Question: I heard media reports that the Alberta Teachers’ Association did not report sexual assaults on students to police? What is going on?
Answer: Recently a class action lawsuit was brought against the Calgary Board of Education alleging that the board failed to take action against Michael Gregory, a teacher with the district from 1986 to 2006, who died by suicide after being charged with sexual offences against former students. In the course of reporting and subsequent commentary by the minister of education, the impression was left that the Association was aware of these allegations and failed to act on them.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
To begin with, while allegations of unprofessional conduct regarding Gregory were brought to the Association’s attention 15 years ago, those allegations did not include the sexual offences with which he was more recently charged. The allegations made in 2006 were serious, were substantiated through our investigation and led to the teacher being charged and ultimately found guilty. However, the complaint at that time did not include the misconduct that is the basis of the more recent criminal allegations.
As well, the notes of the investigating officer indicate that the RCMP was aware of concerns relating to Gregory at the time the complaint of unprofessional conduct was made to the Association. Apparently, these were not sufficient to warrant a police investigation, at least in 2006.
Once the Association completed its process, finding Gregory guilty of unprofessional conduct and suspending his membership in the Association, a full report was sent to the minister of education for action because it is the province that has exclusive control over matters of certification. Copies of the Association Professional Conduct Committee, redacted only to protect witnesses, are matters of the public record and have been shared with media as well. The minister’s deliberations and decisions concerning Gregory’s certification status are not similarly in the public domain.
In the final analysis, the Association did its job to the full extent that it was able. Suspending Gregory’s membership in the Association removed him from the classroom. Without Association membership, he was ineligible to teach in a public, separate or francophone school. Whether the employer or the minister did their jobs is beyond my knowledge.
There are three important points to end on. The first is that, as the situation currently stands, policing teacher conduct is a shared responsibility. Quite apart from the role of the Association in enforcing the Code of Professional Conduct, school boards as employers have obligations relating to the supervision of their employees; the education minister has responsibilities relating to certification; and the police, crown and judiciary have duties relating to the investigation, prosecution and adjudgment of those who may have engaged in criminal conduct. All parties need to do their work. We did.
Secondly, while there is currently no specific legislated requirement that the Association advise police of potential illegal conduct, our processes are typically engaged and concluded only after the employer board and/or the police have already been involved and completed their work. We routinely ask complainants what other steps they may have taken to engage other processes and, when appropriate, have advised them to contact the authorities. I have done so myself, but I also note that ours is a complaint-driven process and it is difficult to act without the complainant’s cooperation. Furthermore, we have no capacity or authority to direct law enforcement.
Finally, we are constantly re-evaluating our professional conduct processes and recognize that as society evolves, expectations and norms change. Recently, Provincial Executive Council authorized a review of the Code of Professional Conduct, noting in particular that the Code does not adequately reflect current standards for dealing with allegations of workplace harassment. Any proposed changes arising from this review will ultimately be brought to the Annual Representative Assembly for approval as bylaw amendments and then must be signed off by the provincial government, specifically the Lieutenant Governor in Council, before coming into effect.❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at email@example.com.