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Bill 37

Landmark legislation passes to effect greater efficiency and transparency in Investigation and Hearings practices

In December, the provincial government passed Bill 37, the Protecting Students Act, bringing long-sought changes into law to protect students and to make the College’s investigation and hearings processes and practices more efficient and open.

Professionally Speaking sat down with College CEO and Registrar Michael Salvatori, OCT, to explore what the new changes in law mean to the public and to College members.

Professionally Speaking In the College’s brief to the Standing Committee on Bill 37, you stressed the notions of maintaining transparency while improving efficiency. Those were themes in the original report from former Justice Patrick LeSage, whom the College commissioned in 2011 to provide an independent review of its Investigation and Hearings practices. What are you most pleased with in this updated legislation? Why?

Michael Salvatori What I’m most pleased with is that we now have an official articulation of the College’s commitment to enhance transparency and efficiency to serve the public interest and keep students safe. The Bill represents our commitment over the last few years to improve. It’s a public – and official – statement that’s embedded in our Act that we committed to making based on the advice we received from Justice LeSage and based on recommendations from our Council.

We depend on the government to amend our regulations and our Act and, in most cases, they act on the recommendations we make. The Bill represents what we asked for so we sought the changes based on the independent review and then requested the Minister of Education to make the changes.

PS How does the Protecting Students Act better serve the public interest?

MS If we look at some of the elements in the Bill, we can see assurances that children are safe in the care of teachers and, in the rare circumstances when a teacher doesn’t meet the standards of the profession, there is recourse. For example, when there are proven allegations of sexual abuse, a panel no longer has discretion regarding the order or sanction. It would be a mandatory revocation. I think that is a strong statement to the public. In cases where a member may wish to reinstate after a hearing resulting in a revocation, the Bill increases the period from one year to five years before they can even apply, again this is in circumstances of the most egregious of allegations. If we look at the transparency aspect, we have defined a number of our processes in the Act for greater clarity and we’ve added timelines. For example, we will make best efforts to dispose of a complaint within 120 days, and we’ve specified the time a member has to respond to a complaint and the timelines to receive information from other bodies. These are all elements that, in their entirety, are good public confidence pieces.

PS What is the tangible evidence of things that have or will change that people can see?

MS There will be mandatory identification of a member’s name in all the summaries of our discipline decisions, so the question of what would the public see in our magazine, which is much more publicly accessible than a Bill or an Act, they’ll see that a member will be identified in all of those cases and that there will not be discretion to not disclose the name of the member. That’s something that is visible and will be evident to members and to members of the public who read the magazine.

Our public awareness initiative, which was one of the recommendations from the original LeSage report and which we have undertaken over the past three years, is another public manifestation of our commitment to transparency. In those presentations, we’re not only increasing awareness of the College, we’re talking about what’s in the Bill, why the public should have confidence in us as a regulator regarding our timeliness of decisions and our actions, and the substance of them.

One of our objects is to communicate with the public on behalf of the members. Absolutely, we have to continue that. As we issue additional professional advisories, they become part of that public message because, in part, the advisories are there to let the public know what they expect of members.

PS Why should our members be interested in these changes? What’s the benefit to them?

MS As we know the vast majority of our members uphold the standards in a professional and exemplary way. They should be interested to know that when a member of the profession doesn’t do that, there are sanctions and that it doesn’t tarnish the reputation of all teachers or the profession. We know that our members believe in professionalism so and the integrity of the profession so I believe that they also look forward to these changes because they are interested in student protection and student welfare, not only the students in their care, but those in the care of other members.

We have 243,000 members and yet we receive fewer than 1,600 expressions of concern each year. Less than one per cent of our members even have a complaint made against them and that’s not even determining whether the allegations have been substantiated. We’re also the organization that accredits teacher education programs and ongoing additional qualification courses that help teachers continue to refine their practice and to look at our standards of practice as a lens for ethical behaviour. All of the work we do underpins the good work that teachers do. The right people choose teaching because they understand the public confidence elements in our profession.

Professionally Speaking There are elements in the Bill that did not reflect the direction of our Council. What does that mean to the College going forward? Or, what does it mean to our ability to serve the public interest?

MS In some cases, there are things we didn’t request and don’t support. We have to rely on the excellent, collaborative relationship that we have with our Ministry of Education and our Minister to address those areas where the Bill has deviated from Council recommendations. We’ve identified eight of those areas. One of them has already been addressed, the other seven have not. It’s fair to say that there are ongoing discussions with the Ministry. Legislation is complex. Although the Bill may have elements that we feel need to be addressed, there are ways to address them through bylaw, regulation or through other means and we’re in discussions with the Ministry now about how we can address them.

What’s fair to say – and important to say – is that we share the same goal of inspiring public confidence and keeping students safe. When you’re starting from the same moral ground, solutions are possible.

PS Would you say that the process of change is evolutionary?

MS Yes. This Bill is coming into fruition four or five years after the source recommendations. Things have changed. Situations have changed. Perspectives have changed. We still think that it meets the intent of the Council expectations as far as transparency and efficiency and there are some elements that can be improved upon.

Legislation is not static. When you look at the last five to 10 years, there are a number of times we’ve had recommendations for legislative change and many of them have gone through. We’ve had a provincial election and a prorogation of the government in the interim and a number of factors that weren’t anyone’s fault. Nonetheless, we did 40 per cent of the work (recommended by LeSage) immediately.

When we commissioned Justice LeSage to do this work, he spent six months with a very robust consultation with all our stakeholders and there was ample time for Council to consider them and for open debate in a public forum. Since then, on some of the practice changes, we’ve gone further to consult with our partners to better define restrictions on a member’s certificate and the duty to talk to boards about the process of sharing information. We do think this Bill is the result of significant consultation and input from our governing Council.

PS Will the College still strive to seek changes that will result in further improvements? What might they be?

MS We welcome the changes in this new legislation. We asked for them and got 90 per cent of what we asked for. We’ll continue to refine and look at additional changes.

We, as an organization, are committed to continuous improvement just as teachers are committed to continuous improvement. It’s one of our standards of practice as a piece of professionalism. As an organization, we are committed to reading the legislative landscape, keeping abreast of changes, and constantly looking at how we can work better in the public interest. Part of that is regular surveying of the public, focus groups like those we conducted this past summer, presentations we make in the community or to trustees where we ask for feedback on our processes. We find out what inspires public confidence in the teaching profession and in our work, what if any elements erode that confidence, and what we can do to improve it. So we’ll continue to ask those questions and advocate for change.

When we look at transparency, the pendulum sometimes swings. You have a more sophisticated public with access to information. Technology has driven some of those expectations and we have adjusted and will continue to adjust as societal expectations change.

PS Finally, what impact has this had on other regulators?

MS When we presented a briefing on the original report from Justice LeSage, there were 20 or 30 other regulators in the room who were interested in our advice. The College of Early Childhood Educators had almost parallel legislation that was introduced before ours that made many of the same changes we have. These are good changes for all regulators because they improve all aspects of transparency and efficiency in the context of the public interest, the protection of the consumer, the protection of children, the same principles.

101 Bloor Street West, Toronto ON, M5S 0A1, P: 416-961-8800 / Toll Free (Ontario Only): 1-888-534-2222 / F: 416-961-8822 / info@oct.ca

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