Teacher's Talk LawNow: What is a Reasonable Search at School?

Teacher’s Talk Law Now: Search and Seizures in School

The article Privacy Issues in Criminal Law is a guide to Privacy after the enactment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The article reviews major developments in privacy after the Charter and also discusses upcoming issues where the law isn’t clear yet.

 “One area of privacy law which is still in its early stages of development relates to the use of computers and other personal electronic devices. The Supreme Court of Canada recently observed that these instruments frequently store as much, or more, personal and deeply private information about individual Canadians as any other form or place where information is collected.”

Most students would probably agree that mobile phones are very personal! Recently a student in an Edmonton school had his phone searched by the school.  This is a terrific teachable moment and an opportunity to bring the new issue of LawNow into the classroom.

Distribute the news story to the students with a copy of the LawNow article Privacy Issues in Criminal Law  Students and the Evaluating What is a Reasonable Search at School guide found below. Students will write a response that evaluates the school’s actions and determine if the search was reasonable. The response should reference both the LawNow article and the guide below.

Evaluating What is a Reasonable Search at School

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures that everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure (which means that everyone has a right to expect a reasonable amount of privacy). Those that act on the behalf of the government, such as police officers, must act in a fair and reasonable way and usually need a search warrant.

In schools, the guidelines regarding privacy are a little less strict, as teachers and principals are responsible for student safety. Students are aware that they must comply with school regulations and as a result that they may be subject to searches.

It is sometimes appropriate for teachers and principals to search student property such as backpacks and lockers. Before the search, however, questions such as the following must be considered.

  • Is there enough proof to justify the search?
  • Is the search reasonable?
  • Is the search carried out in a reasonable manner?


A Publication of CPLEA