From the Chair

Worthy of the public trust

What happens when the police call the College to get specific information about a member who may pose a risk to students? Should we share the information? Can we?

by Liz Papadopoulos, OCT

To ensure we fulfill our mandate to serve and protect the public interest as transparently as possible, your College Council recently passed several motions to amend the Ontario College of Teachers Act that deal with our quasi-judicial proceedings.

These changes will bring the College’s policies and practices in dealing with confidential information in line with the practices of other regulated professions in Ontario.

For example, 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.

Students sometimes provide testimony at College disciplinary hearings. During these hearings, the 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Committee panels have the authority, under the Act, to direct that the names of victims of abuse or exploitation not be published in the College magazine. The media are usually extremely careful to protect the identities of minors and vulnerable witnesses.

It’s about keeping students safe.

However, it is better to be safe than sorry. And currently, the College hearing panels do not have the power to prevent the news media from publishing sensitive information from public hearings.
We hope to change that.

It is a long-standing, fundamental and constitutionally protected principle that hearings – whether they are civil, criminal or administrative in nature – should be open to the public so that justice can be seen to be done.

For that reason, the College’s disciplinary proceedings are held publicly.

But all reinstatement or variation hearings held by the Discipline Committee are closed to the public.
These proceedings are typically held when members apply for reinstatement after their certificate has been suspended or revoked.

In keeping with the principles of transparency and accountability, we want to be able to hold these hearings in public, unless there are compelling reasons not to.

Solidifying our quasi-judicial decisions is also part of our focus.

Provincial legislation currently provides that in the event a tribunal’s decision – such as ours – is appealed to another court, decisions and orders from the College are suspended until an appeal is heard and a decision is rendered.

What does this mean?

It means that decisions made by the Discipline or Fitness to Practise committees have no force during an appeal and are set aside pending the outcome of the appeal.

It’s helping to build and maintain that trust in our profession.

However, as a regulator, we have an obligation to serve and protect the public interest, which includes the needs of Ontario’s children – one of the more vulnerable groups in society. Suspending an order to revoke a member’s licence could place students in jeopardy.

Finally, the College is requesting the authority to disclose information to a body that governs a profession and to police officers to help in investigations from which a law enforcement proceeding is likely to result.
If a member is being investigated, our investigators can call the police and ask if they are investigating the member. But we can’t reciprocate. If the police call us about a member, we can’t share information.

We hope to be able to.

We are not looking to share just any information. It has to be relevant.

If we have a member investigated for sexual impropriety, for example, we should be able to disclose this to the police to allow them to carry through an investigation.

It’s about keeping students safe.

It’s helping to build and maintain that trust in our profession.

Our recommendations have been forwarded to the Ministry of Education. We will keep you posted on their progress.

by Liz Papadopoulos, OCT