Canada's high court limits drug-sniffing dogs

Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:51pm EDT
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada's highest court said police do not have the authority to randomly search student backpacks for drugs, in one of two rulings on Friday limiting the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

The Supreme Court said the two cases ,involving dogs in a high school and bus station, violated protections against unreasonable searches because they were done without a warrant or real suspicion that drugs would actually be found.

The justices, in a 6 to 3 ruling, tossed out charges against a Sarnia, Ontario, high school student who was found to have marijuana and mushrooms in a backpack during a random search of the school.

The school had invited police to do the search with a sniffer dog as part their "zero tolerance" policy on drug use, and there was no advance suspicion the arrested student was doing anything illegal.

The court said that while police and school officials thought the search was an efficient way to do things, that nonetheless violated students' privacy rights.

"The dog-sniff search was unreasonably undertaken because there was no proper justification," the court ruled.

The court also dismissed charges on Friday against a man found carrying drugs after police on patrol at a bus station in Calgary, Alberta, used a dog to sniff his belongings when he arrived from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Police said they used the dog because the man had acted suspiciously, and argued that using dogs was not the same thing as a search since the animals only tip off their human handlers that drugs are present.

Justice William Ian Corneil Binnie said traveling by bus within Canada was not the same thing as traveling to Canada from another country when passengers should expect to be subjected a border search at the airport.

"Nobody should expect to be randomly cross-examined by the police when boarding the Vancouver to Calgary bus. This is unacceptable in a free society," Binnie wrote.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)