British Columbia

Okanagan teacher reinstated after sex allegations dismissed

An Okanagan teacher fired after being accused of having a sexual relationship with a student has been reinstated after an arbitrator reversed the dismissal.

Arbitrator ruled girl’s claims were not credible

'It is clear that the Grievor did not grasp the extent to which his relationship with [the student] was inappropriate,' the decision reads. (Hadrian/Shutterstock)

An Okanagan teacher fired after being accused of having a sexual relationship with a student has been reinstated after an arbitrator reversed the dismissal.

Craig Andrew Thomson was a music teacher at Mount Boucherie Secondary School in West Kelowna and also organized jazz camps throughout the Okanagan.

He was fired in June 2017 after the school district learned of an alleged inappropriate relationship he was having with a Grade 12 student. Four days later, Mr. Thomson grieved the dismissal, and the matter went to arbitration where it was reversed.

Thomson's name was redacted from the arbitrator's decision, but the details mirror the publicly available suspension by the Commissioner for Teacher Regulation.

Arbitrator Colin Taylor found that the allegations of a sexual relationship were unproven and that the female student was an unreliable witness.

The arbitrator also said it was important to consider the full context of the relationship.

For three years leading up to the dismissal, Thomson and his student cultivated a close friendship based on their love of jazz — a relationship the arbitrator found blurred the lines between student and teacher.

"Jazz musicians mix freely with each other — all that matters is the music — age, outside occupations and standing are irrelevant," he wrote.

Parents encouraged relationship

The arbitrator also found that the student's parents encouraged the relationship in the belief Thomson was a valuable mentor to their daughter.  On one occasion, Thomson accompanied the student to a medical appointment with her parents' permission.

"It is clear that the Grievor did not grasp the extent to which his relationship with [the student] was inappropriate," the decision reads. "Much of this is down to the fact that [the student's] parents were fully aware of it and encouraged the special role which he foolishly assumed."

Her parents were also aware that Thomson was meeting with their daughter alone, late at night. One of those late night encounters in April of 2017 finally brought the relationship to the attention of school administrators.

That night, Thomson and his student were alone at the school for almost an hour, went for fast food, then came back to the school, where they parked in his car in the school parking lot.

Thomson and the student were questioned by RCMP in his car in the school parking lot after having been there for two hours. Police notified the school district and Thomson was fired two months later. (CBC)

Two hours later, the pair were interrupted by the RCMP who arrived to investigate an alarm that had been tripped at the school. When questioned by police at the scene, Thomson referred to his student as "his girlfriend."

He later recanted, but the police notified the school district of the encounter, and Thomson was fired two months later.

In reinstating Mr. Thomson, the arbitrator wrote that "while the Grievor exercised remarkably poor judgment in his relationship with [the student], his intentions were well motivated. More important, I am persuaded that he has learned from this and there is no risk of repetition of the conduct which gave rise to these proceedings."

Suspended for 4 months

Thomson was suspended for four months and is prohibited from communicating with students on social media and from meeting students outside of school without supervision. He was also ordered to complete a course on professional boundaries.

Thomson is now on the staff directory at Glenrosa Middle School, also in West Kelowna. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The BCTF declined to comment.   

In a statement, the superintendent of School District 23, Kevin Kardaal, said that student safety is "our number one priority. When issues concerning personnel come to light, the District takes appropriate action, as it did here."

About the Author

Chris Walker is a journalist based in Kelowna, B.C. He is the host of the morning radio show Daybreak South.