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Landmark Case: Sniffer Dogs, School Searches, and the Charter: R. v. A.M.

Each OJEN Landmark Case includes a case summary, classroom discussion questions and worksheets that encourage students to explore both the legal and societal importance of the case.

In 2002, the police accepted a standing invitation from a principle at a Sarnia, Ontario high school to bring sniffer dogs into the school to search for drugs. The sniffer dog reacted to A.M.’s backpack and, without obtaining a warrant, the police opened the backpack and found illegal drugs. A.M. was arrested and charged with possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking. A.M. argued that his right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure under s. 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated, and that the evidence should therefore be excluded under s. 24(2) of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) held that students are entitled to privacy in a school environment and police do not have the right to conduct searches of public spaces when the search is not authorized by statute or at common law. Since there was no authority for the police search of A.M.’s backpack, it amounted to a violation of s. 8 of the Charter. The SCC ruled that the evidence should be excluded pursuant to s. 24(2) of the Charter. The full decision is available here.

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