Canada: Everything You Need To Know About Working With The Police

Last Updated: September 27 2006
Article by Eric M. Roher

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2016

Under the Education Act, principals and teachers have a duty to maintain order and discipline in their schools, and a responsibility to ensure the safety of the students under their care. Under the Criminal Code and Youth Criminal Justice Act, the police have a duty to investigate criminal and quasi-criminal offences. Where offences are committed on school property or involve students at a school, it is necessary for the principal and the police to work co-operatively in fulfilling their overlapping obligations and responsibilities.

The following represents a guideline for working with the police and supports the maintenance of school environments that are safe and caring.

1. What is the status of the Police/School Board Protocol?

In 2000, the Ministry of Education released a Provincial Model for Local Police/School Board Protocol. It was the policy direction of the Ministry that school boards and police services establish a protocol for the investigation of school-related occurrences.

Four Toronto school boards including the public, catholic and francophone boards, have developed a Police/School Board Protocol (the "Protocol") with the Toronto Police Service. The purpose of the Protocol, among other things, is to confirm the working relationship and appropriate responses where police involvement or intervention is requested or required. The Protocol is a procedure which sets out the rules for interaction among agencies, as well as the formalities and etiquette to be observed. A revised Protocol has been prepared for the 2006/2007 school year.

2. What is the role of the principal under the Protocol?

The role of the principal is to maintain, in accordance with the requirements of relevant legislation and school board policies, a safe, orderly learning and working environment for students, staff and others lawfully on school property. As part of that role, the principal:

  • acts in loco parentis to all students of the school;
  • implements safe schools and violence prevention policies and procedures;
  • communicates awareness of policies and procedures to staff, students, parents and school communities; and
  • remains with the student, who may be a suspect or witness, in cases of police interviews of students at school (but subject to the preference of the student).

3. What occurrences require a police response?

The occurrences that require a police response include:

  • physical assault causing bodily harm;
  • sexual assault;
  • robbery;
  • extortion;
  • criminal harassment;
  • drug offences, including possession and/or trafficking in drugs;
  • weapons offences;
  • explosive substance;
  • gang-related incidents;
  • hate-and/or bias-motivated incidents; and
  • threats of serious physical injury.

As a general rule, incidents that involve violence or the imminent threat to the safety and security of the school community will require a police response.

Generally, the principal or designate will be responsible for contacting the police. Contact in emergency situations should be made through 9 – 911.

4. Are there other occurrences that may require a police response?

Occurrences where police may be involved include:

  • incidents of vandalism;
  • trespassing incidents under the Access to School Premises Regulation (O. Reg. 474/00) and the Trespass to Property Act;
  • assisting victims of crime; and
  • assisting in the development of young people’s understanding of good citizenship.

5. What steps should I take when the police are conducting an investigation?

When the police have been contacted, the educator should halt his or her review of the incident until the police investigation is complete. There is a concern that if the school official persists in reviewing the incident, the official’s actions in interviewing witnesses or seizing property could hamper or prejudice the police investigation. Once the police have concluded their investigation, the school can commence its investigation.

6. What is the process regarding police contact at the school?

When conducting an investigation, the police will make every effort to minimize disruption to school routines. Except in exigent circumstances, police officers are expected to report to the main school office prior to commencing an investigation in the school. This will permit the principal (or appropriate vice-principal) to greet the officer, and facilitate the process.

7. What are "exigent circumstances"?

Urgent, pressing and/or emergency circumstances. Exigent circumstances may include a bomb threat, a person possessing or using a weapon, or a fire on school property.

8. What initial steps will police take upon arrival at the school?

As soon as practicable, police will:

  • provide proper identification to the principal or principal’s designate;
  • explain the purpose of the visit; and
  • contact, or make arrangements with the principal or principal’s designate to contact, the parents of students under the age of 18.

9. What record should I keep of a police visit?

For the purpose of proper reporting, the principal should prepare a record of the police visit which includes:

  • name of the officer(s);
  • badge number and any report number;
  • time and date of the visit;
  • the people being questioned;
  • the name of the issuing authority of any search warrant or warrant for arrest; and
  • the nature of charges laid, if any.

10. When should I contact the student’s parents or guardians?

In cases where the police wish to interview a student, whether as a suspect or witness, who is under the age of 18 years on school premises, the school principal, in fulfilling his or her in loco parentis role, should contact the parent(s) or guardian(s) promptly unless prevented by exigent circumstances.

