TORONTO - This year’s Northern Secondary School prom is aiming to be a sobering celebration — but not if the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has its way.
Yes, the CCLA has sent a warning letter to Northern’s principal urging them to reconsider the school’s new policy for a mandatory breathalyzer test for every prom guest, insisting it would violate the students’ constitutional rights.
What right? To drink illegally when they are underage?
After consulting the parent council last month, Northern principal Ron Felsen decided to follow the lead of Malvern Collegiate, which has used breathalyzers to screen students arriving at prom and other dances for more than a decade, and is actually borrowing their devices for their May 29 formal. “Over the previous years, they have had issues with people coming to prom under the influence,” explains Ryan Bird, spokesman for the Toronto District School Board.
Northern has tried assemblies, speakers, letters home to parents — but nothing has seemed to discourage students from having pre-drink get togethers before turning up at prom. “They were continuing to have issues,” Bird says. “Based on past experience, they believe this is the next step to ensure they have a safe and healthy prom that is alcohol free.”
He insists that all but a few parents are onboard for the decision to use breathalyzers at the Eglinton Grande prom. As for the students, the event’s Facebook page is remarkably devoid of any discussion about the new zero tolerance policy. But clearly not everyone is happy -± students approached the CCLA with their concern that the school is violating their Charter rights.
The CCLA agreed.
“It is our view that, in light of the clear jurisprudence on school searches, the policy that has been proposed is unconstitutional,” they wrote in a letter to Northern’s principal last week. “A breathalyzer test constitutes a search and an invasion of individual privacy and dignity.”
Numerous efforts to reach a spokesman for the CCLA were unsuccessful.
The TDSB policy on search and seizure notes that despite the Charter, courts have ruled that a principal or their designate doesn’t need a warrant to search a student to “maintain order and discipline” if they have reasonable grounds.
“We fully recognize that schools have an obligation to provide a safe and secure learning environment and have no hesitation supporting that goal,” the CCLA writes in its letter. “School officials also, however, have an obligation to abide by the limits set out in the Education Act and to respect Charter rights of their students, including the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.”
The TDSB policy concedes that “random or arbitrary searches ... will likely be in contravention of the Charter” but the spokesman insists the breathalyzer tests aren’t random or arbitrary, but based on a safety assessment and past problems with alcohol at such events.
Despite the CCLA objections, the school has no plans to back down. So far, notice of the mandatory breathalyzer testing hasn’t seemed to impact ticket sales for the dry prom — there are 400 attendees expected, consistent with past years.
For administrators at Malvern, it must be hard to understand what all the fuss is about. They’ve used breathalyzers since a group of parents, concerned about underage drinking, raised money to buy six of the units for the school about 12 years ago. MADD Canada has endorsed the idea — especially given the statistics of how many high schoolers are involved in drinking and driving accidents around prom time.
“At Malvern, it’s just the new normal, students know it’s a condition of entry,” says Bird of the breathalyzer plan. “It’s new at Northern.”
Unlike their time in the classroom, those grads who don’t want to take this test, don’t have to. But instead of a failing grade, they get to spend their formal on the outside, looking in.
If that violates their “right” to be smashed while underage, so be it.
Breathalyzer test at prom violation of rights? | Mandel | Toronto & GTA | News |