Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – College of Teachers – Teachers – Disciplinary proceedings – Professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming – What constitutes – Mental condition – Relevancy – Penalties – Public interest – Judicial review – Standard of review – Correctness – Reasonableness simpliciter
Stuart v. British Columbia College of Teachers,  B.C.J. No. 989, British Columbia Supreme Court, May 2, 2005, Powers J.
The Appellant was a teacher who had been on a stress-related medical leave since January 2002. The Appellant was suffering from mania characterized by a number of quite severe symptoms in the first half of 2002. The Appellant had an altercation over the telephone with a student and her boyfriend in February 2002 which led to a citation for conduct unbecoming a teacher. In June 2002, the Appellant attended at the school, attempting to obtain his personal belongings. He became involved in a verbal confrontation with the school staff, including using profanities, drove his vehicle in an erratic manner in the parking lot and had a verbal and physical confrontation with the police before he was subdued by the use of a tazer.
In addition to criminal charges, these actions resulted in a citation for professional misconduct. Both citations against the Appellant made it clear that the College could terminate his membership and cancel his teaching certificate.
Separate hearings proceeded on both citations, on agreed statements of fact, and the Appellant was found guilty in each instance. The Council of the College met and considered the recommendations and reasons of the Hearing Subcommittee and the submissions of the Appellant. The College ultimately adopted the recommendations and reasons of the Hearing Subcommittee and gave the Appellant an indefinite suspension with certain conditions.
The Appellant argued that the citations required a mental element to be proven by the College and that the agreed statements of fact demonstrated that he lacked the necessary mental capacity to commit the offences, or that the necessary mental element had not been proved. He argued that the College should have dealt with the matter as an issue of competency, but that the disposition (i.e., suspension) should be the same. The Council of the College had found the mental element, that is, the cause of the behaviour, to be irrelevant.
The Court referred to earlier decisions of the British Columbia Supreme Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal in finding that the appropriate standard of review for the determination of conduct unbecoming a member of the College was reasonableness simpliciter. However, the issue of whether a person’s mental state was irrelevant in determining whether the conduct amounted to professional misconduct, or conduct unbecoming was a question of law and reviewable on the standard of correctness.
In considering the issue of the relevance of the Appellant’s mental capacity, the Court considered whether professional misconduct and conduct unbecoming ought to be treated as absolute liability offences, where it is not open to the member to exculpate himself by showing that he was free of fault, or strict liability offences, where the doing of the prohibited act prima facie imports the offence, while leaving it open to the member to avoid liability by proving that he took all reasonable care. After reviewing the authorities, the Court held that treating professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming, under the Teaching Profession Act, as an offence similar to absolute liability, would do nothing to promote the objects of the Act. It was appropriate to treat issues of professional misconduct, and conduct unbecoming, as similar to strict liability offences.
The Court held that the standard of proof in the professional misconduct setting was established by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Jory v. College of Physicians and Surgeons,  B.C.J. No. 320 (S.C.), which was described as “high”, and “not the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, but “something more than a bare balance of probabilities”. The Court held that the College bears the burden of proving at least some element of moral culpability on the part of the Appellant. However, it was the Appellant’s burden or responsibility to establish that the conduct in question resulted from a medical condition. This was consistent with treating issues of professional misconduct as strict liability offences.
The Court found that the College had erred in concluding that the Appellant’s mental condition was irrelevant to its determination; however, it was not clear what decision the College may have reached had they properly considered that condition. On the agreement and suggestion of counsel, the Court proceeded to decide whether the Appellant was guilty of professional misconduct, or conduct unbecoming, based on the agreed facts. The Court warned that the College was the proper body to balance the competing interests and multiple policy objectives in making such a decision and that the Court’s decision should carry no precedential value in any future hearings before the College.
The Court considered the circumstances of the complaints, the Appellant’s history, the cause of his behaviour in both instances and the medical evidence. The Court found that the evidence demonstrated that the Appellant’s behaviour was caused by difficulties with his medication and his bipolar disorder.
The Court held that the public interest, and the interest of the students and teachers, could be appropriately dealt with by accepting the Appellant’s suggestion that the matter be dealt with as a matter of competence, rather than conduct. It was not necessary, in any of those interests, to find the Appellant guilty of professional misconduct, or conduct unbecoming a school teacher. The Court found the Appellant incompetent due to his medical condition and ordered that he be subject to an indefinite suspension on the same conditions as imposed by the College.
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