B.C. teacher resigns decades after allegations of violence, sexual harassment in classroom
Malcolm Murray McTaggart of Vancouver had been disciplined twice before for inappropriate behaviour
A longtime Vancouver art teacher who's been disciplined twice before for inappropriate behaviour has given up his teaching certificate in response to complaints about violence and sexual harassment in the classroom three decades ago.
But former students who say they were hurt by Malcolm Murray McTaggart aren't satisfied with the result.
Because McTaggart has quit teaching, the Teacher Regulation Branch opted to end disciplinary proceedings, despite an investigation that uncovered corroborating evidence of serious misconduct. Before now, nothing has been made public about the findings of that investigation.
"They should be ashamed of themselves. I don't know how someone could think that that's good enough," said Jamie McCallum, a former student who was allegedly choked by McTaggart during an art class in the late 1980s.
The official complaint against McTaggart was filed by McCallum's former classmate Jorma Geary, who relayed incidents he says he witnessed while attending King George Secondary School between 1988 and 1992.
The allegations in the complaint include McTaggart putting both hands around McCallum's neck and choking him for up to 10 seconds, sexually harassing a female student, pulling a high stool out from under another student and causing him to fall three or four feet to the ground on his tailbone, and asking the only Black student in class if he had "mugged any old ladies on the weekend," according to a July 6 letter from Howard Kushner, B.C.'s commissioner for teacher regulation.
Kushner's letter to Geary says these allegations, if proven, amount to "serious misconduct" by McTaggart.
"The information obtained in the investigation shows that there is evidence which corroborates your allegations. There is also evidence of public discussion about McTaggart's conduct," Kushner writes.
But he goes on to say that because McTaggart resigned from his job at David Thompson Secondary in December and "relinquished" his teaching certificate, no further action will be taken. According to the commissioner's website, relinquishing a certificate means it is "voluntarily surrendered as the result of a disciplinary proceeding."
As a result, Kushner writes, "students are no longer at risk of misconduct by McTaggart."
CBC News has been unable to locate current contact information for McTaggart, and detailed questions sent to his Facebook account have not been answered.
A spokesperson for the Education Ministry said Kushner was unable to comment on specific cases. When the commissioner opts not to take disciplinary action, that decision is "final and binding," the spokesperson wrote in an email, but a complainant can apply to the B.C. Supreme Court to ask a judge for a review.
'I thought the system hadn't done its job'
The former students involved in the complaint are all in their mid-40s now and scattered across B.C. and Alberta, with families and careers of their own.
They say they decided to come forward after reading a 2018 CBC News story that outlined how McTaggart had been suspended for one week for several incidents involving teenage girls. His inappropriate behaviour included repeatedly touching a female student without her consent and assuring her she would get good marks because she's "good looking."
The article also laid out how McTaggart had been disciplined five years earlier for repeatedly calling in sick when he was actually going to court, using profanity with students and inappropriately touching a student's back.
Geary was shocked to learn that McTaggart was still teaching.
"I thought the system hadn't done its job," he said. "I just assumed that at one point he probably would have gotten himself fired for these actions or chosen another profession or moved on."
McCallum doesn't remember much from his art and math classes with McTaggart, but says the alleged choking incident has never left his mind.
"I've been holding on to it for a long time," McCallum said.
He said that on the day it happened, he was trying to throw a pencil to a friend, but it hit McTaggart instead.
"He came around to my desk and grabbed me by the neck and violently dragged me over the desk with my back and feet bending over," McCallum recalled.
He said he was in Grade 8 or 9 at the time and small for his age, standing less than five feet tall.
"It was scary," McCallum said.
He remembers that he told his mother, who spoke with the school's administration, but as far as he is aware, nothing came of it.
Incidents reported at the time
McCallum was in class a few weeks later when McTaggart allegedly pulled a high stool out from under his friend, Hamid Khatami.
Khatami also spoke with CBC News and says he was goofing around with a friend when it happened.
"He [McTaggart] asked me to move. But being a kid, of course, I'm not going to do it right away," Khatami said.
"And so he came from behind me and took the stool right from underneath me, and then I was lying on the ground."
Khatami said he was angry and embarrassed, and stormed out of the classroom. According to Geary and McCallum, other students followed and they visited their guidance counsellor to report what had happened.
The school's counsellor at the time, who has since retired, confirmed to CBC that the incident involving Khatami was reported to her and that she informed the administration.
When asked whether any action was taken at the time, a spokesperson for the Vancouver School District said they couldn't comment on a teacher's employment for privacy reasons.
But they added in an email to CBC, "as soon as the district learns of any allegation or concern, all matters are taken seriously and immediate steps are taken and investigated as required."
'School should be a safe place'
McCallum, Geary and Khatami all say they want to see further action taken against McTaggart, and accountability from the authorities responsible for teacher behaviour. They're concerned that he has essentially been allowed to retire on his teacher's pension, without any public record of what allegedly happened at King George.
"I feel there was no justice for us," Khatami said.
McCallum said he wants an apology from the school board, but he'd also like a chance to speak with McTaggart directly and let him know how the experience has affected him.
"School should be a safe place for children to go," McCallum said. "For people whose homes aren't very safe, schools should be the one place that people can go."