was overturned and upon further appeal, the conviction was upheld.
In R v AM (2008) the police accepted an invitation from the high school to bring dogs into search the school for drugs despite having no knowledge of drugs and no warrant. The dogs reacted to an unattended school bag. Drugs were found inside. At trial, this evidence was excluded and the accused acquitted. This was upheld at the Court of Appeal. Lebel J for the Supreme Court of Canada found a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the school bag. He stated, “Students ought to be able to attend school without undue interference from the state, but subject, always, to normal school discipline.” The search in this case was abnormal.
Bonnie J explains in R v AM that the leading Canadian case on searches in schools is R. v. M. (M.R.) (1998) where it was held that “the reasonable expectation of privacy of a student in attendance at a school is certainly less than it would be in other circumstances.” Lebel J uses the authority to suggest that students are entitled to privacy even in a school environment. The important point is that the Court in M. (M.R.) refused to carve out a “school exception” to the exercise of police powers.
The contrast in fact scenarios between R v Z (SM) and R v AM indicate that school drug search are permissible, but only when reasonable. So in the unlikely event your teenager is faced with a drug charge, do not hesitate to avail the services of eminent lawyers at Smordinlaw.com, Hamilton to help argue your case in court.