Bill 35 is not anti-teacher legislation. It is about keeping students safe from predatory teachers

Michael Zwaagstra“It is anti-teacher legislation.” That’s how Manitoba Teachers’ Society President Nathan Martindale recently described Bill 35.

With a description like that, one might think that Bill 35 closes schools, abolishes tenure, or cuts teachers’ salaries. These are the kind of actions that might reasonably be called anti-teacher.

However, Bill 35 does none of these things. Rather, Bill 35 establishes an online teacher registry and sets up an independent discipline process. In other words, as already happens in professions such as medicine and law, the public will be informed when teachers are found guilty of misconduct.

Holding misbehaving teachers accountable hardly sounds anti-teacher. Since the vast majority of teachers are ethical people, they have nothing to fear from an open and transparent disciplinary process.

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In addition, the province had good reasons for introducing this legislation. Last year, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection released a report that raised serious concerns about child safety. It found that, over the last four years, 252 current or former school personnel across Canada committed, or were accused of committing, offences of a sexual nature involving children.

Sadly, the actual number of offenders is likely much higher since several provinces, including Manitoba, do not currently require public disclosure of discipline decisions. This means the public only hears about teacher misconduct when criminal charges are laid. Many cases never make it that far.

Manitoba Teachers’ Society’s main objection to Bill 35 is that the bill contains an “overly broad definition of misconduct” that will expose teachers to “frivolous and malicious complaints.” However, the bill’s definition of misconduct is quite specific and focuses on things such as sexual abuse and causing physical or significant emotional harm to a child.

During a CTV interview, Martindale expressed concern that students might file frivolous complaints against a teacher “if they receive a mark that they’re not happy with, if a teacher raises their voice.”

Those would be frivolous complaints indeed, but Bill 35 explicitly states that the commissioner of teacher discipline can dismiss a complaint if it is frivolous, vexatious, trivial, or made in bad faith. Furthermore, the commissioner can also decline to proceed if there is no reasonable prospect that a hearing would result in an adverse finding by the panel or if pursuing the complaint is not in the public interest.

Thus, no one who actually reads Bill 35 can seriously think that teachers will be hauled before a disciplinary panel because they gave a low mark or raised their voices.

In addition, Bill 35 brings Manitoba in line with what is already happening elsewhere. Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick have teacher registries and publicize teacher discipline cases. Last time I checked, teaching remains a viable profession in these other provinces.

This doesn’t mean that Bill 35 is perfect. For example, I agree with the Manitoba Teachers’ Society that including “professional competence” in a bill that focuses on teacher misconduct doesn’t make sense. In my view, competence and misconduct are two separate issues and should be dealt with separately. If the province wants to tackle the issue of teacher competence, it should do so in a different bill.

Nevertheless, Bill 35 is, on the whole, a step in the right direction. Keeping students safe must always be a top priority.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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