11. What steps should I take if I cannot contact the parents or guardians?

Where the principal is not able to contact the parent(s) or guardian(s) or suitable adult, the principal should record his or her attempts to make contact. Where the parent/guardian is not able to be present, the principal/designate may invite the parent/guardian to speak to his or her child prior to the interview being conducted. In these circumstances, the principal or his/her designate will act in loco parentis to the student. In this role, the principal or his/her designate should confirm to the student that any statement given to the police must be voluntary, the student is under no obligation to make a statement and that a statement may be used as evidence in a proceeding against him or her.

12. If the police direct me not to call the parents or guardians prior to meeting with a student, what steps should I take?

The principal or his/her designate will comply with a specific direction issued by the police not to contact a student’s parents or guardians. Failure to comply with a police direction could expose the school administrator to possible liability under the Criminal Code.

13. Where should the police interview take place?

The police interview should take place in the privacy of the principal’s office or other similar private setting. No part of the interview or related questioning should take place in the presence of other students. Every effort should be made to minimize the level of embarrassment of the student being questioned.

14. Can the school solely rely on the police investigation?

No. The school’s investigation must be separate from the police investigation. Once the police have concluded their investigation, the school can commence its investigation.

15. Should I make notes regarding the incident requiring police response or involvement?

Yes. Events occurring at school in which the police are or may become involved sometimes give rise to a summons to a witness to appear in court. It is recognized that with the passage of time, immediate recall of details of events becomes progressively more difficult.

There is wisdom, therefore, in recording these details as soon as possible after the events themselves. Such details when maintained should be kept in a journal and available for reference when required; including dates, times, names of witnesses interviewed and any relevant observations; and, where appropriate, might also include a summary of any action taken by school administration.

16. What steps should I take where the police request a copy of my notes?

The principal or vice-principal should co-operate with the officer and be prepared, upon request, to supply a copy of all notes to the police. The principal or viceprincipal should keep an original copy of his or her notes.

The Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act expressly permits a school board to disclose confidential information to the police to aid in an investigation undertaken with a view to a law enforcement proceeding or from which a law enforcement proceeding is likely to result. Accordingly, since principals and teachers are permitted to share information with police in such circumstances, in non-urgent situations, police should be prepared to provide a written statement that the identified information is required by the police to aid in an investigation undertaken with a view to a law enforcement proceeding or from which a law enforcement proceeding is likely to result. In general, the principal and his/her designate may provide the police with oral information about a student, such as a student’s address or attendance information.

17. Under what circumstances can the contents of an Ontario Student Record ("OSR") be disclosed to the police?

Under the Education Act, information in the OSR is privileged for the information and use of supervisory officers and the principal and teachers of a school for the improvement of instruction of a student. Disclosure of its contents to the police may be made in the following circumstances:

  • with the written permission of the parent or guardian of the student, or where the student is an adult (age 18 or over), with the written permission of the student;
  • through a search warrant requiring the surrender of an OSR to the police; or
  • through a subpoena or appropriate court order.

Where a principal is served with a search warrant under the Criminal Code requiring the surrender of the OSR, he/she will make a complete copy of the OSR and deliver it to the police. The principal will keep the original OSR in a secure location at the school.

18. Who is responsible for explaining to a student his or her legal rights?

During a police investigation at a school, it is the responsibility of the police to explain to a young person his or her rights in a manner that enables him or her to understand them. The principal/designate will inform police of any special circumstances which may impede the student in expressing or understanding written/oral communication.

19. What cautions must be given by the police to a student in order for his or her statement to be admissible in court?

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a statement made by an accused student under the age of 18 may not be admissible in court against that student unless:

  1. the statement is voluntary;
  2. the police have advised the student that the student is under no obligation to make a statement and that the statement may be used as evidence in a proceeding against him or her;
  3. the police have advised the student that he or she has a right to consult counsel and a parent, an adult relative or, in the absence of a parent or adult relative, any other appropriate adult chosen by the student;
  4. the police have, before the statement was made, provided the student with a reasonable opportunity to consult with the persons listed in paragraph (iii); and
  5. where the student has consulted a person set out in paragraph (iii), the student has been given a reasonable opportunity to make the statement in the presence of that person.

