Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Canada: Free speech goes up in smoke at school

Below is copied a story chronicling just the latest installment of drug war madness in North America, this time from Canada. Discussing the relative risks of illegal drugs alongside legal ones in the wrong environment, a school for example, and apparently you are sending out 'pro-drug' messages. So another triumph of misplaced moral posturing over science and reason then. It is admittedly worse over there than here in the UK, but not by much if the recent furore over cannabis reclassification and 'sending out messages' is anything to go by. I wonder how the distinguished authors of the recent Lancet paper, that made the same point as young Kieran regards relative drug harms, would feel about this?

Young people need to know the risks and dangers of all drugs they may encounter, regardless of legal status. Actually, now I think about it, arguably illegal status is one of the potential harms they need to be warned about aswell, as a criminal record will often cause more harm than the use of the drug itself.

The free speech issues in this story also echo the very wierd 'Bong Hits for Jesus' saga, which recently reached the US supreme court.

Free speech goes up in smoke at school

Saskatchewan student's marijuana research spurs lock down and suspension


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

June 20, 2007

WINNIPEG — It started months ago when Kieran King's high-school class heard a presentation about the dangers of drug use.

Kieran, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student in tiny Wawota, Sask., population 600, thought the presentation lacked credibility, so he did some research on the relative health risks of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.

When he told some of his fellow students that cannabis seemed the least hazardous of the three, he set in motion a series of events that led to a school lockdown, a threat assessment involving the RCMP, a suspension and failing grades on his exams.

"It's all a bit overwhelming," his mother, Jo Anne Euler, said. "It's just totally bizarre."

She explained that her son is a compulsive researcher who tends to go on at length about what he reads on the Internet.

One student at Wawota Parkland School didn't want to hear Kieran's thoughts about marijuana, and complained to principal Susan Wilson.

The principal then called Kieran's mother because she was concerned he was advocating drug use, Ms. Euler said.

Ms. Euler told the principal her son is an A student who doesn't go out, doesn't smoke or drink, and isn't pushing drugs on other kids.

"She said 'Well, if he talks about it again, I will be calling the police,' " Ms. Euler said. "I told Kieran that and he said 'Mom, all I'm doing is sharing the facts.' "

Kieran felt his right to free speech was being trampled, so he enlisted the help of the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party.

Together they planned a school walkout for free speech, scheduled for 11 a.m. last Tuesday, where free chocolate chip hemp seed cookies would be handed out.

But just before 11 that day, the principal announced that the school was a closed campus and that no one was allowed outside.

When several students tried to leave anyway, teachers barred the doors and ordered them back to class, Ms. Euler said. Kieran and his younger brother Lucas defied and joined a ragtag group of five protesters standing across from the school holding placards.

The principal then ordered a lockdown to ensure the safety of students. The RCMP raced to the scene, only to find a small, peaceful protest.

Kieran's mother was again called to the school and told that both her sons had been suspended for three days. Later that day, the school conducted a threat assessment on Kieran with the help of the RCMP and school division counsellors, Ms. Euler said............

read the rest of this sorry tale here



Steve Rolles said...


Legal action considered against suspension
Student who spoke out about risks of marijuana, alcohol, falsely accused of selling drugs, mother says
JOE FRIESEN, Globe and Mail

June 21, 2007

WINNIPEG -- A video recording of a free-speech protest at a Saskatchewan high school shows a school superintendent saying publicly that 15-year-old Kieran King had been accused of selling drugs at his school, even though his mother says he had never been investigated or charged, or even spoken to by the school principal.

Kieran's mother, Jo Anne Euler, says the drug-selling accusation is false, but hasn't yet decided whether to pursue legal action. Her first priority is to appeal the school's decision to prevent Kieran from writing his final exams, which means his grades will fall from the high 80s to the mid-50s.

The video, which can be seen on YouTube, shows the peculiar seven-person protest outside Wawota Parkland School last week. It was organized, with the help of the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party, after the principal threatened to call police if Kieran continued to talk about the relative health risks of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco - his response to a school presentation on the dangers of drugs.

Just before the start of the protest, the principal ordered a school lockdown, brought in the RCMP and later conducted a threat-assessment on Kieran. He and his brother were suspended for three days for leaving school grounds, preventing him from writing his exams.

Superintendent of education Velda Weatherald tries to explain on the video why Kieran was told not to talk about marijuana in school after a student complained to the principal.

"When a student or parent comes with a complaint to the principal, all she did say was if ever anyone was promoting drug use or was actually trying to sell drugs - and there was an accusation," Ms. Weatherald says.

A voice off camera asks, "Against Kieran?"

"Yes," Ms. Weatherald replies, but refuses to offer further details.

Kieran has said several times that he has never used or even seen marijuana.

Neither Ms. Weatherald nor any other representative of the South East Cornerstone School Division would speak to The Globe and Mail yesterday.

Ms. Euler explained that Kieran has always felt strongly about the dangers of alcohol and tobacco. Nineteen years ago, Ms. Euler's husband and eldest daughter, who was nine at the time, were killed by a drunk driver.

"I know for a fact that's why he looks up all the negative facts about alcohol, that adds some fuel to it," she said. "He knows the effect, because you just don't ever get over it."

"The day before all this started, on May 29, we were driving and as usual he was talking about all his statistics, and he said to me: 'Mom, I just can't understand why people smoke and drink when they know the effects of it. When you read the statistics, why do they still do it?' "

Kieran is currently in Shanghai, where he is studying Mandarin and working as an English tutor. One of the reasons he was allowed to go to China on his own, his mother said, is that since her daughter was killed, she has been reluctant to stand between her children and their dreams.

She said the reaction to the controversy in Wawota, a town of about 600 located a 2½-hour drive east of Regina, is slowly improving. One parent approached her yesterday to whisper some words of encouragement, she said. "She said she's sick of the way that school is run, and she said there's lots of others that support you but they're just afraid to speak out, so I felt a lot better after that," she added.

But she is dismayed that the ordeal has made her son, whom she describes as a research-obsessed computer fanatic, look like a criminal and a drug dealer.

Eugene Oscapella, an Ottawa lawyer and founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, said Kieran should be commended for standing up for his rights.

"If he is saying that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, he's probably dead right," Mr. Oscapella said. "So what is wrong in an educational institution with discussing these issues?"

Audrey Trombley, the elected chair of the school board, said she had spoken to the director of education and believed that everyone had acted appropriately.

Steve Rolles said...

watching the videos on you tube i have to agree with some of the comments that some of the protesters dont come across well. The school may be guilty of a ridiculous overreaction but that doesnt excuse the rudeness of one of the protesters.

Im not really interested in cannabis political parties (or single issue political parties generally)- its always seemed a bit daft to me.

Still, the broader culture this story is symptomatic of, both in terms of stifling scientific debate on relative drug harms because of paranoid drug war politics, and also the freedom of speech issues, remain important.