Yves Bolduc backtracks on school strip search policy

Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc says he will re-examine the policy allowing high school staff to strip search students after being criticized for saying the practice is permissible.

Teen girl says she was refused permission to call mother before being strip searched at high school

Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc says the rules around strip searches in schools will be examined. (Jacques Bioissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc is backtracking a day after saying strip searches of high school students are permissible.

Comments he made on the issue yesterday were met with a firestorm of criticism, prompting Bolduc to announce today that he will re-examine the policy on allowing high school staff to carry out strip searches.

"We want to protect students who go to school, because that's what parents and society ask us to do," Bolduc said Wednesday.

"But at the same time, we have to protect the rights of people when there are suspicions."

On Tuesday, Bolduc told reporters the practice was permitted as long as it's done "very respectfully."

He was reacting to news a 15-year-old girl was strip searched by her female high school principal and another female staff member at Neufchâtel high school in Quebec City.

The school board defended the practice, saying it followed strict guidelines drafted in 2010 by the province with the help of police.

The word "pervert" is seen spray painted Wednesday outside Neufchâtel high school in Quebec City, where the female school principal and another teacher strip searched a 15-year-old student. (Radio-Canada)
​Bolduc said Wednesday the government has asked an independent person from outside the school board to look into what happened.

Once the review is complete, Bolduc said he would decide, "based on the facts, what should be done in the future."

Petition calls for minister's resignation

Public reaction to Bolduc's original remarks was swift and critical, with an online petition calling for his resignation collecting more than 2,000 signatures.

Educators and opposition politicians in the province were also quick to criticize Bolduc. 

Suanne Stein Day, chair of Montreal's Lester B. Pearson School Board, said she would recommend calling the police to handle any situation where a strip search may be necessary.

"This is a very sensitive and technical procedure though and really is better left to those who are experts at it. So if we had a concern about a student with drugs or anything like that, we would call in the police," she told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak.

"The police are very aware of proper procedures and the appropriate thing to do," Day said.

Schools given more leeway by courts, says lawyer

Civil rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis told CBC's Radio Noon that schools and school boards are granted unique rights by the Supreme Court of Canada when they feel the school's rules have been broken.

"The Supreme Court of Canada has said very clearly that the school boards, school districts and schools have more relaxed and flexible power to engage in searches,” she said.

She said teachers and schools need to be able to react quickly to situations involving the safety of students. Often, she said, that means schools can do things that police can't, unless police obtain a warrant.

"I think one needs to recognize that schools are given a little more flex, than even the police would have in similar circumstances.”

However, Eliadis said she doesn't necessarily agree with the school board, saying she had questions about the circumstances of the search.

"We don’t have all the facts, but I think there are real concerns here.”