DATE: October 17, 2019
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.L.
HEARING DATE: July 19, 2019
Ms. Johanna Braden, Chair
Professor Michael Evans, Faculty Member
Ms. Alena Zelinka, Student Member
Ms. Lauren Pearce, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Jennifer Dent, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
Not in Attendance:
The Student was charged with academic misconduct under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that he knowingly forged, altered, or falsified a document or evidence required by the University of Toronto, or uttered, circulated or made use of a forged or falsified document, namely, a University of Toronto Verification of Student Illness or Injury Form (the “Illness Form”). The Student submitted the Illness Form in support of his petitions for a first deferral of an unwritten final examination in respect of two courses. In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code on the basis that he knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty, or misconduct, fraud, or misrepresentation, in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage of any kind, in connection with the submitted Illness Forms.
Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The Panel noted that the Policy on Official Correspondence with Students makes it clear that a student is responsible for maintaining a current and valid University-issued email account. Students are also expected to monitor and retrieve their email on a frequent and consistent basis. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at his ROSI-listed email address with the charges and the notice of hearing. The Panel noted that there was evidence that the Student had accessed his email account after service of the charges and notice of hearing. The Panel was satisfied that the Student had been given reasonable notice of the hearing in compliance with the notice requirements of ss. 6 and 7 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (the “Act”) and Rules 9 and 17 of the University Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”). The Panel therefore determined it would proceed to hear the case on its merits in the absence of the Student.
The University requested leave to introduce an affidavit served on the Student four days before the hearing. The Panel noted that Rule 72 requires that affidavits proposed to be tendered in evidence at a hearing are to be disclosed at least 10 days before the hearing; however, Rule 74 provides that the Tribunal may grant leave to introduce evidence that does not comply with Rule 72. The affidavit in question included evidence of a response from a doctor potentially involved with the Illness Form submitted by the Student to the University. The Tribunal granted leave to the University permitting introduction of this affidavit because the affidavit contained information that was potentially significant to the merits of the hearing; the University had made reasonable steps to obtain the information earlier, but had been unable to do so; and the Student was not present to assert any prejudice.
The Student was registered at the University of Toronto Scarborough at all material times. In April 2018, the Student submitted two petitions for a first deferral of an unwritten examination, supported by an Illness Form. The Assistant Registrar of Petitions at the University gave evidence of her concerns about the Illness Form submitted by the Student: the doctor’s purported signature and registration number were hard to decipher, and a call to the phone number on the form was connected to the hospital’s Patient Accounts department. The Panel also heard evidence from an Academic Integrity Assistant at the University who investigated the authenticity of the Illness Form and confirmed with the hospital that there was no patient registered there matching the Student’s name. Finally, the Panel noted the affidavit of a legal assistant at the Assistant Discipline Counsel’s firm who had faxed the three doctors whose registration numbers matched the three possible versions of the scribbled number on the Illness Form. All three doctors eventually responded that they had no record of ever seeing a patient with any of three variations of the Student’s name.
The Tribunal found the Student guilty of the charge. Given this finding, the University withdrew the alternative charge.
The Panel noted that the Student had previously admitted to plagiarizing an assignment, and that it was possible that the Student might again resort to dishonesty to avoid his academic obligations. The falsification in this case was deliberate and careful and could not have occurred by accident or neglect. Without the Student’s participation, there was no evidence of extenuating circumstances for the Tribunal to consider. The Panel also noted that falsified medical documentation undermines the University’s system of accommodation, and overburdens the staff charged with reviewing student petitions. The Panel stated that the need for general deterrence is a significant concern as forgery can be difficult to detect.
The Panel found from its review of previous cases involving falsified medical notes and petition documents that a two-year suspension is the threshold sanction, as a general rule. In light of the Student’s prior admitted act of plagiarism, and in the absence of any mitigating evidence the Student might have otherwise provided, the Tribunal found that the sanctions requested by the University were fair, proportional and appropriate.
The Tribunal imposed the following sanctions: final grade of zero in affected courses; three-year suspension; four-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.