Protecting Sex Offender’s Privacy Trumps Child Safety

Most Ontarians wouldn’t be happy to know that teachers convicted of sexual offences against children were being allowed back into the classroom.  Most would also be deeply disturbed to know that a person was being persecuted for speaking out against the process that allows it.

But this is precisely what has happened. The Ontario College of Teachers, which is a self-regulating body much like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, has just released the findings of a disciplinary hearing against Jim Black. Mr. Black was fined $1000 and banned from teaching for two years for disclosing confidential information about a hearing in which a convicted sexual offender had his teaching certificate restored. He was also publicly pilloried in the magazine Professionally Speaking, which is circulated to about 220,000 teachers in Ontario.

If that sounds harsh to you, I agree. Canadians for Accountability heard of Mr. Black’s case in February this year, and as far as we can tell, this experience has been a slow-motion nightmare for Mr. Black.

It began in 2004, when he was invited by a staff member at the Ministry of Education to submit a critique of the College based on his experience as a member of the College Council. He did so, criticising low teacher participation in College elections and the associated disenfranchisement felt by many teachers, election processes which seemed to favour certain interests, the poor ratio of practicing teachers in College Council and administration and – most importantly – the practice of allowing teachers convicted of or having admitted sexual activities with minors.

For this act of honesty, Mr. Black faced a series of reprisals. These included changes to his work, interference with his efforts to advance his career and slurs against his family, amongst other things.

But the worst was yet to come.

Discouraged by inaction, he sent his concerns to Ontario MPPs and to the media. In 2006, CTV picked up the story. The journalists reported that a repeat sexual offender with teenage students had been reinstated to teaching by the College. Mr. Black was interviewed as part of the story.

In a perverse twist, the offender filed a complaint against Mr. Black, alleging that Mr. Black had violated his privacy by disclosing information about the hearing to CTV.

Mr. Black has maintained from the start that he did not, and that the details of the case were uncovered through normal journalistic methods. That is, a routine web search.

One might think that such a complaint would either be dismissed outright, or at least dismissed after a brief telephone call to CTV to clear things up. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.

Rather, the College embarked on a 375-day investigation into Mr. Black’s actions (although College policy requires that matters be disposed of in 120 days). Investigators sent letters across the country to individuals and organizations which had no connection to the case and suggested inappropriate conduct by Mr. Black. Mr. Black asserts that he was never given specifics of the complaint to be investigated.

In June 2008, a two-day hearing was held at the College.  His preliminary statement was not included in the minutes. The College didn’t bring evidence to the hearing, instead arguing that witnesses would provide that evidence. To make matters worse, witnesses which the Registrar of the College had called – and which Mr. Black feels would have vindicated him – were cancelled 14 days before the hearing. Mr. Black then didn’t have time to call them. It looks like a nice piece of sabotage.

He was found guilty in October 2008. When it finally published the findings in this December’s edition of Professionally Speaking, the College failed to note that Mr. Black was speaking out against the reinstatement of individuals that had committed sexual offences, and that the complainant was one such offender.

With respect to evidence, the summary shows that no reasonable standard of proof was met. For example, it was suggested that “since Black had been part of only one reinstatement hearing, it followed that the information he divulged must have been in regard to the reinstatement of the teacher identified in the broadcast.” This is an absurd leap of logic.

I also found it interesting that Mr. Black’s case was described at such length: it was three times longer than others far more serious in nature. The magazine also included a special section on disciplinary hearings. It looks suspiciously like an effort to disguise the unjust and retaliatory nature of the decision.

Read from start to finish, Mr. Black’s case fits the basic whistleblower formula: a concerned individual is driven by his conscience to speak out on an issue of public interest or safety and is persistent, expecting the matter to be corrected at some point. The individual then faces escalating reprisals. An investigation is launched into the conduct of the concerned individual, but not into the matter he was reporting. Finally, punitive measures are taken against the concerned individual.

Ontarians need to get angry about this, because the safety of their children is at stake. Whistleblowing has always been a dangerous act, even in the teaching profession. By squashing Mr. Black, the College is threatening other teachers to keep quiet when faced with abuse or other wrongdoing. Mr. Black’s case also underlines the need for whistleblower protection to be legislated across all sectors in Ontario.

I hope that Ontarians will write to the Minister of Education expressing their displeasure and demanding a review of the decision we have, and have also asked her order an audit of the training and required qualifications for the College’s disciplinary panel, and to consider whether this incident should trigger a review of the College’s self-regulating status.

To read more about Mr. Black’s case, visit our Cases We’re Following page.