DATE: November 2, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. J.P. ("the Student")
HEARING DATE: August 17, 2021, via Zoom
Mr. Simon Clements, Chair
Professor Gabriele D'Eleuterio, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Parsa Mahmud, Student Panel Member
Ms. Lily Harmer, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Nick Di-Biase, Representative for the Student, Downtown Legal Services
Ms. Nadia Bruno, Special Projects Officer, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances
The Student was charged with two counts of knowingly forging or in any other way altering or falsifying a document or evidence required by the University of Toronto, or uttering, circulating or making use of such forged, altered or falsified document, namely two emails that contained false information and misrepresentations in an attempt to obtain academic accommodation or relief, contrary to s. B.i.1(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”). In the alternative, the Student was charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code on the basis that the Student knowingly engaged in a form of cheating, academic dishonesty or misconduct, fraud or misrepresentation in order to obtain academic credit or other academic advantage in connection two emails that contained false information and misrepresentations in an attempt to obtain academic accommodation.
The Student attended the hearing and was represented by counsel. The Student and the University submitted an Agreed Statement of Fact (“ASF”). The Panel noted that the ASF outlined that the Student admitted attending a meeting with the Dean’s Designate at which time the Student admitted that he had fabricated the information contained in the emails in an effort to obtain passing grades in the two courses. The Student further acknowledged what he had done, and apologized. The ASF further outlined that the Student admitted that he had fabricated, and falsified information contained in the emails, submitted the falsified information to support his request for accommodation, and did so to deceive the Professors so they would be sympathetic to his requests to increase his grades to permit him to pass their respective courses.
The Panel heard submissions from Assistant Discipline Counsel that the Student had pled guilty to the two counts of knowingly forging or in any other way altering or falsifying a document or evidence required by the University of Toronto, or uttering, circulating or making use of such forged, altered or falsified document. However, the Panel required clarification from the Student as to whether the Student was also pleading guilty to the offences under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The Student’s counsel advised that the Student was also pleading guilty to the charges under s.B.i.3(b) of the Code. The University advised the Panel that they preferred to proceed with the charges under s. B. i.1(a) of the Code because the emails in question amounted to falsified documents. The Panel questioned whether it was necessary to construe an email as a falsified document under s.B.i.1(a) of the Code when the emails clearly contained misrepresentations and sending the emails in a fraudulent attempt to obtain an accommodation amounted to dishonesty, which fits neatly within the academic offence set out in s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. Without having to decide whether an email which contained misrepresentations met the definition of a falsified document under s.B.i.1(a) of the Code, the Panel determined that the conduct of the Student fell squarely within that which is contemplated by s.B.i.3(b) of the Code. Accordingly, the Panel found the Student guilty of 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.
In determining sanction, the Panel considered an Agreed Statement of Facts on Penalty and a Joint Submission on Penalty (“JSP”). The Agreed Statement of Facts on Penalty outlined that the Student had a prior offence of plagiarism and that the parties agreed to the mitigating circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence. Both counsel provided submissions on the high threshold required for the Panel to deviate from a JSP. As set out by the Discipline Appeals Board in The University of Toronto and S.F. (Case No. 690, October 20, 2014), only truly unreasonable or “unconscionable” joint submissions should be rejected (para. 22). In support of the reasonableness of the JSP, the Panel was asked to consider University of Toronto and Mr. C. (Case No. 1976/77-3, November 5, 1976), which outlines factors to consider at sentencing. The Panel noted that the nature of the offence was serious as it could have potentially caused harm to other students who had legitimate need to take advantage of an accommodation and the University should be able to trust students to take advantage of the accommodation process in good faith. The Student’s conduct undermined that trust. Offences of this nature compromise the integrity of the academic accommodation process. With respect to mitigating factors, the Panel noted that the Student had taken full responsibility for his conduct, expressed deep remorse, and cooperated throughout the discipline process. Furthermore, the Student was unable to enter Canada and had to take his courses online from his home country due to the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the Student to have to attend classes in the middle of the night. This combined with all the stressors from his personal life, the Student was “not himself” at the time in which he committed the offences. Having taken all of these factors into consideration, the Panel found that the JSP in this case was reasonable and it would not be against the public interest to give effect to the JSP. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: final grade of zero in the courses; three-year suspension; four-year notation on transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.