Quebec report on sexual misconduct in schools shows 'widespread' weaknesses in handling cases, minister says

Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville presented the findings of the report on Sept. 1.   (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville presented the findings of the report on Sept. 1. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)

There are major shortcomings in how Quebec schools and the Education Ministry handle sexual misconduct complaints, according to a ministry report released Friday.

One of the gaps underlined in the 100-page report is that the criminal records of school service centre employees aren't generally shared between organizations because managers are concerned about defamation lawsuits and union grievances.

The report was ordered this March, after Education Minister Bernard Drainville announced that the government would investigate how sexual misconduct was being handled in schools after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour in elementary and high schools were made public.

Drainville told reporter on Friday that he got the report in early August and, after reading it, he is troubled by its findings.

"These are difficulties, shortcomings, weaknesses that are quite widespread throughout the system," he said.

One problem the minister highlighted is that, currently, an employee of a school service centre or school board, undergoes a police background check only once, when they are first hired.

If they are found guilty of offences after that, it is up to the employee to alert education officials.

"Once you hire the person, there is no provision in the law for another verification to occur," Drainville said.

"It makes no sense that a teacher — and more generally a service centre employee — can commit acts of a sexual nature or acts of violence and move from one service centre to another without consequence."

The report recommends school officials monitor changes to their employees's criminal records and share any new information with other boards and service centres.

Drainville also decried the underuse of Article 26 of the Loi sur l'instruction publique which allows for the suspension of teachers who are subject of complaints and the revocation of their teaching licence, which the report also suggests.

The report's authors also suggested improving the complaints process and the training provided to staff tasked with addressing complaints, as well as having more thorough hiring checks and increasing their frequency.

Other suggestions include reinforcing and updating codes of ethics across school services centres, which have been found to apply them inconsistently.

The minister said he intends to introduce legislation to make the complaints mechanisms under that law more accessible.

Drainville said that to speed up the process for reporting misconduct, he is considering amending the Coalition Avenir Québec's sweeping Bill 23 — tabled in May — which would allow the government to appoint school service centre directors.

Ruba Ghazal, Québec Solidaire's education critic, said she hopes the report can help better protect young people.

She offered Drainville her "full co-operation" if he wants to fast-track changes.