A Prom to Remember (With Breathalyzers?)

June 18th, 2015 by

Prom season is upon us. Grade 12 was about 11 years ago for me but I remember my prom and the typical high school drama surrounding it as if it was yesterday. I also remember how easy it was to find a date given that I attended an all boys catholic high school. What I don’t remember, however, were breathalyzers being set up at the doors of the prom venue with the intention of denying entry to those students who could not wait until after the prom was over to partake in underage drinking.

Such an act was suggested by the principal of Northern Secondary School (“Northern”) for the school’s 2014 prom. The principal noted that there had been alcohol related incidents at school dances and events and presumably wanted to prevent such incidents from occurring again by requiring breathalyzer testing for all students going to the 2014 prom.

Upon finding out about this breathalyzer testing at prom, two students at Northern applied to the Superior Court of Justice seeking, among other things, a declaration that the suggested breathalyzer testing prior to the prom infringed on the student’s section 8 right of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure”.

Given the proximity of the application to the court and the prom, (which was just over a week later) no breathalyzer testing was used at the 2014 prom. The decision of the court, however, would undoubtedly affect future proms, both at Northern, and perhaps at other schools throughout the province.

In short, the court found that the use of a breathalyzer test was not reasonable, that it infringes upon the students’ section 8 Charter right and that it cannot be saved under section 1 of the Charter.  The court noted that:

…I find that the use of the breathalyzer is not reasonable. I agree with the applicants that administering a breathalyzer test, a highly intrusive search, is disproportionate given the nature of the suspected breach: students possibly consuming alcohol prior to attending the prom. While certainly not condoning the underage consumption of alcohol, and being mindful of the social science evidence presented, it seems to me that there are several other effective methods to screen for alcohol consumption that do not involve a person’s bodily integrity. (145)

After reading this decision I was reminded of the law courses I participated in during my high school years and vividly recall not only learning about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also doing a presentation on it in Grade 11. After flipping through the Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Canadian and World Studies, under course CLU3M “Understanding Canadian Law”, it states that “By the end of this course, students will: describe the rights and freedoms enshrined in Canadian law and explain how they are interpreted, how they may be limited, and how they are enforced in Canada and in Ontario.”

I am not sure if the students challenging the principal’s decision took law courses during their high school years; however, clearly the curriculum arms students with some of the knowledge required to contest the actions taken by the school administrator in this case. While prom 2014 may not have been memorable for all students at Northern, it was certainly a prom to remember for their principal.


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