Association apologizes and cancels speaker after originally agreeing to continue with session
The Alberta Teachers’ Association is reviewing its processes for vetting speakers at teachers’ conventions in the wake of a controversy that emerged after it was discovered that a convicted murderer was scheduled to appear at a Calgary City Teachers’ Convention session.
Nicole Parisien was violently murdered in Vancouver in the summer of 2007. Andrew Evans was convicted of second-degree murder in her death. After serving seven years, he was paroled and moved back to Calgary, where he has been working as a quality assurance co-ordinator for the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC).
AARC submitted the session to the convention, intending to portray the challenges and potentially horrific consequences of addiction. The session was to be led by Calgary Police Services constable Andrew Morton, a graduate of AARC seconded from the service to the support program. Evans, another graduate of AARC’s addictions programs, was to appear alongside the police officer. The original speaker proposal did not include reference to Evans’s murder conviction.
After the murder conviction came to light, the Association issued a statement agreeing to continue with the session. Later that same day, however, the Association reversed the decision and worked with the convention association to cancel the session.
“The decision was made to continue with the session in hopes that by sharing the story, future tragedies could be prevented,” wrote President Greg Jeffery in a public apology issued the next morning. “That decision was wrong.”
Nicole Parisien’s mother, Marilyn Wedholm, posted appreciation for the apology on social media.
“Thank you teachers for realizing the harm that this was doing to all of the victims (and their families) of violent crime, the survivors and those who were not lucky enough to survive, like my Nicole,” she wrote, using the Facebook account titled Nicole Spirit Riders.
“The ATA recognized mistake, apologized and donated $ to Stardale Women’s Group. We acknowledge their regret,” Wedholm posted to Twitter. “The Stardale Women’s Group do excellent work and our family is pleased with the ATA’s $5,000 donation in honour of my daughter Nicole Parisien. If she were alive today she would have loved to be a part of your team to help others.”
The Association apology spoke directly to Parisien’s family: “To the family of Nicole: We are sorry for the additional hurt this story has caused,” the statement read. “I also want to express sincere regret for the impacts this story has had on survivors of sexual violence and on the family and loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
Jeffery said in his statement that the Association is committed to reviewing practices so this type of mistake does not happen again.
“The Stardale Women’s Group do excellent work and our family is pleased with the ATA’s $5,000 donation in honour of my daughter Nicole Parisien. If she were alive today she would have loved to be a part of your team to help others.”
Marilyn Wedholm, Nicole Parisien’s mother
Executive Secretary Dennis Theobald elaborated that a comprehensive review of teachers’ conventions was already in progress, and, in light of this mistake, the vetting of speakers will be a key part of that review.
“That’s not to say there aren’t going to be controversial speakers again in the future,” Theobald said. “Every day teachers confront all the hard issues and challenges of the world in their classrooms, and our conventions provide valuable insights to help teachers respond effectively — but the fact is we got this one wrong and we want to make sure we get these decisions right in the future.” ❚