In an unprecedented move, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation has stripped president Colin Keess of his duties and responsibilities after passing a non-confidence motion against him.

Colin Keess

Colin Keess spoke to media this afternoon. (Peter Mills/CBC)

The executive of the STF, which is the union representing about 13,000 teachers, said Keess has been made aware of the reason for his release of duties.

Keess, whom the STF said is on leave, spoke with media outside of the STF offices in Saskatoon. He said he doesn't know why he's been suspended. 

"It could be something to distract away from bargaining," he said.  

A meeting with STF has been offered to Keess on Friday. He hasn't decided whether he'll go. 

In a statement released Sunday, Keess said what happened to him is "appalling".

He said he believes the suspension is connected to a disciplinary matter involving him from the 1990s.

Keess' lawyer Rob Dobrohoczki told CBC News on Sunday that Keess has been on vacation and has taken sick days for stress during part of the summer. Dobrohoczki said Keess tried going to work earlier in the week, but was asked to leave the building. 

Letter to teachers cites Keess' conduct

Teachers were told Friday that the non-confidence motion regarding Keess passed in June, and that a further motion was passed August 1 stripping Keess' of all his duties as STF president. 

The letter sent to teachers said Keess would no longer be responsible for the following duties:

  • acting as a signing authority for the STF.
  • speaking on behalf of the teachers' federation.
  • having contact with local association leaders, or members of the STF Council to discuss and disclose matters relating to the federation.

The letter goes on to say Keess' conduct sparked the non-confidence motion, leading to the limits on his duties and responsibilities.

"This motion does not arise out of anything illegal, unethical, or immoral but only as a result of internal differences," Keess told media Monday morning.

Keess has requested but has not received the minutes from meeting.

"I have been denied due process," he said.  

Keess issued a response statement Sunday saying he has "no idea" what conduct the letter refers to. However, Keess also linked the suspension to a well-publicized disciplinary matter from the mid-1990s.

According to a Queen's Bench court document from Nov. 17, 1997, Keess went to court to challenge a decision of the STF professional ethics committee.

In that document, the committee said that in 1995, when Keess was a teacher, he violated the STF's code of ethics after engaging in "excessive drinking and disorderly and inappropriate conduct" while supervising high school students on a France trip.

The court document said he was also accused of actions not connected to teaching, including assaulting a woman, stealing alcohol from an Estevan bar in 1996 and causing a disturbance at the same bar on an earlier occasion.

The courts upheld the committee's decisions, for the most part, saying the STF was justified in proceeding as it did,

In his statement on Sunday, Keess said there is nothing new in the 1990s disciplinary case, but it's being dredged up again and that's why the motion of non-confidence happened.

He added that he has no criminal record today, has successfully recovered from the "medical issues" he was battling at the time and has gone on to a stellar career in the teaching world,

The disciplinary matters resurfaced in late June after information — including what Keess says was erroneous information — was posted to a foreign website, according to Keess.

The operators of the website asked for 19 euros to remove the "personal information," but Keess said he refused to pay it.

STF plans further meeting with Keess

After Keess released his written statement Sunday, the STF executive said in a media statement it had hoped the matter could be dealt with internally, but Keess went public with it.

It also took issue with the notion that Keess hasn't been told why he was put on leave.

"We had hoped to deal with this difficult situation internally with our teacher members," it says. "Mr. Keess has been made aware of the basis of the motion of non-confidence."

It did not provide details.

The STF said there would be a further meeting between Keess and executive members to discuss the case.

The STF response letter, signed by nine members of the executive, also says its members will be kept informed about the situation "as appropriate going forward".

The teachers' federation is currently in negotiations with the government for a new contract. In June, 63 per cent of STF members voted against a tentative agreement that would have meant a 7.3 per cent pay increase over 4 years.

The dispute between the STF executive and Keess comes as the Saskatchewan government prepares to overhaul the way teachers are certified and disciplined.

An advisory committee has been given the job of coming up with a new procedure where an arm's-length body would be in charge of disciplinary matters.