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Drug dog back in schools

Local police have found a way to get their four-legged drug fighter back into the classroom while staying obedient to the Supreme Court’s demands.

Local police have found a way to get their four-legged drug fighter back into the classroom while staying obedient to the Supreme Court’s demands.

Dodger, the local RCMP’s single-profile drug detection dog, is back in local schools after officers found a way to work within a controversial Supreme Court decision that put him on a short leash.

In April 2008, in a 6-3 decision, the court said dogs like Dodger couldn’t be used for completely random searches. The court said that was an unreasonable infringement on a person’s Charter rights.

The ruling sprang from the case of a Sarnia, Ont. teen, whose bag was searched after his principal invited the police into the school with a drug-detecting dog.

There was a significant quantity of drugs in the boy’s bag and he was charged with possession for the purposes of trafficking. The court found that search violated the teen’s Charter rights.

Initially, the decision caused some concern Dodger would also be sidelined. A golden retriever, Dodger is unlike most other canine units in the RCMP. He is trained only in drug detection and can sniff out seven different illegal substances.

When he locates drugs he simply sits down in front of the illegal cache and lets his handler Const. Greg Hawkins do the rest of the work.

Insp. Warren Dosko said the Supreme Court decision forced the detachment to take a close look at how they were using Dodger. They had to rein him in a bit, but legal opinions obtained by both local school boards and the RCMP suggested that, with the right guidelines in place, he can return to school.

“Through that work we feel very confident that the work Dodger does falls under the Charter,” he said. “That ruling doesn’t have a lot of relevance to the work Dodger does.”

Dosko said the challenge now falls to Hawkins, who has to be very aware of the right circumstances to use Dodger and the right actions to take.

He said they now believe Dodger can be used for random drug searches. If he finds something, the students are dealt with under the School Act by school administration.

“If it was a random search we wouldn’t then turn around and charge the youth under the Criminal Code.”

If police have information that there might be drugs in a school locker other than through Dodger, then criminal charges would still be an option, Dosko said.

“There has to be a reasonable and probable grounds beforehand for us to lay charges.”

Morag Pansegrau, chair of the St. Albert Protestant School Board said she is pleased to see Dodger back in classrooms.

“We had overwhelming support from our parents on this,” she said. “They support our initiative to keep our schools as drug-free as possible in today’s society.”

Pansgreau said each case handled under the School Act has the school principal take the lead. Principals can recommend expulsion to the board if a student is found with drugs.

“If we find drugs our normal practice is to expel the student.”

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