Protecting victims and witnesses

The College is seeking jurisdiction to issue binding publication bans when necessary to protect victims and child witnesses.

by Liz Papadopoulos, OCT

At a recent disciplinary hearing of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, the discipline committee stripped Dr. Marvin Sazant, a Toronto doctor, of his medical licence for tying up young male patients and forcing them to participate in sex acts between 1970 and 1991.

“He stole my trust, my innocence and my belief that people were good people who were not supposed to hurt children,” said one of the victims in a victim impact statement. His name cannot be published because of a publication ban.

Most of Ontario’s regulatory bodies – those in the health professions and the Law Society of Upper Canada – have the right to impose publication bans to protect the identities of victims or vulnerable witnesses.

The College currently does not. But we hope that’s about to change.

“The request to permit publication bans stems from a report in 2000.”

At its November meeting, Council proposed amendments to the Ontario College of Teachers Act that would give the College Discipline Committee the jurisdiction to issue a binding publication ban. The recommendation has been forwarded to the Ministry of Education.

By law, the College’s discipline hearings are open to the public, and members of the media regularly attend and report on the proceedings. Students are sometimes requested to give testimony before the College’s Discipline Committee.

During these hearings, the College Discipline Committee panels have the authority, under the Act, to direct that the names of victims of abuse or exploitation not be published in the College magazine.

Discipline panels, however, do not have the power to prevent the news media from publishing information about public hearings and their results.

The request to permit publication bans stems from a report in 2000 resulting from an inquiry by Justice Sydney L. Robins called Protecting Our Students: A Review to Identify and Prevent Sexual Misconduct in Ontario Schools. This inquiry into the actions of Sault Ste. Marie teacher Ken DeLuca, who sexually assaulted a dozen students over a 20-year period, led to important changes in Ontario’s laws and practices.

In his report, Justice Robins noted that the College’s Act contained no powers conferring jurisdiction to the College’s committees to issue publication bans. He believed that the law that applies to hearings should be amended to expressly provide for such powers.

Sometimes, disclosing a name, even the name of an accused person, might reveal the identity of a witness or a victim. The publication ban is a measure to make it possible for witnesses and victims to testify before a panel of the College’s Discipline Committee without additional fear.

“People must feel safe and able to come and tell us if they have been wronged.”

Publication bans would apply to names, not to cases or details of a case. They would protect the identity of witnesses and victims who bring evidence to a hearing usually related to cases of sexual misconduct.

Not all our complainants are children. Sometimes victims of egregious acts are well into adulthood before they are ready to come forward with a complaint. If they live in a small community and if they have children of their own in school, they should be confident that their actions will not interfere with their lives.

A publication ban is not to protect an accused person, nor is it designed to protect the College in any way. It’s about protecting witnesses and victims.

This is about removing barriers. People must feel safe to tell us if they have been wronged.

A free press is one of the most important foundations of a free society. With a publication ban, we will not have to close hearings. Our process will still be transparent and we will still be accountable to the public.

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