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Court of appeal overturns decision involving teacher's alleged misconduct

The Court of Appeal for B.C. has overturned a B.C. Supreme Court decision, paving the way for a local teacher to face a disciplinary hearing about allegations of sexual misconduct three decades ago.

Robert Robertson was accused of sexual misconduct in 1976, but it wasn’t until 2007 that an investigation was commenced by the Vancouver School Board.

A local student who thought her sexual misconduct complaint had led to Robertson’s dismissal, learned in 2005 that he was still teaching in Vancouver, and brought her outstanding allegations to the attention of the Vancouver School Board.

On Thursday, Court of Appeal Justice Nicole J. Garson and Justice Richard Goepel upheld an appeal of a decision last year by the B.C. Supreme Court, which found that a three-member commission panel erred in how it applied certain legal principles to the specific circumstances of Robertson’s case.

“In my opinion, permitting Mr. Robertson to avoid facing a disciplinary hearing in these circumstances would carry with it a serious risk of bringing the regulatory process into disrepute,” ruled Justice Garson. Justice Goepel agreed.

But Justice Peter M. Willcock disagreed.

“The significant and troubling question on this appeal is whether the judge was right to find fault with the panel’s consideration of whether delay was such as to make the proceeding oppresive and an abuse of process,” Justice Willcock wrote. “It is clear, in my view, that the panel erred in one significant respect: holding that imputing the Department of Education’s knowledge about the 1976 sexual misconduct allegations and Mr. Robertson’s resignation from the Richmond School Board to the College of Teachers for the purposes of calculating delay would not be “reasonable or principled. I am of the view that conclusion was wrong.”

Willcock added that he believes the panel mistakenly only considered a four-year delay, rather than the three-decade long version.

“The panel ought to have considered the prejudice that might have been suffered by Mr. Robertson over the entire period of delay in excess of 30 years and whether the public’s respect for the administrative process would have been diminished by proceeding after such delay,” Willcock wrote.

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