Teacher misconduct: Marketplace finds disciplinary action often kept hidden from public
‘If you raise a complaint or you register a concern about a teacher, you're likely to be tied up in knots’
Mr. Bradford was the "cool" teacher. He was affable, young and joked around with the kids in his music classes at Falgarwood Public School in Oakville, Ont., just west of Toronto.
So when he asked Carmen North to add him on MSN Messenger, she didn't think twice.
North was a quiet 12-year-old when she started chatting with her teacher online.
"It really started out really innocently," North says. "He noticed that I was a bit of an outcast, and so he would say: 'You and me, we're different; people don't understand us.'"
"And he would say: 'We should do something to really shock them,'" she recalls. "And then came the requests."
But it wasn't just North. Officials would later learn that Gavin Bradford was chatting online with 21 female pre-teen and teen students.
"I was not aware of how that was a sexual thing or a fetish at the time," North says, 10 years later. "In Grade 7, you're still a child and you're still kind of unaware."
- Watch the Marketplace investigation, Trouble in the Classroom, Friday, April 8 at 8:00 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on TV and online.
When North's mother brought a printout of the conversations to the school's principal, Bradford was removed from the classroom immediately.
But it took the Ontario College of Teachers — the self-regulating body that governs teachers in Ontario — nearly five years to fully investigate and revoke his licence.
Bradford moved to Scotland, teaching at a college for two years, before finally being stripped of his teaching credentials in Ontario.
A months-long Marketplace investigation into how provinces handle teacher discipline suggests decisions are often kept secret, can take years to resolve and that credentials are rarely revoked.
Many provinces allow you to look up the disciplinary records of your doctor and lawyer. But your kid's teacher?
Depending on the province, there may be no information publicly available, including past disciplinary measures. Even guilty findings are kept private across most of Canada by bodies responsible for keeping students safe.
'Cloud over your head'
While Bradford's case may be rare, the length of time it took the Ontario college to revoke his teaching certificate is not.
Marketplace analyzed the college's cases from the past two years — more than 150 incidents — and found the average time it took to reach a decision was three years and 11 months.
The Ontario college told Marketplace it could not speak about the Bradford case specifically, as investigation matters are confidential.
The college says that timelines have improved and that the majority of cases are handled within three years: less than one year for most investigations and up to two years for most incidents once they're referred to a disciplinary panel.
However, the college also wrote in a statement: "We acknowledge that some matters take longer than the norm to resolve due to their complexity."
It's not only a long time for students and parents looking for justice, but also for teachers, who may wait years to vindicate themselves from career-shattering accusations.
Across most of Canada, it's not just timelines that are hidden from public scrutiny; it's any evidence that misconduct took place at all.
Ontario, where Bradford taught, is one of the few that posts disciplinary decisions online, allowing parents to look up a teacher and related complaints.
While "Food-fetish teacher targeted Halton girls" eventually made headlines, cases less likely to make the news are often swept under the rug, especially in provinces where there's no public reporting of disciplinary findings.
"We know that there are more incidents going on than are publicly reported and we have very good evidence that many of these cases are buried," says Bennett.
"If you raise a complaint or you register a concern about a teacher, you're likely to be tied up in knots. You're told that it's under protection of privacy and there's no public disclosure allowed and that you're violating the rights of the teachers."
Bully in the classroom
Gina Merrill knows too well how frustrating the system can be. When her daughter, Karley, complained that her elementary school teacher was mean, she thought her daughter may have been overreacting.
"We all had mean teachers growing up who really, in hindsight, weren't that bad," she says. "I kept telling her: 'You know, Karley, it's not that bad. Get through school, it's OK.'"
But over the course of a few months, Merrill watched the behaviour of her sunny, happy 11-year-old change.
"She would have headaches constantly; bad, bad headaches, stomach aches. Her stomach would be in pain and she would feel nauseous," Merrill recalls. "And [she] didn't want to get out of bed, which was unusual for her."
Karley missed 41 days of school and her grades began to plummet. After Karley was hospitalized with severe stomach pain, Merrill knew something was wrong. The doctor said it was stress.
Karley, in particular, felt singled out and bullied by the teacher.
"It felt like I had like a bookbag of bricks on my back," Karley says. "I felt like it was just me and the other students in my class and I couldn't do anything.
"I felt like I wanted to do anything to get out of school. I wanted to, like, hurt myself."
Merrill spoke with the teacher, then the vice-principal and principal. But when nothing happened, even after a group of parents filed a formal complaint, Merrill wrote a letter to the province's education minister.
"I don't knock teachers; they have an extremely hard job. I stand firmly behind teachers who take pride in what they do, they take their kids' — I say their kids' — education seriously. And they look after them and they teach them," she says.
"But when you have ... for months and months, a teacher who is yelling and screaming and cursing and just bullying these children, what do you have to do?"
"Please be advised that the appropriate action has been taken," the letter read.
But what was that appropriate action? Merrill can't find out.
She spoke to a local newspaper about how frustrating the experience had been. After the article appeared, a parent reached out to Merrill on Facebook. Though the article hadn't mentioned names, the parent's child was having problems with a new teacher. She wanted to know if it was the same one.
"I felt a number of emotions. I couldn't believe that the school district was allowing this to continue, that other children and other parents were going through the exact same thing that we just went through after she was found guilty of misconduct. I was shocked, mad, frustrated. What we did for the kids, was it worth it?"
It's distressing to experts like Bennett, too.
"We should be able to find information about whether teachers have had any current or past indiscretions, whether they've been found guilty of any offences and what steps have been taken to try to remediate those," he says.
"We also need to know if there are teachers teaching in the system who shouldn't be, and [if they] should be removed from teaching positions or ... given much more stringent disciplinary measures.
"Right now, teachers are better protected than students."
CBC Forum: How much should parents be able to find out about student discipline?