Teachers’ college discriminated against refugee

Colllege failed to accommodate Iranian teacher

The Ontario College of Teachers discriminated against a former teacher from Iran when it denied her a teacher’s certificate because she couldn’t provide original documentation proving her experience, a court ruled.

By insisting on original documentation, the college’s registration appeals committee failed to appreciate its obligation to provide individual accommodation, an Ontario Superior Court said.

Fatima Siadat had taught for 16 years in Iran before she fled in 1990. When teaching high school-level literature classes, she had made comments about the right of authors to freedom of expression. That led to harassment by Iran’s department of education, loss of employment and threats on her life, the court heard.

In Canada, where she was accepted as a refugee, she obtained a community college certificate in early childhood learning. She worked either in daycare centres or in grade schools in assistant or administrative positions.

The difficulties Siadat faced in getting certified by the Ontario College of Teachers centred around her inability to provide originals of her university degree, her university transcript and her teacher’s certification in Iran, which were all kept by that country’s Ministry of Education. She felt that not only would Iran not respond to requests to provide the originals, but if it received such requests, it would respond by harming members of her family.

What she provided instead was a handwritten copy of the transcript of her courses and marks, obtained through a relative of a friend working in the Ministry of Education.

Finally, Siadat also provided photocopies of her bachelor’s degree in teaching and of her employment order from the Ministry of Education. She also submitted an opinion from the Comparative Education Service at the University of Toronto, which said the copies of her bachelor’s degree and the handwritten copy of her transcript would indicate an education comparable to a Canadian bachelor’s degree in education.

Lawyer Chantal Tie said part of why it has taken 13 years for Siadat to arrive at this court decision was the fact the teachers’ college — and before it, Ontario’s Ministry of Education, which was the body granting certificates until 1996 — simply refused to make decisions.

“The college’s practice is to send the application back saying, ‘You don’t have original documents. We’re not processing it,’” said Tie, a lawyer at the South Ottawa Community Legal Services. “At each point, we had to insist the registrar make a decision. That took until 2002, when we got our first registrar’s decision, and our first opportunity to appeal to the registrar’s appeals committee.”

Tie’s main argument was not necessarily that the committee had to find Siadat’s qualifications in Iran equivalent to a teaching certificate here. It was that the committee had an obligation to accommodate Siadat, let her explain the problem and give her a reasonable way to prove her credentials.

Drawing on the leading human rights case, known as the Meiorin decision, Tie said the committee’s stance that it was treating everyone the same resulted in discrimination against some. Refugees are different, she told the court, and the college should be prepared to work with them on an individual basis to find other ways to obtain proof of education and qualifications.

The court agreed with this argument, saying the decision issued by the committee “does not indicate that the committee considered the request for accommodation in any meaningful way.”

The court also said the burden is on the committee to establish that accommodation is not possible without undue hardship.

“Simply saying that unnamed others had met the college criteria does not even address, much less answer, the issue before the committee,” it said.

As a remedy, the court ordered the committee to reconsider Siadat’s application.

In response, the Ontario College of Teachers released a statement saying it looks forward to a meeting to discuss how it can assess whether Siadat can meet the requirements for an Ontario teaching licence.

“Over the years, we have developed a number of flexible approaches to evaluating international teaching credentials. So far, we have not been able to apply any of these to Ms. Siadat’s case. The court has told us to try harder and we will,” said college registrar Brian McGowan in the statement.

Brian Jamieson, a spokesperson for the college, said those alternative approaches include:

•accepting affidavits from third-parties in assessing applicants from war-torn countries;

•accepting copies of the immigrant applicants’ documents and sending the copies to the institutions for verification; and

•intervening on behalf of applicants to convince institutions to provide documents, as well as working with embassies and consulates to obtain documents and confirm their authenticity.

In September, the college council also voted to look into prior learning assessment methods for applicants such as Siadat.

“That will probably involve many steps. We’ll have to consult with the education sector and come back with recommendations to the council in the coming months,” said Jamieson.

The recognition of foreign credentials is “one of the most important issues confronting immigrants in Canada today,” said Jeffrey Reitz, University of Toronto sociology professor specializing in immigration issues. “We have a program to recruit immigrants on the basis of their skills so they can contribute to a knowledge economy but, when they come to Canada, often the qualifications they bring are not recognized by employers. And this is true in regulated professions and trades, where they need to get a licence, and also throughout the labour force in other kinds of occupations since employers are increasingly demanding minimum educational standards for a whole wide range of jobs.”

He said Ontario’s Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, which came into effect in December, should go some way in demonstrating to employers the quality of foreign skills and training.

Under the law, regulatory bodies in Ontario have to adopt registration practices that are fair, transparent and expeditious. These include providing complete information about how the registration process works, reviewing requirements for registration including academic courses and work experience and providing alternative options if an applicant cannot obtain documentation for reasons beyond her control.

But Reitz said the barriers people face at regulatory bodies are just the tip of the iceberg.

“The amount of discounting of qualifications is actually greater in non-regulated fields and professions. And one of the reason is those fields are where the qualifications required are most explicitly spelled out,” said Reitz. “When it comes to jobs where there aren’t licensing and careful regulations, it’s more difficult for employers to see whether qualifications are equivalent.”

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!