A Supreme Court of Canada ruling that random searches by drug-sniffing dogs violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms won’t affect a Yukon school’s canine program, says the government.
The court ruled random searches in two cases breached the Charter.
The decision puts the use of drug dogs for random searches into question across the country.
A Yukon school’s use of a drug dog that patrols the hallways could be challenged, but the Education department believes the decision won’t affect the program.
Porter Creek Secondary School has been using Ebony, a trained drug dog, for several months.
Ebony roams the school’s hallways randomly sniffing for drugs as part of a three-year, $275,000 pilot program.
The Supreme Court issued its 6-3 decision Friday morning.
The court considered two cases: one a random search at a southwestern Ontario high school and the other at a Calgary bus terminal.
The drug dog searches breached the provisions of reasonable search and seizure in Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said the court.
Police conducted a surprise search at a Sarnia, Ontario, high school. There, students were detained in their classrooms while a drug dog sniffed students’ backpacks, which had been collected in the gym.
One youth was charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking after a backpack was found to contain pot and magic mushrooms.
Police didn’t have a search warrant or prior tip about the drugs.
Porter Creek Secondary maintains Ebony isn’t used for random locker searchers, but mingles with the students.
A student suspected of possessing drugs will be dealt with by Principal Kerry Huff, who might conduct a locker search.
“(Ebony) is not used as a tool for prosecution — the focus is using the dog as a deterrent,” said Education spokesperson Michele Royle.
The seized drugs aren’t used for prosecution, she added.
The Yukon’s Justice department is reviewing the Supreme Court decision to see how it might affect the program.
The other case considered by the court involved a man at a Calgary bus depot who was found with cocaine and heroin in his luggage after a drug dog marked his bags for a search.
Again, the officers had no prior evidence a crime was committed.
The Crown argued drug dogs only provide information that could lead to search and doesn’t actually count as a search.
Backpacks “objectively command a measure of privacy,” wrote the court.
“No doubt ordinary businessmen and businesswoman riding along on public transit or going up and down on elevators in office towers would be outraged at a suggestion that the contents of their briefcases could randomly be inspected by the police without ‘reasonable suspicion’ of illegality,” wrote the court.
A drug dog can only be used when reasonable suspicion is demonstrated, it added.
The idea for the drug dog came from a group of concerned parents who lobbied Porter Creek administration and the school council with information about the Canines for Safer Schools program.
A student’s parent challenged the introduction of Ebony to the hallways of the school because their 15-year-old daughter is severely allergic to dogs.
But last fall, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale dismissed a Yukon Human Rights Commission search for an injunction to prevent the dog from patrolling the school.
Porter Creek’s Huff could not be reached for comment because he is away at meetings.
The remaining school’s administration refused to comment, saying that only Huff is authorized to speak to media.
Ebony’s handler, Doug Green, could not be reached for comment.