OTTAWA — A Sudbury, Ont., teacher acquitted of child porn charges after explicit images of a female student were found on his work laptop will face a retrial, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
The 6-1 ruling affirms the right of Canadians to expect some level of privacy on their work-issued electronics, but that level of privacy isn’t absolute.
Graphic sexual images of a Grade 10 student were found on teacher Richard Cole’s work computer. The images were discovered by a school technician who accessed Cole’s computer remotely during the course of his duties to ensure the stability of the school’s network. The technician notified the principal and the school board gave the evidence — a CD containing copies of the images, screenshots of the images, along with Cole’s computer — to police. Investigators searched the evidence without getting a warrant.
Cole was charged in 2006 with possession of child pornography and unauthorized computer use. He was acquitted because the judge ruled Cole had a reasonable expectation of privacy with the work computer and that the warrantless search of his work computer violated Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.” Appellate courts went back and forth on whether the evidence should have been admitted at trial.
On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled the school board was right to call police, but that the cops should have obtained a warrant to search the evidence. The warrantless search, the court explains, violated Cole’s rights. But the court says in this case, “admission of the evidence would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute and therefore the evidence should not be excluded.”