A student may waive the rights under paragraph (iv) or (v), but any such waiver shall be videotaped, audiotaped or be in writing signed by the student. In some cases, the student will select a teacher or the principal to act as an appropriate adult. The teacher or principal should act in the best interest of the student in these circumstances.

20. What steps are required to be taken by the principal or his/her designate when there is an imminent threat to the safety of students or staff?

In the event that there is an imminent threat to the safety of students and/or staff, the principal or his/her designate will report such threat as soon as possible to the police, in accordance with the relevant school emergency and crisis response plan. Upon arrival, the police will require certain information and support from school personnel, including:

  • nature of the threat;
  • location of possible incident;
  • number, ages and identity of alleged perpetrators;
  • number, ages and identity of possible victims;
  • whether weapons or explosive substances are involved;
  • whether the threat relates to a gang-related incident; and/or
  • the competence and capacity of the students involved.

21. What steps are to be taken if the police are seeking to conduct a search on school property?

In most circumstances, police seeking to conduct searches, including locker searches or other property searches in a school, are required, absent exigent circumstances, to first obtain a search warrant. Upon arriving at the school, the police will serve the principal of the school, or the principal’s designate, with the search warrant. The police will also provide the principal with a reasonable opportunity to review the search warrant and, if necessary, obtain legal advice from the school board’s lawyers.

When it is necessary that a search of school property occur, in consultation with the principal, during school hours, to the extent possible such a search will be made in a manner that will minimize disruption of school routines.

22. Are there circumstances when the police do not require a search warrant prior to conducting a search of a student?

Where police are required to arrest a student, the police are required to conduct a search of that student arising out of that arrest. In such circumstances, the police are not required to obtain a search warrant.

In exigent circumstances, the police may be required to conduct a search without notice and without a warrant. Following such a search, the police shall advise the principal or the principal’s designate of the reasons for the search.

23. What considerations apply when the police decide to arrest a student?

Whether or not the incident giving rise to the necessity to arrest is school-related, the police will, in the interest of school safety and morale, consult with the principal and consider alternatives to the extent possible, and effect the arrest at a location other than a school.

When it is necessary that a student be arrested at school during school hours, to the extent possible, such an arrest will be made in a manner that will minimize disruption of school routines.

When a student is to be arrested on school premises during school hours, and so long as circumstances (when reasonably assessed) permit, police will contact the principal to arrange a suitable procedure by which police will access the student. When a student is to be arrested, police shall not be denied access to the student.

When a student, who is a minor (under 18 years of age), has been removed from the school, the principal or designate will notify the parent(s) or guardian(s) promptly unless otherwise instructed by the police.

24. What steps are the police required to take prior to an arrest of a student?

When the police arrest a student, the police are required to advise the student of his or her rights under the law, such as the right to retain counsel without delay and the right to remain silent, and are also required to notify the student’s parents as soon as possible of the place of detention and the reasons for arrest, in accordance with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the common law.

25. When charges are laid against a student, how does the school become aware of possible bail terms or probation order?

Whenever charges are laid against a student, the police officers involved in the case should consult with school administrators before recommending release and/or probation conditions. Correspondingly, school administrators are encouraged to initiate discussions with the police regarding such conditions. In addition, police officers will endeavour to alert the school and seek to assist the school in its efforts to accommodate the bail or probation order while at the same time continuing to exercise its powers and fulfill its obligations under the Education Act.

26. What considerations apply regarding occurrences involving children under 12 years of age?

There is no legal authority to charge a child under the age of 12. It is recognized that the police may be involved in situations involving children under the age of 12 and may be required to interview children under the age of 12 in some circumstances. However, any police contact with children under the age of 12 must be conducted with sensitivity to the age of the child.

27. What supports are available to assist victims of crime?

The victims of crime or other incidents may require special attention and service. Counselling and other appropriate supports are available for students within the school. Such resources will be made available to students. In addition, other social services are available in the community to support victims of crime or violence. Every effort shall be made to identify such resources and to facilitate the involvement of victims in an appropriate support program.

28. Are victims entitled to receive information about how an offence was dealt with?

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, victims are entitled, on request, to receive information about how an offence was dealt with where extrajudicial sanctions are ordered. Such information shall not be provided by school officials, but by the police or other person designated under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

With respect to school discipline, the principal or vice-principal may inform the victim, in general terms, that the student who committed an infraction received an appropriate consequence.

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