On November 15, 2016, Bill 37, the Protecting Students Act (“Act”), passed third reading in the Ontario legislature. The purpose of the legislation is to improve the investigation and disciplinary processes of the Ontario College of Teachers (“OCT”) to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest and to help protect children, students and teachers. The Act accomplishes this objective by:
- ensuring a teacher’s certificate is revoked automatically if he or she has been found guilty of specific acts of sexual abuse or acts relating to child pornography;
- requiring school boards and other employers to inform the OCT when they have restricted a teacher’s duties or dismissed them for professional misconduct;
- allowing the OCT to share information with the school board if the subject of a complaint poses an immediate risk to a student or child;
- requiring the OCT to publish all decisions made by its disciplinary committee; and
- imposing new timelines to resolve cases more quickly and efficiently.
The Act is a response to the report issued by former Justice Patrick LeSage in June 2012 which contained 49 recommendations to modernize the investigation and discipline practices of the OCT.
The most significant aspect of the legislation for school boards will likely be the emphasis on early resolution of complaints against OCT members. Pursuant to section 26.1, the registrar may now refer matters to an investigation stage resolution process when the OCT and the member agree to do so. While the obligation remains on the Investigation Committee to use best efforts to dispose of complaints within 120 days, complaints under the investigation stage resolution process do not, as of yet, have a prescribed timeline in which the complaint should be resolved.
Further, section 30.1 of the Act establishes a resolution process at the disciplinary stage of a complaint. The Discipline Committee is now able to refer a matter to a disciplinary stage resolution process, with the member’s agreement, in an effort to resolve the matter on a timely basis. Where a matter is referred, the Disciplinary Committee only hears the matter in the event that a resolution is not achieved during the resolution process.
These provisions are some of the measures intended to accelerate the resolution of complaints against OCT members and assure a more efficient investigation and disciplinary process. Rather than completing a full investigation and conducting a disciplinary hearing, the registrar and the Discipline Committee now have more latitude to have complaints resolved through the resolution process. While school boards may face tighter deadlines to provide the registrar with documentation (if requested), it is likely that they will benefit from these efficiency measures.