Opinion: Alberta Teachers’ Association can’t be public protector and union too

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I would like to state at the outset and for full transparency, that I have two daughters who are teachers and of whom I am very proud. They both began their careers while I was minister of learning and excel at their jobs. I also have nine grandchildren under the age of eight who have entered or will be entering the Alberta education system. I therefore consider myself not just a former minister of learning but also a concerned stakeholder in the education system.

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So, when I learn of a young child who was potentially sexually, emotionally or physically abused by their teacher I am deeply concerned. I fear for the child, for other children at risk and for the system that not only allowed this abuse to happen in the first place but didn’t do everything possible to ensure it never happened again. I am not naïve enough to think that there are no predators who are teachers in the same way that I assume there are predators that are doctors and nurses. It is unreasonable to think that any system can be 100 per cent safe from these types of people.

However, the true measure of a profession is how they protect the public from members of their own profession. Examples of this come from the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta (CLPNA). They state on the opening page of their website that their job is “To regulate and lead the profession in a manner that protects and serves the public.” Later it states, “The (CLPNA) regulates the licensed practical nurse profession in a manner that protects and serves by setting and maintaining standards for registration, practice, and conduct for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Our focus and commitment is to protect and serve the public.”

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The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) is also clear that its mandate is to protect the public first and foremost. Similarly, my governing body, The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta says “CPSA has been around for over 100 years and through the many changes that come with time, our priority has remained the same: to protect Albertans by guiding the medical profession.”

There is obviously a common theme here; the protection of the public, and although each of these various colleges may only be required to discipline a handful of offenders a year, all Albertans know why they are there and that if they have a complaint — no matter how trivial — they will be given due process by an independent body.

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The front page of the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s (ATA) website states “Teachers will not allow LaGrange’s threats and intimidation to be a distraction.” I challenge anyone reading this article to try and find out how to lodge a complaint with the ATA and moreover, what happens to a complaint about a teacher from a concerned member of the public.

Does the ATA have the right to disagree with the minister and to take the fight into the public realm — absolutely! But, should this same body be the judge, jury, executioner and recipient of the alleged perpetrator’s union dues all at the same time? I believe the answer is a resounding no.

It is time for the ATA to realize that bad actors in their profession bring the whole profession down and that perception is reality. Teachers like my daughters and many others are hard-working, honest and do not deserve to have their profession denigrated because of a few.
Minister Adriana Lagrange’s initiative to set up an independent body putting students first and protecting all Albertans is commendable and long overdue.

I wish that in my 5-1/2 years as minister of learning that the circumstances would have been right to allow this to happen. The ATA should be embracing this change not fighting it. Transparency and justice should be the ATA’s ally, not their combative enemy.

Dr. Lyle Oberg, MD, is CEO of Mynd Life Sciences and Alberta’s former minister of learning, 1999-2005

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