Premier says there is "no question" of strip searches at schools
Premier Philippe Couillard said there is “no question” of conducting strip searches in schools without parents being called or being present during the search, but will wait for an independent report before changing any rules.
Couillard said he wants to know what exactly happened last week when a teenage girl was was told by a high school official to undress so they could search her clothes for hidden drugs.
The Premier’s statement comes two days after Education Minister Yves Bolduc said that strip searches of high school students were reasonable, as long as they were conducted under “strict” guidelines and in a “respectful” manner.
Bolduc made the comments after a 15-year-old girl told a newspaper that she felt violated during a strip search at her Quebec City high school. The girl said school officials suspected her of selling drugs. They told her to take her clothes off behind a screen.
The girl said the principal and another female staff member searched all of her clothes, including her bra and underwear, looking for pot. They didn’t find any, the girl said.
Bolduc changed his stance on Wednesday, and promised he would review the rules to clarify under what if any circumstances school officials would be allowed to request strip searches from students.
The girl’s mother said she was happy that the rules will change, but she is still shocked by what happened to her daughter. She says her daughter was never given a chance to call home.
The teenager’s mother agreed to speak to CTV News on condition of anonymity.
“That can’t be legal. stripping a child naked,” said the mother, “completely naked without even letting her call her parents. She asked twice to call me, but was denied. When a criminal gets arrested he asks for a phone call. My child is not a criminal.”
The Neufchatel high school in Quebec City was vandalized Wednesday, with graffiti scrawls of “pervert” over the school sign.
On Tuesday, Bolduc said students who are being searched take their clothes off behind a curtain and hand them over to a staff member to be inspected. Students are never naked in front of school officials, he said.
Although the courts have granted schools the right to search students’ lockers, a strip search of any kind is in an entirely different category, legal experts say.
“It’s a very different level of invasion of privacy if you are forced to take off your clothes, especially as a 15-year-old girl,” Toronto criminal lawyer Boris Bytensky told CTV News.
Montreal lawyer Andrew Barbacki said there was no reason to ask for a strip search.
“It's a soft drug, it's not involving a weapon,” said Barbacki. “It's not anthrax or something that really puts into danger the security of other students, I think that it should require a judicial authorization.”
The English Montreal School Board told CTV News that there are never strip searches at their schools. If they suspect a student has drugs, they would start with a locker search.
Claude Dansereau, school principal at Lauren Hill Academy in Montreal, says they have searched the student’s belongings, but never go further.
“We would do a search of the knapsack, the school bag, the coats,” said Dansereau. “We could ask the student to empty their pockets if they have a jacket and pants. Then that would be as far as we would go.”
If they get information that there is drugs involved, the protocol is to call the police or the parents.
Most school boards across the country say their policy is clear: if a school official suspects that a student has drugs, the matter would be turned over to police.
However, Bolduc said it would be inappropriate to send police into schools to conduct strip searches.
The independent report into the incident at Neufchatel high school will be handed to Premier on on March 9.