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Red tape keeps teachers accused of abusing students in classroom for years

Last Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 8:28 pm EST

Teachers who have been accused of sexually assaulting students may remain in the classroom for several years due to an arduous and convoluted disciplinary process.

CityNews has learned it can takes years for the regulatory body in charge of teachers to punish members who behave inappropriately in the classroom or with students, even those who have been found guilty of sexual assault.

“If it is found that a teacher has done something unprofessional, then you could have that teacher continue in the profession during that time (between when the misconduct occurred and a decision is made by the Ontario College of Teachers) depending on what the school board decides,” said Sachin Maharaj, a teacher with the Toronto school board who is doing his PhD in educational policy.

“What happens is the teacher is removed from the school in which the incident occurred, so it looks like something is being done but then they’re placed in another school oftentimes unbeknownst to the parents and students of that school, and so unless you’re someone that looks up your child’s teacher regularly, you may have no idea they may have been found guilty of some sort of misconduct.”

The Ontario College of Teachers received 490 complaints about bad teachers in 2015.

Maharaj said it could take years for the College to make a decision about each of those claims.

“So once a complaint is filed, usually what happens is the school board launches its own investigation and that can take a long time because school boards themselves are large bureaucracies that are slow moving and then at a certain point the Ontario College of Teachers will be brought in and launch their own investigation. So those two things combined makes things take sometimes one, two, three, four years in many cases.”

For example, Kim Doris Gervais, who taught in Timmins, began engaging in inappropriate personal and sexual relationships with four young male students in September 2007. She kissed one student and showed photos of herself in various states of undress. She also invited three students to her home to watch a porn video and asked two of them to fondle her breasts. In April 2014, a court found Gervais criminally guilty of sexual abuse. But it wasn’t until October 2015, eight years after the first recorded incident, that the Ontario College of Teachers found her guilty of professional misconduct and revoked her teaching certificate.

Scott Andrew Dempster, a former teacher at a Milton school, engaged in inappropriate relationships with three young male students starting in January 2008. In one instance, he and a student undress and change into bathing suits while alone in the student’s room before getting into a hot tub together. Dempster resigned from the school board in June 2012. The College did not revoke his certificate until November 2015, nearly eight years after the initial cited incident.

Maharaj said not only is the lengthy delay an issue in cases where a teacher is found guilty of misconduct, it’s also a problem for those who are eventually cleared.

“In cases of false accusations where it turns out the claim wasn’t valid, you just have this kind of cloud over the teacher for four, five years and that could ruin their career in many cases because even after their name is cleared, they’ll always be known as the teacher that for many years wasn’t allowed to teach or was suspected of doing something. So in both cases it’s not in anyone’s interest for the investigation to take that long.”

Bill to expedite disciplinary process to be re-introduced for third time

A 2012 report by retired justice Patrick Lesage recommended 49 ways of better protecting students and the public from bad teachers. At the time, the Liberal government promised swift action and introduced new legislation.

The Protecting Students Act would cover 19 recommendations of the Lesage report, including forcing the College to notify boards of its findings and the automatic removal of an individual’s teaching certificate if they are found guilty of sexual abuse or misconduct.

Four years, three Liberal education ministers, and two attempts later, and that bill remains dead.

Jagmeet Singh, deputy NDP leader, said his party would support the bill and that Liberal scandals are to blame for the delays.

“It’s kind of an on-going theme, that the government’s not able to manage their legislation, nor are they able to manage the house, nor are they able to manage the province frankly, so it’s kind of consistent with that theme,” Singh told CityNews.

The Liberal government said it will be making a third attempt in the coming months.

“It is a very big priority of our government so we will be re-introducing legislation this fall,” Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said Wednesday.

Since 2012, the Ontario College of Teachers has implemented 30 out of 49 recommendations, some of which do speed up the discipline process. The remaining require the revival of the bill.

Click here to look up your child’s teacher and past disciplinary decisions made by the Ontario College of Teachers