A former Ontario teacher who has long been linked to white supremacists and neo-Nazis has lost his teaching licence in what observers consider a landmark case.
In a lengthy ruling released yesterday, the Ontario College of Teachers found Paul Fromm guilty of professional misconduct and revoked his licence.
Mr. Fromm was not accused of spreading his views in his classroom. But the college said his repeated off-duty offensive statements and appearances - he attended Heritage Front events, celebrated Adolf Hitler's birthday and shared a stage with David Duke, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan - poisoned the school environment.
"There are limits on freedom of speech that a teacher can engage in ... and still play the very important role that our society requires with respect to teachers," said the 53-page decision by a three-person disciplinary committee.
The Ontario College of Teachers will share information on Mr. Fromm with other provinces as well as a North American databank on teachers whose licences have been revoked, suspended or cancelled.
Repeated attempts to reach Mr. Fromm for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. Mr. Fromm, who represented himself throughout the college's hearings, has the right to appeal the Oct. 31 decision, which was publicly released yesterday, in court within 30 days. He has said the college unfairly targeted him for expressing political views on his own time. He noted his views are legal and that he has never been charged under Canadian law.
The decision was welcomed by the Canadian Jewish Congress, which helped publicly expose Mr. Fromm in the early 1990s when it revealed a video of him speaking at a Heritage Front Martyr's Day Rally, a neo-Nazi commemoration.
"You can't take off your cloak of racism when you get to the classroom door. That's what this decision says," said Bernie Farber, CJC's chief executive officer.
Mr. Farber said the ruling sets a precedent because it was issued by a professional regulatory body and sets an "unequivocal map" for expectations of teachers' off-duty behaviour.
The judgment echoes a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the similar case of Malcolm Ross, a former New Brunswick schoolteacher who was reprimanded because of anti-Semitic views he expressed outside the classroom.
Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the case is not about freedom of speech, but Mr. Fromm's fitness to hold a position of public trust. "It's whether the statements he makes could create a reasonable apprehension that he will mistreat kids in his charge," he said.
Mr. Fromm is an associate of white supremacist Ernst Zundel, among others, and is an organizing force in Toronto's extreme-right causes. He runs several groups, including the Canada First Immigration Reform Committee, the Canadian Association for Free Expression and Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform, which promote issues dear to supremacists, including protecting European heritage and advocating strict immigration controls to bar ethnic minorities.
Mr. Fromm taught high-school English for several years at Applewood Heights Secondary School in Mississauga. After media coverage sparked public concern, he was transferred to an adult education centre in 1993. The Peel District School Board fired him in 1997.