11/14/2016 02:01 EST | Updated 11/14/2016 02:02 EST

We Need Greater Transparency In Matters Of Ontario Teacher Misconduct

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Queen's Park is an urban park in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Opened in 1860 by Edward, Prince of Wales, it was named in honour of Queen Victoria. The park is the site of the Ontario Legislative Building, which houses the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the phrase 'Queen's Park” is regularly used as a metonym for the Government of Ontario.

In 2011, the Ontario College of Teachers commissioned former Ontario Justice Patrick LeSage to conduct an independent review of our disciplinary processes and practices. Our intent then -- as it is now -- was to see where we could improve.

Our Council adopted Justice LeSage's report and his 49 recommendations, which were focused on two key themes: efficiency and transparency.

The College moved quickly to implement change where it could and needed the province to amend its laws to address all the recommendations. After four long years of collaboration, the Protecting Students Act will soon become law.

We're almost there.

Almost, but not quite.

Our support for the spirit of the proposed bill is aligned to our belief in -- and continuing commitment to -- transparency and accountability.

The College licenses teachers to work in publicly funded Ontario schools. It accredits the programs and courses that enable people to become teachers and to remain vital and current in their practice. It establishes the ethical standards for the profession and the standards of practice for teaching. And, going on 20 years now, it has enforced Ontario law with respect to matters of professional misconduct, incompetence and fitness to practice involving College members. In short, the College regulates Ontario's teaching profession in the public interest.

Although professional misconduct in Ontario is rare (fewer than 20 people out of 243,000 Ontario Certified Teachers have their certificates revoked in any given year), we treat every concern, every complaint, every investigation and every hearing with utmost seriousness. We act with the highest respect for student safety, for the fair, open, and timely treatment of our members, and in appreciation of the public's right to know.

We welcome the proposed act and the many elements which we asked for and which will advance transparency and efficiency. Eight areas, however, aren't aligned with our recommendations or overall objectives.

For example, we believe that decisions that come out of publicly held disciplinary hearings should always be public. Justice LeSage recommended that those decisions must be published and available on our website with the name of the member. Further, he said that agreements arising from our complaint resolution process should also be posted publicly, a practice that is already expected of health regulators under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991. We're perplexed that instead of being asked to be more transparent -- as is required of Ontario's health regulators -- we're being asked to conceal information.

There are 834 discipline decisions available in our online library as well as on Quicklaw and CANLII. Once the law passes, 376 of those decisions would have to be removed after three years. Decisions with findings of professional misconduct in which terms, conditions or limitations have been imposed on a member's certificate would be no longer be available.

The Supreme Court of Canada says that teachers are teachers all the time. By virtue of their authority and the public trust placed in them, we believe that they should not develop personal relationships with students at any age, and particularly students under 18 or with special needs.

If someone is accused of sexual assault, they should not be exempted from the College's disciplinary process. They aren't in criminal courts. The Protecting Students Act would grant exemptions to teachers who marry their students.

As well, under the proposed act, a teacher whose certificate has been revoked for anything other than sexual abuse, sexual misconduct or child pornography may still be in the classroom while an appeal is being heard, potentially putting further students at risk. We believe that immediate revocation should apply in all cases.

We've drawn these matters to the government's attention. At the same time, we see that the proposed legislation as a whole is good, progressive and responds to our recommendations.

Ensuring student safety and transparency in matters of professional misconduct are ideals we can all support.

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