Skip to main content

An Ontario court has overturned a decision to revoke the teaching licence of the disgraced former leader of Canada’s largest school board.

In a decision released on Wednesday, a panel of three Ontario Divisional Court judges ruled that it was “procedurally unfair” for a disciplinary committee of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) to proceed with a hearing for Chris Spence, the former director of the Toronto District School Board, given his “serious medical health diagnosis that impaired the appellant’s ability to function.”

Mr. Spence resigned as education director of the TDSB in January, 2013, amid allegations of plagiarism.

In December, 2016, the OCT found him guilty of professional misconduct and revoked his teaching certificate, its harshest penalty. More recently, an independent tribunal at the University of Toronto found him guilty of plagiarizing parts of his 1996 dissertation and recommended the university strip him of his doctorate.

Mr. Spence appealed the OCT ruling on his teaching certificate, arguing the process was unfair. In a written decision, the court ruled that the matter be sent back to the discipline committee for a new hearing.

Mr. Spence, who lives in Chicago and works for a social-service organization that helps struggling teens, was not available for comment on Wednesday. Christopher Edwards, Mr. Spence’s lawyer, said his client was reviewing the decision and was both “emotional” and “pleased” with the outcome.

The OCT said in an e-mail statement that it, too, would review the decision “to determine an appropriate course of action, which could include a new hearing to consider the matter.”

Mr. Spence’s appeal centred on the process of the OCT discipline hearing and not the allegations of plagiarism.

According to the written decision, Mr. Spence said he was unable to attend the OCT hearings and provided a medical report, which indicated he suffered from depression. He asked for an adjournment.

The discipline committee, however, proceeded with the hearing, indicating that Mr. Spence was employed full-time and therefore could attend.

Justice Carolyn Horkins wrote that the discipline committee had “scant” information of Mr. Spence’s employment and yet relied on it to support its decision to proceed with the hearing. It did not fully consider all the medical evidence, she wrote.

Mr. Spence’s family doctor, for example, described his mental state as “precarious,” the judge wrote, and advised against participating in the disciplinary hearings “at this time.” Mr. Spence was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder that “significantly impacted his functioning,” according to the decision.

Justice Horkins found the OCT disciplinary panel was not accommodating.

“The discipline committee did not consider the totality of the medical evidence describing the appellant’s mental health,” she wrote in her decision.

Mr. Spence was often described as an inspirational leader who had a natural ability to connect with students. During his time at the TDSB, he proposed the idea of a boys’ academy as part of a strategy to help struggling students and he was a key advocate for the board’s first Africentric school.

The allegations against Mr. Spence first surfaced when a Toronto Star reader alerted the newspaper that an article by Mr. Spence appeared to have been plagiarized. That drew attention to his other work, including his blog at the TDSB.

In an earlier statement, Mr. Spence said while he took full responsibility for the articles and blog pieces that carried his name, copying the works of others was a result of “unintentional” and “reckless” mistakes. At the same time, he alluded to having help with his writing and that this assistance was the source of some of the material that led to allegations of plagiarism.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe