A former Ontario teacher involved in racist organizations has been found guilty of professional misconduct and stripped of his teacher’s licence.
In its Oct. 31 decision to revoke Paul Fromm’s licence on the basis of conduct outside the classroom, the Ontario College of Teachers cited a 1996 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in which New Brunswick teacher Malcolm Ross was fired for making public racist comments against Jewish people while off-duty.
“The Supreme Court basically said that, as a teacher, your off-duty conduct can impact on your role as a teacher if what you’re doing is engaging in behaviour that could create a poisoned environment within the school system,” said Brian Kenny, a lawyer with MacPherson Leslie and Tyerman in Regina.
Fromm began working as an English teacher for the Peel District School Board at Applewood Heights Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., in 1974 and throughout his career, he received satisfactory evaluations.
In 1979, Fromm co-founded Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform, which publishes
, a newsletter that suggests crime and social problems are the result of allowing visible minorities and refugees into Canada. Throughout his career, he associated with known racist groups, such as the Heritage Front, and attended a celebration of Adolph Hitler’s birthday.
“We’ve known about Mr. Fromm’s activities dating back to the late 1960s and 1970s,” said Bernie Farber, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress in Toronto. “We certainly let the Peel Board know but nobody really paid any attention to it.”
That was until the congress sent the board a videotape of Fromm at a Heritage Front rally speaking in front of a Nazi swastika flag, extolling the virtues of neo-Nazi John Ross Taylor who was convicted of violating the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1990 for his racist behaviour.
Despite repeated warnings by the board from 1991 onward that his behaviour represented professional misconduct, Fromm persisted in his activities and was transferred to an adult education school in 1993. The Peel Board fired him in 1997.
Even though Fromm hasn’t taught in the past 10 years, having his licence revoked has given Farber and the Canadian Jewish Congress peace of mind.
“There’s something symbolic in a teachers’ college saying that this person is not fit to be a teacher,” said Farber. “There is an expectation we have of teachers that we don’t have of, say, bankers. That expectation is that because they have responsibility for our children, we have to be assured, beyond any reasonable doubt, that there’s absolutely no apprehension of bias.”
While teachers are held to a higher standard of ethical conduct outside of work than other professionals, this is starting to change as organizations try to stave off corporate scandal and corruption, said Len Karakowsky, an associate professor of management at York University in Toronto.
“Companies no longer want to simply attract the best and the brightest, they also want to attract those who are most morally responsible,” he said.
Questionable acts and criminal offences committed after hours aren’t usually grounds for dismissal, but the behaviour can have grave consequences for both employee and employer, said Karakowsky.
“A bus driver with a strong performance record who is found guilty of drinking and driving while on personal time could, nonetheless, jeopardize their job,” he said.
In the case of disgraced National Football League quarterback Michael Vick, who pleaded guilty to running dog fights, it wasn’t just the fact he broke the law that troubled football fans, said Karakowsky.
“It is really the morally reprehensible nature of his conduct that outraged the public. His suspension from the NFL was a consequence of the damage he inflicted on its public image,” he said.
In a case closer to home, Phillip Kelly, a manager at Emtol Manufacturing in Guelph, Ont., was fired in 2002 after being charged with possession of child pornography. In 2005, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice upheld his dismissal, even though he was fired before being convicted of the crime and there was no proof he had committed any wrongdoing while on company time or using company equipment.
Linamar, Emtol’s parent company, argued Kelly had a duty, given his position with the company, to ensure his conduct did not adversely affect any of his activities and responsibilities. By putting himself in a position where he could be charged with possessing child pornography, Linamar said Kelly failed to discharge that duty.
The court agreed and ruled Kelly’s actions jeopardized Linamar’s reputation in the community.
Whether or not an employer can justifiably fire someone for activities outside of work depends on the profession, its code of conduct and the role the profession plays in society, said employment lawyer Kenny.
“There still needs to be a connection between the off-duty conduct and the legitimate concerns of the employer,” he said. “If you couldn’t demonstrate that there was some impact at the workplace, then it would fall into that category of off-duty activity that is not the employer’s legitimate concern.”
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