A teacher applied for judicial review of a hearing committee’s decision of professional misconduct. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the case; however, the Alberta Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the findings of professional misconduct concluding that the decision of the hearing committee was unreasonable and improper.

24. December 2002 0

Administrative law – Teachers – Disciplinary proceedings – Professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming – Judicial review – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter – Schools – Parental rights

Eggertson v. Alberta Teachers’ Assn., [2002] A.J. No. 1358, Alberta Court of Appeal, November 5, 2002, O’Leary, Costigan and Paperny JJ.A.

The Appellant was a teacher with the Calgary Board of Education and a member of the Respondent Alberta Teachers’ Association (“ATA”) since 1977. The Appellant was also a mother of two children enrolled at a Calgary elementary school. In the course of a parent-teacher interview with the children’s then current teacher, the Appellant made comments critical of the children’s teacher the previous year. The Appellant made a similar critical comment two weeks later at a further meeting attended by the Appellant, her husband, the current teacher, and others. Several months later the current teacher filed a formal complaint with the ATA alleging the Appellant’s comments constituted unprofessional conduct. The Appellant was charged and was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by a Hearing Committee (“the Committee”) pursuant to the discipline provisions of the Teaching Profession Act, R.S.A. 1980, c. T-3. The Appellant unsuccessfully appealed to the Professional Conduct Appeal Committee (“the PCAC”). The Appellant applied for judicial review to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. The application for review was dismissed. The reviewing judge found no procedural unfairness and concluded that neither section 13 of the Code nor its interpretation by the Committee and the PCAC violated the Appellant’s right to freedom of expression. With respect to the finding of professional misconduct, the reviewing judge selected and applied a standard of review of reasonableness simpliciter. He found that, in the circumstances, the decision met that standard.

The Appellant appealed the lower court’s decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The Alberta Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and set aside the findings of professional misconduct and the sanction imposed. The court held that the reviewing judge’s selection of reasonableness simpliciter as the appropriate standard for assessing the decision of the Committee was correct; however, the Court of Appeal did not agree with the lower court’s conclusion that the decision of the Committee was reasonable. In concluding that the decision was unreasonable, the court stated

In our view, it was unreasonable for the Committee and the PCAC to adopt a literal interpretation of s. 13 in these circumstances. That interpretation effectively deprived the appellant of her parental right under the School Act, the orders and regulations made pursuant to it, and the regulations of the [teacher] to participate fully in the education of her children. It is a handicap not shared by parents who are not also teachers. In short, an interpretation and application of s. 13 which deprives parents of their right to participate fully in their children’s education simply because they are also teachers and members of the ATA is unreasonable and cannot be sustained.…

The decision did not accord adequate weight to the parental rights of the appellant as established by the School Act and the orders and regulations made pursuant to it, or to the regulations of the C.B.E. The appellant’s status as a parent required a balancing of her parental rights with her professional obligations as a teacher and member of the ATA rather than the strict and literal approach taken by the Committee and the PCAC.

For these reasons, the court concluded that the Tribunal’s finding of misconduct was unreasonable and must be set aside. The appeal was allowed.

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