Toronto students win court challenge over prom breathalyzer test
In a precedent-setting decision, the Superior Court rules that Northern’s pre-dance breath testing violates constitutional rights.
Speaking to the Star Monday night, Felsen said he had been “hopeful for a different outcome,” but that he respected the court’s decision.At the time, Felsen said he was introducing mandatory breath testing as a “last resort” to counteract a culture of intoxication at school dances, which had seen two of his students hospitalized in recent years.Students Brett Gorski and Simon Gillies, the president and vice-president of the school council, disagreed with the decision.Offended that Felsen had not consulted the student body first, the pair began to research how mandatory breath testing might impinge on their rights.
They contacted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for guidance and were connected with Lisus, who helped them file a charter application against Felsen and the Toronto District School Board last May.As the case was before the courts, Northern Secondary School decided not to enforce breath testing at the 2014 prom. Gorski and Gillies attended the dance and no student was kicked out for being intoxicated.
Gorski, 18, told the Star she was “thrilled” with the ruling.Speaking over the phone from Montreal, where she is now studying for a management degree, Gorski said the decision was a triumph for the whole student body.“Students deserve to know that they have rights and, despite their age, they have the power to defend themselves,” she said.Lisus said Gorski and Gillies were “terrific poster boys and girls” for the way society should responsibly raise fundamental questions of fairness.“These kids didn’t act out or misbehave; they brought this important issue to the courts in a reasonable way and got a ruling that will apply throughout the province,” Lisus said.“That is exactly the kind of behaviour we should be encouraging in our young people and that is exactly the reason why we shouldn’t be applying mass randomized searches to students. It’s the wrong way to teach them about fundamental values and the way to resolve differences of opinions in democracy.”
Felsen wrote a letter to the school community Monday evening outlining the court’s decision and stating that Breathalyzers would not be used at any upcoming proms.The decision to enforce mandatory breath testing was not only meant to identify those who were intoxicated, but to also act as a deterrent, Felsen told the Star, adding he always had the students’ best interests at heart.“We want students to enjoy themselves at prom, but we have to make sure they are enjoying themselves within the law,” he said.
Constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby, who was not involved in the case, applauded Gorski and Gillies for having the courage to fight their school.“At that age, singling yourself out and taking a stand against the authorities is really a brave thing to do.”“The school may think this is in the students’ best interests, but ultimately the students get to decide. They are subject to the same rights as everyone else,” Ruby said.