How a sexual assault charge was handled within one school division


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2014 (3133 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was salacious, it was lurid, and there were people all too eager to blame the victim.

And no, I’m not talking about anything to do with the ongoing coverage of Jian Ghomeshi and the women coming forward.

You may have seen my story — in which arbitrator Arnie Peltz awarded back pay to a 41-year-old St. James-Assiniboia physical education teacher awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, in which the alleged victim is a woman also employed by the school division. They do not work in the same school; the alleged sexual assault occurred at the woman’s home late at night.

The division suspended the teacher without pay in the summer of 2013 immediately after learning of the criminal charges that were not expected to be heard in court until sometime in 2015.

I found Peltz’s 56-page ruling the way I often find such things, by reading public minutes posted online. No one pointed me to it — I found it on a public website on which I do periodic checks.

Arbitration hearings are public, but notices of them don’t get posted anywhere of which I’m aware — one of the parties has to tell you where and when it is being held, which is why we only occasionally cover an arbitration over, say, a school division’s teachers’ contract, or the discipline against a university professor.

The ruling contains no names of the people involved, nor of the school at which the man worked. He is the grievor, the woman is X, another male teacher is S. Various senior employees in St. James-Assiniboia School Division appear by name, such as the superintendent and the human resources top brass.

I’m not naive. I know what can happen when women choose to come forward with such accusations, and I know what can come out in court, and that the alleged victim can become as much or even more on trial than the alleged perpetrator. I also believe in the justice system, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

But I was amazed and appalled to find what came out in that aribitration hearing.

As Peltz said in his ruling, the man’s guilt or innocence was not at issue, that was a matter for the criminal courts. It was a labour dispute, and Peltz’s job was to decide if the suspended teacher should remain suspended, and if he should receive his back pay.

I’ve never understood how an employer can deny pay to an accused who is presumed to be innocent, though arguments were filed to explain how that can be justified — arguments Peltz didn’t buy.

Removing someone facing very serious charges from the workplace while continuing to pay them pending trial, that is much easier to understand. While there was no evidence that children were in danger, Peltz was satisfied the case was there to take the teacher out of the classroom, and the division made a case that there were no duties to which he could have been assigned that did not require some contact with students.

But what was entered as evidence at a labour hearing over back pay was shocking….at least to me, in my naivete.

The hearing relied heavily on redacted police reports, and on interviews that the division had conducted with both the teacher and the woman. It seemed to be accepted by all concerned that the division had the right to delve directly into these matters and to the degree it did.

Neither the teacher nor the woman spoke at the hearing, absences which representatives for one or the other questioned. Peltz noted that neither the accused teacher nor the alleged victim was compelled to testify, and he especially cited the trauma the woman would undergo in having to be a witness at the arbitration hearing.

Of course, much of what was heard second-and-third-hand was from each person’s perspective and version of what did or didn’t happen.

But the details were explicit and they went on and on and on — who allegedly did precisely what to whom, who said what to whom, who allegedly had sexual relations with whom and when, with or without consent. Those details fill up a huge portion of the 56 pages.

The woman’s past sexual history, or at least what is allegedly part of her personal sexual history, was entered into evidence. The teacher’s marital status and his family relations were laid out on the table. The natures of the alleged relationships that S, the other unnamed male teacher, has had with each of them, that was all brought forward.

There is evidence that the teachers’ union criticized the division’s superintendent and HR department for not having been more aggressive in trying to break the woman’s story.

Tweets were tracked down and entered as evidence to argue that things happened or didn’t happen.

Keep in mind that this was not the court trial in which extremely serious criminal charges will be decided — this was a labour arbitration deciding whether the man should receive pay retroactive to his suspension.

Peltz reported that, at one point in the hearing, the division acknowledged that marital infidelity was none of its business.

What mattered, said the division, was the division’s reputation, the confidence the public has in teachers, the safety of children, the safety of the workplace for children and employees alike.

When criminal charges were laid, it became the division’s business, said the superintendent.

While emphasizing the seriousness of the charges, Peltz said that a well-informed and fair-minded member of the public would not draw conclusions about the division’s reputation if the teacher was paid pending trial. The incident was off-site and nothing entered into evidence involved children. Peltz ruled the man should receive back pay.


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