‘Seize and unlock’ policy for cellphones in schools proposed by trustees.

In this Feb. 17, 2016, file photo an iPhone is seen in Washington. A new lawsuit claims the government’s practice of searching laptops and cellphones at airports and border crossings is unconstitutional because modern electronic devices carry troves of private information. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Mark Wasyliw, a school board trustee in Winnipeg wants to grant teachers the authority to seize and search students’ cellphones, even if they are password-protected.

He put forth a motion calling for cellphone-specific wording to be added to the board’s search and seizure policy  at a meeting of the Winnipeg school division’s trustees. Wasyliw says the policy needs an update because it was written nearly two decades ago, before the advent of smartphones.

Mark Wasyliw is a trustee with the Winnipeg School Division and a criminal defence lawyer. Wasyliw says the policy is necessary because there may be times when a school official needs to search the contents of a students’ phone for safety reasons.

Wasyliw expects the trustees to work up a draft policy regarding cellphones in schools, with the aim of balancing privacy and security. It will then be put to the community for consultation.

He says the current rules are not clear, but he can imagine scenarios in which such searches might be necessary.

The current school policy permits staff to search students’ lockers, because they are understood to belong to the school.

Several students shared that they don’t like the idea of surrendering their phones and passwords to their teachers.

Privacy lawyer Vivian Rachlis also raised concerns about such a policy, saying that it might be tough to ensure that it conforms to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada Police are not permitted to search a password-protected phone without a warrant, but are allowed to conduct a cursory search of a phone after an arrest, provided the phone is not password-protected.