Case 1081

DATE: May 3, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. J.W.X.

HEARING DATE: February 1, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Johanna Braden, Chair
Professor Paul Kingston, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Alex Erickson, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

In Attendance:
Ms. Krista Kennedy, Administrative Clerk & Hearing Secretary, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

Not in Attendance: The Student

The Student was charged under s. B.i.3(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that the Student knowingly forged, or in any other way altered, or falsified a document or evidence required by the University of Toronto, or uttered, circulated or made use of such forged, altered or falsified document. In the alternative, the Student was charged with two counts of knowingly engaging in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage contrary to s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The matter was set to begin at 9:45AM, however, the Panel stood the matter down until 2:00PM. At this time, the University requested that the Panel proceed with the hearing in the Student’s absence. The University submitted evidence regarding service of the charges and notice of electronic hearing. The Panel received evidence that the Student had not been enrolled in any classes at the University for the last four years and that the last time the Student accessed his ROSI-listed email address was three years ago. The incident that gives rise to the charges occurred in 2019 and since that time the University, the Tribunal and Assistant Discipline Counsel have attempted to communicate with the Student on various occasions, without any reply from the Student. The Panel received evidence that Assistant Discipline Counsel’s office attempted to reach the Student at the telephone number listed in ROSI, however, their office received an automated message advising the caller that this number cannot accept phone calls. The evidence indicates that the Student has not received any emails from the University about the incident, he has not received notice of the charges nor the notice of electronic hearing. Furthermore, he has not received actual notice of the charges, or the disclosure, or the notice of electronic hearing, however, the Rules do not require actual notice. The University’s 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. Taking into consideration rules 9, 16, and 17 of the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the University Tribunal coupled together with ss. 6 and 7 of the Statutory Powers and Procedures Act, the Panel found the Student had been given reasonable notice of the hearing and it decided to hear the case on its merits in the absence of the Student.

Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.3(a) of the Code, the Panel received evidence from the Assistant Director of the Office of Convocation (“Assistant Director”) and the Associate Registrar, Records, Registration and Graduation at University of Toronto Mississauga (“Associate Registrar”). The Assistant Director provided evidence that the Office of Convocation received a Confirmation of Degree request from a third-party education verification service. Their request was for a student with the name and date of birth (month and day only) of the Student in question. The Assistant Director located only one student that was a match with the name and date of birth. She also noted that the University had not granted the Student any kind of degree at any point in time. The Assistant Director proceeded to advise the third-party company of her findings in relation to the Student. The third-party company responded by providing a copy of the degree which purported that the Student had been awarded a Bachelor of Business Administration by the University of Toronto. The Assistant Director again searched the University’s electronic records and did not find any evidence that a degree had been awarded to the Student. The Panel received evidence from the Associate Registrar that the Student had been placed on academic probation in 2016 and a one-year suspension in 2017 after which he did not register or return for more classes. The Panel further received evidence that the Student had not graduated from the University and that he also did a search of the University’s records which confirmed that the degree was not an authentic document issued by the University. The Panel noted that the degree certificate meets the definition of an “academic record” as set out in Appendix A of the Code, and the degree was clearly a fabrication. There was no evidence about how the degree certificate was forged or created, therefore the Panel could not make a finding against the Student in that regard. However, the Panel concluded that it was more likely than not that the Student circulated, uttered and/or made use of the degree certificate. Upon review of the evidence, the Panel found the Student guilty of uttering, circulating, and making use of a forged academic record contrary to s. B.i.3(a) of the Code. Given the Panel’s findings, the University withdrew the alternative charge under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the principles and factors relevant to sanction discussed in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (“Mr. C. factors”). It determined that this offence was an act of flagrant and deliberate dishonesty, a profoundly serious offence which requires a severe sanction in order to deter other students from committing the same offence. The Panel further found that without the Student’s participation there was no evidence of any extenuating circumstances, however, the Panel did not hold the Student’s absence against him since he had no actual notice of the hearing. The Panel noted that although they are not bound by previous cases of this Tribunal, it is useful for like cases to be treated alike so that all parties understand what kind of penalty they can expect based on the findings. Upon review of the relevant case law and the Mr. C. factors, the Panel accepted the sanction proposed by the University. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a five-year suspension; recommendation that the Student be expelled, as per s. C.ii.(b)(i) of Code; and a report to the Provost for a publication.