Case #841 - Appeal

Case 841
DATE: October 31, 2017

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. L.S. (“the Student”)
Hearing Date(s): October 16, 2017
Panel Members:
Mr. Ronald G. Slaght, Chair
Professor Elizabeth Peter, Faculty Panel Member
Mr. Sean McGowan, Student Panel Member
Ms. Alena Zelinka, Student Panel Member
Appearances:
Ms. Tina Lie, Counsel for the Appellant, the University of Toronto
Mr. Robert Sniderman, Counsel for the Respondent, the Student
In Attendance:
The Student
Ms. Lucy Gaspini, Manager, Academic Success & Integrity, Office of the Dean, UTM
Ms. Alexandra Di Blasio, Academic Integrity Assistant, UTM
DAB Decision.
NOTE: See the Tribunal decision for detailed facts.
Discipline Appeal Board – Provost appeal – request to order a new hearing on the charges - s. B.i.1(b) – s. B.i.1(d) – s. B.i.3(b) – plagiarism – similar ideas in essays exchanged in University incentivized peer-review exercise – Board need grant little deference given its very broad powers except on matters relating to credibility and the Tribunal’s approach to the assessment of evidence – Appeal dismissed
Appeal by the Provost from a Tribunal decision in which the majority of the Tribunal acquitted the Student of charges of plagiarism contrary to s. B.i.1(b), s. B.i.1(d) and s. B.i.3(b) of the Code. The Provost asked the Appeals Board to set the decision aside because the Tribunal erred by considering the evidence in a piecemeal fashion and not as a whole, that there were fundamental mischaracterizations of the evidence, and that the Tribunal had held the Provost to a higher standard of proof.
The Board began by noting that it had very broad powers to review errors of law and significant errors of fact and that it need not show deference to the Tribunal’s decisions. However, over the years, the Board has recognized that deference is owed on findings of credibility as well, that the Board should not substitute the decision it would have made on the evidence, for that of the panel below.
The Board found that there were no significant errors in fact finding or in law in the manner in which the Tribunal approached the assessment of the evidence. The Tribunal’s approach in analyzing the evidence mirrored the way the evidence and argument were presented by the Provost during the hearing. The Board further noted that it was unlikely that approaching the evidence as a whole, as opposed to analyzing individual similarities between the two essays, would have caused the Tribunal to reach a different result on whether or not the Student committed the offence of plagiarism.
The Board further found that the Tribunal’s reference to the Provost’s reliance on circumstantial evidence was not a reflection of applying a different standard of proof to the Provost’s case, rather that it was common practice to describe the nature of the evidence at some point in the course of giving reasons as circumstantial in order to serves as a reminder that the burden of proof rests on the Provost in these cases and that the standard is to meet a reasonable level of clear cogent evidence. In this case there was no direct evidence (i.e. the texts that were under consideration, testimony from other students involved in the peer review process), so a decision would have to result from inferences from the evidence.
The Provost’s final ground of appeal involved the Tribunal’s assessment of the credibility of one of the witnesses, an argument that the Board rejected because they were in no position to substitute their own views for the Tribunal’s with regards to assessing credibility or the relative weight to be given to the evidence of witnesses. It was open to the Tribunal to assess that witness’s evidence in the overall context of the case, which it did in the present case. Appeal dismissed.