Students have rights too

Two high school kids took their principal to court and won


Published:

Brett Gorski (right) with Simon Gillies

In a precedent-setting decision, an Ontario judge ruled in favour of two high school students who argued that their principal’s plan to implement compulsory breathalyzer testing at their senior prom was unconstitutional.

Before the event in May of last year, Ron Felsen, principal of Northern Secondary School, notified students that the school would impose mandatory breathalyzer tests on all attendees prior to entry at the Eglinton Grand venue in Toronto.

Offended by the decision, Brett Gorski and Simon Gillies, former president and vice-president of the student council respectively, began to conduct research on how it might infringe on their constitutional rights and contacted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for guidance.

Representatives referred Gorski and Gillies to Toronto lawyer Jonathan Lisus, who offered his services to the two pro bono.

In early March, five months after the initial hearing in September, Justice Susan Himmel ruled that the testing would infringe on the student body’s right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure, as protected under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ian Matthews, co-counsel for Lisus, noted that it appears to be the first case where a judge has concretely determined that the charter does in fact apply to school authorities and off-site school-sponsored activities.

“It is an important confirmation from the court, and it will give a lot of guidance to school authorities and students about the applicability of the charter of rights to their actions,” said Matthews.

"The blanket nature of the test assumes the student has done something wrong and treats them as though they’re guilty before being proven innocent,” said Matthews.

In the absence of a ruling in May, the school chose not to enforce mass testing at the 2014 prom. Gorski and Gillies attended their prom without the use of breathalyzers and graduated from Northern Secondary School in June.

“It’s been a tremendous learning experience,” said Gorski, now 18, studying management at McGill University. “It’s amazing how much students have to learn, including myself, about their rights.”

Matthews commended both students. “That is exactly the type of behaviour we want to foster and encourage in our young adults,” he said.

Principal Felsen also applauded the two and added that the process was certainly a great civics lesson.

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