Photos: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock
Last December, the provincial government passed Bill 37, the Protecting Students Act, bringing long-sought changes into law to protect students and to make the College’s investigation and hearings processes and practices more efficient and open. Professionally Speaking sat down with College CEO and Registrar Michael Salvatori, OCT, to explore what the new changes in law mean to the public and to College members.
Professionally Speaking: In the College’s brief to the standing committee on Bill 37, you stressed the notions of maintaining transparency while improving efficiency. These were themes in the original report from former Justice Patrick LeSage, whom the College commissioned in 2011 to provide an independent review of its investigation and hearings practices. What are you most pleased with in this updated legislation? Why?
Michael Salvatori: What I’m most pleased with is that we now have an official articulation of the College’s commitment to enhance transparency and efficiency to serve the public interest and keep students safe. The bill represents our commitment over the last few years to improve. It’s a public — and official — statement that’s embedded in our Act that we committed to making based on the advice we received from Justice LeSage and on recommendations from our Council. We depend on the government to amend our regulations and our Act, and, in most cases, it acts on the recommendations we make. The bill represents what we asked for. We sought the changes based on the independent review and then requested that the Minister of Education make the changes.
PS: How does the Protecting Students Act better serve the public interest?
MS: If we look at some of the elements in the bill, we can see assurances that children are safe in the care of teachers and, in the rare circumstances when a teacher doesn’t meet the standards of the profession, there is recourse. For example, if a member is found to have sexually abused a student, there will be a mandatory revocation — a panel no longer has discretion regarding the order or sanction. I think that is a strong statement to the public. In cases where a member may wish to reinstate after a hearing resulting in a revocation, the bill increases the period from one year to five years before they can apply; again this is in circumstances of the most egregious of allegations. If we look at the transparency aspect, we have defined a number of our processes in the Act for greater clarity, and we’ve added timelines. For example, we will try our best to dispose of a complaint within 120 days, and we’ve specified the time a member has to respond to a complaint and the timelines to receive information from other bodies. These are all elements that, in their entirety, are good public confidence pieces.
PS: What is the tangible evidence of change that people can see?
MS: There will be mandatory identification of a member’s name in all the summaries of our discipline decisions. So the answer to what would the public see in our magazine, which is much more publicly accessible than a bill or an Act, is that a member will be identified in all of those cases and that there will be no discretion to not disclose the name of the member. That’s something that is visible and will be evident to College members and to members of the public who read Professionally Speaking.
Our public awareness initiative — one of the recommendations from the original LeSage report, which we have undertaken over the past three years — is another manifestation of our commitment to transparency.
In our public awareness presentations, we’re not only increasing awareness of the College, we’re talking about what’s in the bill, why the public should have confidence in us as a regulator regarding our timeliness of decisions and our actions, and the substance of them.
One of our objects is to communicate with the public on behalf of the members. We absolutely have to continue that. As we issue additional professional advisories, they become part of that public message because, in part, the advisories are there to let the public know what to expect of members.
“We know that our members believe in professionalism and the integrity of the profession, so I believe that they will also look forward to these changes.”
PS: How do these changes affect College members?
MS: As we know, the vast majority of our members uphold the standards in a professional and exemplary way. They should be interested to know that when a member of the profession doesn’t do that there are sanctions, and that it doesn’t tarnish the reputation of all teachers or the profession. We know that our members believe in professionalism and the integrity of the profession, so I believe that they will also look forward to these changes because they care about the protection and welfare of not only the students in their care, but also those in the care of other members. We have 243,000 members and yet we receive fewer than 1,200 expressions of concern each year. Complaints are made against less than one per cent of our members — and that’s not even taking into account whether the allegations have been substantiated. We’re also the organization that accredits teacher education programs and ongoing Additional Qualification courses, which help teachers continue to refine their practice and to look at our standards of practice as a lens for ethical behaviour. All of the work we do underpins the good work that teachers do. The right people choose teaching because they understand the public confidence elements in our profession.
PS: There are elements in the bill that did not reflect the direction of College Council. What does that mean to the College going forward? Or, how does that determine the College’s ability to serve the public interest?
MS: In some cases, there are things we didn’t request and don’t support. We have to rely on the excellent, collaborative relationship that we have with our Ministry of Education and our Minister to address those areas where the bill has deviated from Council recommendations. We’ve identified eight of those areas. One of them has already been addressed, the other seven have not. There are ongoing discussions with the Ministry. Legislation is complex. Although the bill may have elements that we feel need to be addressed, there are ways to address them through bylaw, regulation or through other means, and we’re in discussions with the Ministry now about how we can address them.
“All of the work we do underpins the good work that teachers do. The right people choose teaching because they understand the public confidence elements in our profession.”
What’s fair to say — and important to say — is that we share the same goal of inspiring public confidence and keeping students safe. When you’re starting from the same moral ground, solutions are possible.
PS: Would you say that the process of change is evolutionary?
MS: Yes. This bill is coming into fruition four or five years after the source recommendations. Things have changed. Situations have changed. Perspectives have changed. We still think that it meets the intent of the Council expectations as far as transparency and efficiency, and there are some elements that can be improved upon.
Legislation is not static. When you look at the last five to 10 years, there were a number of times we’ve had recommendations for legislative change and many of them have gone through. We’ve had a provincial election and a prorogation of the government in the interim, and a number of factors that weren’t anyone’s fault. Nonetheless, we acted immediately on 23 of LeSage’s 49 recommendations, everything within our power to effect.
When we commissioned Justice LeSage to do this work, he spent six months engaged in robust consultation with all our stakeholders, and there was ample time for Council to consider changes and for open debate in a public forum.
Since then, on some of the practice changes, we’ve gone further by consulting with our partners to better define restrictions on a member’s certificate and talking to boards about the process of sharing information. We do think this bill is the result of significant consultation and input from our governing Council.
PS: Will the College still strive to seek changes that will result in further improvements? What might they be?
MS: We welcome the changes in this new legislation. We asked for them and got most of what we asked for. We’ll continue to refine. We, as an organization, are committed to continuous improvement just as teachers are committed to continuous improvement. It’s one of our standards of practice as a piece of professionalism. As an organization, we are committed to reading the legislative landscape, keeping abreast of changes, and constantly looking at how we can work better in the public interest. Part of that is regular surveying of the public, focus groups like those we conducted this past summer, and presentations we make in the community or to trustees where we ask for feedback on our processes. We find out what inspires public confidence in the teaching profession and in our work, what, if any, elements erode that confidence, and what we can do to improve it. So we’ll continue to ask those questions and advocate for change.
The public has greater access to information, is more sophisticated and expects more from us. Technology has driven some of those expectations and we have adjusted and will continue to adjust as societal expectations change.
PS: Finally, what impact has this had on other regulators?
MS: When we presented a briefing on the original report from Justice LeSage, there were 20 or 30 other regulators in the room who were interested in our advice. The College of Early Childhood Educators had almost parallel legislation that was introduced before ours that made many of the same changes we have. These are good changes for all regulators because they improve all aspects of transparency and efficiency in the context of the public interest, the protection of the consumer and the protection of children.
11 Key Changes to the Ontario College of Teachers Act
The Protecting Students Act took effect on December 5, 2016, and includes a number of amendments to the Ontario College of Teachers Act.