Father calls penalty 'unbelievable' and wants teacher transferred
An Ottawa teacher was suspended for two days after confining a Grade 8 student in a locker for about two minutes.
Almost three years after the incident, the student's family is still pushing to have the teacher transferred to another school.
It happened during the lunch hour on December 4, 2020, at the Collège catholique Franco-Ouest in Bells Corners. The boy, then age 12, was joking around with his friends by showing them he could fit in his locker.
"It was a lot of fun," he said — until a teacher intervened. He said she asked him to go into the locker again.
"When a teacher tells you what you should do, you do it," he said in a French interview with Radio-Canada, which agreed to withhold his name because he's a minor.
According to the boy, the teacher shut the locker door and held it closed. He said he repeatedly tried to get out. He also said the door hit him in the face, though it did not cause any injuries.
Inside, he said he heard laughter as well as comments that he would be inside for several minutes and would be late for his next class. He said the teacher even asked whether anyone had a lock.
CBC/Radio-Canada has watched surveillance footage of the event obtained by the boy's father through a freedom of information request.
The video shows a woman approach a boy, who then enters the locker. It shows her place her foot against the door of the locker at least four times. The door is seen to open twice, before the boy finally steps out.
He remains inside the locker for almost two minutes.
WATCH | Teacher confines student to locker at Ottawa school:
Teacher confines student to locker at Ottawa school
7 hours ago
Featured VideoSurveillance video from Collège catholique Franco-Ouest shows a teacher repeatedly hold her foot against a locker.
"I was afraid," he said in a French interview. "She was doing stuff such as banging on the locker door and there were talks about doing this every lunch and doing this for five or ten minutes and getting a lock, so I was very afraid of those things becoming a reality."
When he returned to class, the boy said, he was shaken and in tears.
"I couldn't think straight," he said. "I was crying at times. I couldn't talk."
When reached by Radio-Canada, the teacher declined to comment on the matter, stating in French it's "because there is still pending litigation," though she did not specify the kind of litigation.
CBC/Radio-Canada is not naming her to protect the identity of the boy.
The school is run by the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, the French Catholic school board for Ottawa and communities to its south and west.
It said in a French email that "an inappropriate incident occurred in 2020, which involved a teacher and a student at the Collège catholique Franco-Ouest."
It added that it launched an in-depth internal investigation as soon as it was made aware of the incident.
Police acknowledge crime, lay no charges
When his son told him about the incident, the boy's father contacted the school.
"It was traumatizing for him," said the father, whose first name is Michel but whose last name is being withheld to protect the boy's identity.
The next week, Michel contacted police.
An officer spoke to the boy days after the event. An investigator interviewed the boy in March 2022, about a year after the occurrence. The investigator also interviewed the teacher in May of the same year.
After that interview, the investigator noted in a report that the teacher "does realize that it was unprofessional and inappropriate in the school setting."
The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) wrote in the report that a criminal act did take place, namely assault, but police did not proceed with charges. When contacted by Radio-Canada, the OPS declined to comment on the file.
The report explains the decision to avoid laying charges by stating that the teacher was warned about her actions.
"She understood the warning about her actions and stated she did so in jest," the report said. "She does realize that it was unprofessional and inappropriate in the school setting."
It also noted that the same incident was investigated by the school board and by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT).
Student's psychological well-being compromised, school board says
Michel submitted a complaint to the college in January 2021.
In its French-language decision, the OCT said the allegation against the teacher, namely that she encouraged a student to enter a locker and then held the door closed for about two minutes, "worries the inquiry committee of the college."
The complaint was resolved through a memorandum of agreement between the OCT and the teacher, which has not been released to the family. She also received a warning.
"The memorandum does not constitute an admission of the underlying facts of the complaint nor an admission of a wrongful act in relation to the complaint," according to the decision.
In an email, the OCT declined to comment on the investigation. It said that matters relating to employment are not part of its mandate.
The OCT decision reveals that the school board, at the end of its own investigation, suspended the teacher without pay from Dec. 17 to 18, 2020.
According to the decision, the board concluded that the teacher's actions compromised the boy's psychological well-being.
Her union, the Association des enseignantes et enseignants franco-ontarien (AEFO), contested her suspension. The union declined an interview request, citing reasons of confidentiality.
The boy said he's reminded of the incident when he sees the teacher and relives it on sleepless nights. In his view, the two-day suspension isn't proportionate to what he endured. His father agrees.
"It's unbelievable to me that a two-day suspension is all that happened," he said in English.
"What I would want is for her to be fired," he added. "I can appreciate that that isn't always possible, but I know there are administrative measures the school can put in place to at least move her away from her victim to make sure that he feels safe."
The teacher remains employed at the Collège catholique Franco-Ouest, according to a list of personnel for the current school year posted to the school's website.
The board would not provide any additional information on her employment, including whether she is currently teaching or on leave.
Private prosecution attempt
In the face of what they saw as inaction, the family decided to launch a private prosecution.
In Ontario, anyone who has reasonable grounds to believe someone has committed a crime can launch a private prosecution to seek to have them charged and brought to court. The Crown can intervene to put an end to the proceedings by requesting a stay.
On Sept. 20, 2023, the Crown did precisely that in this case, making a stay request that was accepted by the court. It provided no reason during the hearing.
"The Crown will suspend or withdraw accusations when there is no perspective of a conviction or when it is not in the public interest to continue," the Ministry of the Attorney General said in a French-language email.
"In this case, a stay of proceedings was issued after an in-depth examination by the Crown prosecutor."
Family loses confidence in system
Michel and his son felt abandoned by the institutions that examined the case.
"I had confidence that the school would do something to protect the victim," he said in French. "I thought that, because the police confirmed that there was a crime, it would be taken seriously."
He now believes that the system seems designed to protect teachers more than students.
Michel repeatedly asked the Collège catholique Franco-Ouest to transfer the teacher to another school until his son finished his studies there. He was also concerned about his daughter, who is now in Grade 7.
The school board assured him in email exchanges that it would limit contact between the teacher and his son, but Michel said that didn't happen. In a new complaint filed with the OCT this month, he alleges that the teacher was in close proximity to his son on seven occasions.
"That reminds me of what happened and it makes me nervous sometimes," the boy said in French. "There is always a little bit of fear in me."
The school board said it is working "in close collaboration with all those implicated and the authorities to ensure the security and well-being of the student."
"I have even less confidence in my school board," the boy said, "because they really decided to do nothing."
With files from Radio-Canada's Rosalie Sinclair
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca