Beyond the Headlines

The true cost of firing Peter Speight

Posted: Dec 13, 2012 12:42 PM ET Last Updated: Dec 13, 2012 12:42 PM ET
UPDATE DEC. 17,2003 2:45PM: The South Shore Regional school board has given me an accounting of its legal costs. It totals $163,000. That's in addition to the settlement it paid Peter Speight. Read the update story here.

The South Shore Regional School Board has finally won its battle to keep Peter Speight out of the classroom, but it's a victory that will cost taxpayers dearly.
The board has agreed to pay Speight about $160,000 in back pay, plus an undisclosed amount of money, to give up his legal fight to get both his job and teacher's certificate back.
But that's not the end of it.
After a prolonged legal battle the board is also on the  hook for  tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills. And the province has legal bills to pay as well.
This all started back in 2009 when the board fired Speight just weeks after he pleaded guilty to willfully engaging in indecent acts. At the time Speight had been teaching for less than four years, mostly on contracts, and had only been a staff teacher for eight months.
Speight was caught luring woman to his car while he exposed himself and masturbated. The judge gave Speight a conditional sentence.
That sentence, which leaves Speight without a criminal record, opened the door for him to begin his legal challenge.
What followed was an eight-day arbitration hearing. The board had to hire lawyers to prepare submissions, research legal precedents and to represent them at the lengthy hearing. It all adds up to a ton of billable hours.
The arbitrator, respected law professor Bruce Archibald, decided Speight deserved a second chance.
Citing glowing performance reports, Speight's remorse and his involvement in therapy, Archibald reduced Speight's discipline to a one year suspension, and ordered the board to re-hire him.
The board refused and applied for a judicial review by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
Again the board's lawyers had to spend hours preparing detailed legal submissions and presenting arguments before the court. Thousands more were spent on mounting legal bills, but again the board lost. The court found no reason in law to overturn the arbitrator's decision.
While this was happening the province was fighting its own legal battles.
After Speight's conviction the department of education revoked his teacher's certificate. Speight challenged that, too. An arbitration hearing was held, and the province lost;  it was ordered to reinstate his certificate. The province's lawyers were in the process of appealing that decision to the Supreme Court when the board reached its settlement agreement with Speight.
But while taxpayers are paying the legal bills for both the province and the school board, it's likely this complicated and protracted legal process didn't cost Speight a penny.
Speight is a member of the Nova Scotia Teachers' Union. A spokesperson for the board refused to comment on whether the union paid Speight's lawyers but said all members are entitled to legal representation.
So now it's over.
Speight won't teach again, at least not in Nova Scotia, and the parents at New Germany elementary won't have a man who pleaded guilty to indecent acts teaching their children.
While the board won't reveal the full amount of the settlement, it looks like Speight will walk away with a cheque approaching a quarter of a million dollars.
The lawyers will walk away with a handsome payday.
And Nova Scotia taxpayers are left holding a massive bill.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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