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Professional Misconduct of a Sexual Nature

Updated advisory demonstrates teaching profession’s vigilance against the sexual abuse of students.

By Brian Jamieson

Ninety-nine per cent or more of Ontario Certified Teachers (OCTs) should never have to read the updated professional advisory Professional Misconduct of a Sexual Nature.

That’s because fewer than one per cent would ever have a complaint made against them. Every day, College members live the profession’s ethical and practice standards. The mere thought of abusing a student is beyond their ken. In any given year, fewer than a couple of dozen people have their teaching licences revoked for sex-related crimes against students.

But, it’s for that reason, that 100 per cent of the College’s 233,787 members should read the advisory avidly and be well informed by its content. (You will find a copy of the advisory in this edition of the magazine.)

“Boundary violations aren’t always apparent. Awareness of the professional relationships that respect the boundaries between students and teachers is key.”

“Ontario Certified Teachers have a responsibility to conduct themselves according to professional standards, provincial law and the Criminal Code,” says College Registrar and CEO Michael Salvatori, OCT. “The advisory reminds OCTs of the ethical, professional and legal parameters that govern acceptable behaviour. More importantly, it aims to prevent the sexual abuse of students, those entrusted to us to teach and safeguard.”

The College’s initial advisory was distributed in 2002 to all College members in response to a recommendation by former Justice Sydney L. Robins’s report following the criminal conviction of former Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., teacher Ken DeLuca for sexually assaulting 13 female students over 21 years, beginning in the late 1970s. Additions made to the advisory in 2008 reflected changes in legislation that helped to clarify the reasons for allegations of professional misconduct against members. The latest version honours the purpose, if not the language, of the original advisory. It also addresses recent changes in the law that further define the reasons and penalties for professional misconduct of a sexual nature.

The advisory is founded on the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession and the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession.

The document defines sexual abuse of a student by an OCT according to the Ontario College of Teachers Act. It also uses the Act to define sexual misconduct. Sexual abuse often involves behaviour of a sexual nature directed at a student or students. Sexual misconduct, on the other hand, typically involves behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature that is not directed at one or several students. Rich with footnoted sources and examples, the advisory includes several snippets from actual College discipline decisions.

Members of the College hold a unique position of trust and authority and are responsible for maintaining appropriate professional boundaries with students at all times, Salvatori says.

“Boundary violations aren’t always readily apparent,” he adds. “Awareness of the professional relationships that respect the boundaries between students and teachers is key.”

While not exhaustive, the advisory provides a list of behaviours to avoid. These include:

The document asks: Is your conduct in the best interests of the student and connected to your professional duties? Are your activities known to and/or approved by supervisors and/or parents? Are you using board/employer-approved communication platforms and following approved policies?

“Ignorance of the law or College regulations is not an acceptable excuse for unprofessional behaviour,” the advisory says. “OCTs are professionals who understand, value and protect the trust that exists with students, and who always maintain appropriate professional boundaries.”