SECE would like to wholeheartedly acknowledge and thank the Government of Manitoba for engaging us in its consultation process aimed at developing a stronger Teacher Regulation Framework to prevent and address sexual abuse of students.
SECE applauds the following proposed changes in the new framework. We believe these changes will better protect students from teachers who intend to harm them:
However, SECE is concerned that there are a number of proposed changes that fall short of creating a fully independent body and process, as recommended in our 2022 Report.
The Independent Commissioner will be appointed by the government of the day and will serve at their pleasure. Our view is that the Commissioner should be appointed by a vote in the legislature, and only be dismissed by a vote of the legislature, allowing for a much more independent Commissioner who can act without fear of dismissal.
Further, while we are pleased that the staff supporting the Commissioner will be full-time public servants appointed on the basis of merit, we are concerned that they will report to the Registrar rather than directly to the Commissioner. This means these public servants will ultimately report to the serving Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning and not the Commissioner. Moreover, the Commissioner will necessarily have to delegate its authority to these employees in order for the Commission to function. This will create conflicts of interest, confusion and ultimately make the Commission much less effective. For the Commissioner, it will be somewhat akin to flying a 747 where the gear shifts are not connected to anything.
SECE recommends that these employees report to, and be hired and managed by, the Commissioner, given that they will exercise the Commissioner’s delegated authority.
Likewise, while we are pleased to see that for the first time, members of the public will serve on the hearing panels, the proposed changes do not go far enough in ensuring that these adjudicative panels will make decisions free from conflicts of interest. The teachers’ unions, which represent 1/3 of roster members, owe a duty of support to their fee-paying members. Likewise, the School Boards, whose representatives constitute another 1/3 of roster members, may become ultimately liable for civil suit damages payable to victims. SECE feels strongly that both these actors hold conflicts of interest, face divided loyalties, and in some cases are political actors. Students harmed by their teachers would be better served by a roster made up entirely of professional, trained adjudicators who hold no current affiliations with either teachers’ unions or school boards, and who are appointed solely based on merit and their qualifications.
SECE feels strongly that this legislation requires schools to report cases to the Commissioner far too late in the process, often long after damage has been done. This could lead to the contamination of evidence and underreporting to the Commissioner. While it is a positive move to allow the general public to report cases directly to the Commission, it is important to recognize that many cases will be either reported to, or uncovered within, the school itself. As the proposed legislation currently stands, schools will only be required to report these cases to the Commissioner once they have disciplined the teacher. Case research clearly demonstrates that school principals and administrators are not qualified to conduct sexual assault investigations and worse, often traumatize victims and their families when conducting interviews and investigations themselves. Further, it’s very difficult for school personnel to remain objective as they have preexisting relationships with both the students and teachers involved, and in some cases school staff may have been “socially” groomed by the teacher predator. SECE feels strongly that local schools and school boards should not be conducting investigations into serious allegations of teacher misconduct. Rather, as soon as the school is notified, cases should immediately be referred by the school to the Commissioner, who is better placed to conduct objective, professional, arms-length investigations.
SECE urges law-makers to further consider how to put in place a robust regime of prevention. The mandatory training outlined in the new regime is a strong start, but it would be significantly enhanced by the inclusion of additional mechanisms to facilitate early intervention prior to serious harm taking place. For example, most children are subjected to grooming prior to being sexually exploited by their teachers. These activities can include giving students gifts, driving them home, texting and spending time alone with children in offices and classrooms. When these high-risk behaviors are observed in the school environment, SECE recommends that these incidents be reported immediately to the Commissioner. This way appropriate intervention, including further teacher education, can occur and prevent more serious harm from taking place. This type of reporting will also create a better documented history of problematic behaviors, which will aid an investigation in the event abuse is reported. Without intervention at the early grooming stage, cases will be reported far too late and only after students have been seriously harmed. As part of this requirement, bystanders, including teachers and school staff, should be required to report suspicious behavior to the Commissioner, and likewise, be sanctioned for not doing so. Further, protection from reprisal for those who report, and the acceptance of anonymous complaints would both support early detection and prevention of harm.
SECE would be pleased to testify before the Manitoba Legislature as it considers these important reforms.
As a small group of survivors of sexual assault perpetrated by our teachers, SECE has done its homework and created a comprehensive plan to creating safer schools.