POLITICS

Decision reserved in lawsuit over Saskatchewan student's cellphone privacy

10/10/2014 05:11 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - A judge has reserved decision in a lawsuit over whether a Grade 6 student's privacy was violated when school staff read the texts on his cellphone.

Court heard a teacher at Riverside Community School in Prince Albert took the 12-year-old's phone when she caught him texting during class in March 2010.

The teacher gave the phone to the then-vice-principal, who went through the boy's texts and found one about a car theft.

Dwayne Tournier (TURN'-ee-ay) testified the text was from someone who said — quote — "we stole a car."

The lawsuit alleges that after the school contacted police, an officer got the boy to text the sender back about the car's location and then took him in a cruiser to identify the vehicle.

The boy's grandparents, who were his guardians, argue the actions of the school put the boy in a position where he feared retaliation by the text's sender because the boy was seen in the cruiser.

The lawsuit claims damages from the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and Tournier.

"The mistake, if a mistake was made, is in reading the contents of the cellphone, then calling the local city police to take this young lad to a stolen vehicle to identify a vehicle," said lawyer Marcel Simonot, on behalf of the grandparents.

Simonot said in his closing arguments that there were three issues in question:

— Did the vice-principal or school staff have a legal right to read the texts?

— Was it lawful for the vice-principal to inform police about the contents of the phone?

— Was it legal for the school to allow an officer to take the boy without his guardian's consent?

Simonot argued Tournier did not have the right to allow the student to go with the officer, and that this was the "principal point" of the lawsuit.

Defence counsel Amanda Dunn responded that reading the texts was not a privacy invasion because the student's unusual behaviour when his phone was taken led Tournier to worry about safety at the school.

Dunn said the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that it's OK to search a phone's contents when there is reasonable suspicion of a breach of school policy.

She also argued that the vice-principal couldn't have foreseen what the police would do.

Monica Jones, the teacher who confiscated the cellphone, testified that she also takes a paper note away from someone if it is being passed around in class.

When Dunn asked her what she does with the notes, Jones replied that she'll throw them away or put them in her pocket. If a student is acting "fishy," she'll read it, she said.

"I do not think there's a comparison between a note and a cellphone," Simonot said in response. "A note is a note. It's something you read and throw away, while a cellphone, there's a permanent record of that conversation."

No date has been set for the judge's ruling.

(CKBI)