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Teacher wins court ruling over decades-long delay
For nearly 30 years, a local student thought her sexual misconduct complaint involving her teacher back in 1976 had led to his dismissal.
That was until 2005, when she, as one of three complainants against teacher Robert John Robertson, learned that he was still teaching in Vancouver. She brought this to the attention of the Vancouver School Board, which completed an investigation and in December of 2006, led to Robertson resigning his position.
Details about these allegations were first made public Tuesday in a lengthy B.C. Supreme Court ruling in a dispute between Robertson and the provincial commissioner of the Teachers Act.
Robertson, now 62, was the subject of a complaint that he engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships with three students.
The Richmond School Board investigated, and Robertson was suspended. But days later, he resigned his position, and instead applied for a job with the Vancouver School Board, which was unaware of the allegations—they claim, according to the B.C. Supreme Court ruling, that he failed to disclose them—and hired him.
For Robertson’s part, he was advised by a lawyer that the outcome could range from suspension to losing his teaching licence to no action at all, the ruling said.
“He was also advised by his lawyer that the process could take a year and if he had not heard from the department after that length of time, this would mean that it had decided to take no action,” the ruling said.
Robertson, who got married in 1984 and has since raised three children, worked from 1976 to 2006 as a teacher in Vancouver with no other allegations against him and positive performance reviews.
He also worked a second job as a sales and service agent with Canadian Pacific Airlines from 1979 to 1995.
According to the ruling, when Robertson didn’t hear from the Department of Education a year after the initial 1976 complaints, he concluded that it decided to take no action against him, and he moved on.
But in 2007, after the B.C. College of Teachers was informed by the Vancouver School Board of the allegations and its investigation, the college commenced an investigation of its own.
Three years later, in September of 2010, it issued a preliminary report, and in November of 2011, issued a citation against Robertson, alleging the sexual misconduct and that he misrepresented himself during his job interview back in 1976 with the Vancouver School Board.
When the teachers college dissolved in 2012, the commissioner assumed jurisdiction of the proceedings against Robertson.
With the commissioner required to establish a panel of three members to conduct its own hearing, Robertson commenced a petition for judicial review, claiming abuse of process and delay.
But the commission panel dismissed the application last March.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court found that the commission’s panel erred in how it applied certain legal principles to the specific circumstances of the Robertson case.
“It erred in how it assessed the period of delay, it failed to take a number of important contextual matters into consideration in assessing whether the delay was inordinate, it placed too high a burden on Mr. Robertson to prove specific procedurial prejudice given the magnitude of the delay, and it failed to consider relevant evidence of personal prejudice directly related to the delay, all of which led to an unreasonable conclusion,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Fisher wrote.
Fisher quashed the panel’s decision denying the stay of proceedings on the sexual misconduct complaint.
“In its analysis of the relative harm to the public interest, the panel must consider the correct legal principles in the proper context of the evidence and the exceptional nature of this case, as I have discussed, including the evidence that the former student also thought that her complaint had been addressed in 1976.”
As far as the reasons for the delay, Roberston sought an answer himself by filing a disclosure request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Those records indicate the Richmond School Board notified the deputy minister of education and the B.C. Teachers Federation of the circumstances of Robertson’s resignation.
“The B.C. Teachers Federation did not consider that it could invoke its disciplinary authority since Mr. Robertson had resigned and suggested the more direct route of proceeding directly to the Lieutenant Governor in Council. In September 1976, the Department of Education obtained a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s office advising that the LGIC had the jurisdiction to cancel Mr. Robertson’s teaching certificate and of the process to put the matter before the LGIC. No other records were found.”