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School Leader Defends ‘Respectful’ Strip Searches

A top Canadian school official is taking withering criticism after he defended strip searches of female high school students, provided those searches are sufficiently “respectful,” reports the National Post.

Last week, a 15-year-old girl at Neufchatel High School in Quebec City was strip-searched by officials who thought she may have been carrying marijuana. Without being allowed to contact her mother beforehand, the student was escorted to a room and forced to strip off her clothes behind a blanket so that they could be searched (authorities were not allowed to touch the student or directly see her naked). The search was conducted by school officials, rather than by law enforcement.

She complained to a local newspaper, saying she felt “intimidated,” “ashamed,” and even “destroyed” by the ordeal.

Now, Yves Bolduc, Quebec’s education minister, says the school didn’t necessarily do anything wrong.

“It is permitted to do strip searches, on one condition: it must be very respectful,” Bolduc told Quebec’s National Assembly on Tuesday, according to the National Post. “What’s important is that we respect the law and respect the framework that was put in place (for searching students) and respect the person.”

Some opposition politicians have already demanded that Bolduc resign, and a petition calling for that resignation already has several thousand signatures.

“It was completely, completely wrong to say that it’s okay to force a teenage to get nude just because the principal thinks that maybe she has some drugs on her,” said Jean-Francois Roberge of the opposition Coalition Avenir Quebec party. “I would have thought that the minister would stop this and say it’s wrong. But no, no, he said it’s good and there’s no problem with this.”

Civil liberties groups in Canada have sharply criticized allowing strip searches by school personnel, saying they are not properly trained and that it invites possible abuse.

“It raises issues of integrity, privacy, illegal and abusive searches – where do you draw the line? I’m not sure school staff would welcome that sort of power,” Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations told the Global News.

Bolduc, for his part, has done a rapid about-face, with his press representative saying Wednesday morning that the province is now considering greater restrictions on when strip searches are allowed.

Strip searches have created significant controversy in the United States as well. In the 2009 Supreme Court case Safford Unified School District v. Redding, the majority ruled that a strip search of a 13-year-old girl suspected of hiding prescription drugs violated the student’s Fourth Amendment rights.

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