Our Mandate column offers members information about particular aspects of the College’s responsibilities as a self-regulatory body and explains how we carry them out.

Empathy and rehabilitation govern fitness to practise rulings

The desired outcome is one that protects the public interest and recognizes the needs of the member.


Hanno Weinberger

Whispers carry through the halls. One student reports a teacher stumbling. Another says the smell of alcohol on him is unmistakable. Word is out that Mr. X is drunk. A parent is alerted. A call is made.

Such an allegation of professional misconduct often triggers a complaint to the College. Sometimes, though, the cause of the behaviour requires the College to adopt a different approach, a different mindset, a different process. Drunkenness may be the symptom, but alcoholism as a disease may be the cause.

Rather than treating this as a professional misconduct complaint, the Investigation Committee may think that the member is incapacitated. After receipt of initial information and a College investigation, the matter may be referred to the Fitness to Practise (FTP) Committee to decide.

The Ontario College of Teachers Act requires the FTP Committee to conduct hearings and decide on the physical or mental capacity of College members. FTP proceedings are not intended to assign blame.

The  committee, made up of members of the College Council (four elected members, three appointed public representatives), has a duty to protect the public interest and, whenever possible, to focus on member rehabilitation. The medical maladies and disorders that can affect College members are numerous and complex, among them anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolarity and attempted suicide.

The committee can decide that a member is suffering from a physical or mental condition or disorder and is therefore unfit to continue to carry out his or her professional responsibilities or that the member’s certificate should be subject to terms, conditions or limitations.

Usually, relevant, expert opinion – from doctors, for example, or psychiatrists – is required to enable a panel to determine incapacity. An expert’s opinion is admissible only to furnish the hearing panel with scientific information that is likely to be outside the experience and knowledge of the panel members.

By law, FTP hearings are closed. Although the charged member can ask that a hearing be open to the public, the committee may choose to refuse the request if disclosures could compromise public or individual security and civil or criminal proceedings.

To fulfill its mandate, an FTP panel must:

If there is a finding of incapacity, the FTP panel has several options. It may order the Registrar to revoke the member’s certificate, suspend the member for up to 24 months, or impose terms, conditions or limitations on the member’s certificate.

Revocations are rare. Most FTP matters conclude with members having to satisfy conditions on their Certificate of Qualification and Registration. Suspensions of up to 24 months are more common.

Suspensions give members time to rehabilitate and provide the College with a letter from a doctor indicating that they are fit to return to work. By law, the College does not publish FTP decisions or summaries.

“FTP hearings themselves are not that frequent,” says Investigations and Hearings Director Francine Dutrisac. “For every seven discipline matters that the College manages, one involves fitness to practise.”

“Obviously, drunken behaviour at the front of any classroom is unacceptable. So too is destroying the career of an educator who can be helped by treatment,” says Fitness to Practise Committee Chair Hanno Weinberger. “Empathy and understanding infuse the process. The desired outcome is one that protects the public interest and recognizes the needs of the member.”