Case #940

DATE: October 17, 2019

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. C.A.J.

HEARING DATE: July 4, 2019

Panel Members:
Ms. Dena Varah, Co-Chair
Professor Pascal Riendeau, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Julie Farmer, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Mr. Gerald Chan, Counsel for the Student, Stockwoods LLP

In Attendance:
C.A.J. (the “Student”)
Ms. Jennifer Dent, Associate Director, Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged on the basis that he knowingly committed plagiarism by representing as his own idea or expression of an idea the work of another without appropriate attribution in partial completion of requirements for five courses at the University. The charges related to four papers submitted by the Student for academic credit, and one take-home examination. Specifically, the Student was charged with five counts of plagiarism under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, and in the alternative, two counts of academic dishonesty under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.

The Student attended the hearing with Counsel. The parties submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts (“ASF”) wherein the Student pleaded guilty to the seven charges. The Panel was satisfied based on a review of the ASF, the supporting documents and the submissions of Counsel, that the evidence established the plagiarism charges. The Panel therefore accepted the Student’s guilty plea in respect of those charges. The University withdrew the two charges of academic dishonesty and the Tribunal made no findings in respect of those charges.

The parties did not agree on the appropriate penalty. The Tribunal did not hear viva voce evidence at the hearing and all of the material was filed on consent of both parties. The University submitted that the Faculty of Law had been extremely responsive and accommodating of the Student’s requests and that various accommodations were available to the Student to address his mental health diagnoses. The Student filed a brief entitled “Mitigation and Medical Evidence” including letters from psychiatrists that assessed and treated the Student. Counsel for the Student submitted that the evidence established that the Student was deeply affected by the illness and ultimate death of his mother.

The Panel reviewed the principles for determining the appropriate sanction set out in University of Toronto v. C.. While noting that it was not bound by precedent, the Panel stated that the cases can serve as a guide. The Panel further noted that there is no minimum or proscribed penalty that must be applied.

The Panel took the view that there was little evidence to establish good or bad character on the part of the Student. As such, this factor was mostly neutral but tilted slightly in favour of a lesser penalty. The Panel stated that there was no doubt that the chance of repetition was low and noted that there was no evidence that the Student had previously committed academic misconduct in any of his schooling. The Panel decided that this factor therefore favoured a lesser penalty. In terms of the nature of the offence, the Panel stated that there is no doubt that plagiarism is a serious offence. The plagiarism in this case was on the more serious end of the spectrum in several respects: there were five counts of plagiarism in five different courses; four of the five involved no meaningful work (the Student relied on a single source in each essay and did very little tailoring); the Student was a senior student; and the papers were worth 90% in two courses and 100% in one. This factor therefore was held by the Panel to favour a more serious penalty. The Panel then identified the issue of extenuating circumstances as central in this case. The mitigating factors included that the Student had no previous convictions; he had cooperated and pled to an ASF; and he had not been engaged in any criminal behaviour. The Panel accepted that there were significant mitigating factors. The Student had diagnosed ADHD and depression, and the evidence amply supported that the illness and death of the Student’s mother significantly affected him and resulted in stress and depression. The Panel noted that the Student was not arguing that he was incapable as a defence to the charges, rather this was a question of penalty. The Panel accepted the professional opinions of the physicians that had assessed and treated the Student regarding the connection between the Student’s stress, depression and ADHD and the Student’s poor decision-making. While it agreed that the Faculty had done an admirable job of accommodating students with mental health problems, it also noted that sometimes even the best attempts at accommodation do not succeed and students make regrettable choices. The Panel found that this was one of those cases, and that the extenuating circumstances favoured a lesser penalty. Finally, the Panel found that the detriment to the University occasioned by the offence and the need to deter others leaned in favour of a more serious penalty.

The Panel decided that expulsion was not the appropriate penalty. It noted that the offences were very serious, but none of the other factors justified this most extreme penalty. There were significant mitigating factors and no aggravating ones. The Panel took the view that the mitigating factors and low likelihood of repetition militated in favour of giving the Student a second chance and an opportunity for rehabilitation. In light of the evidence and precedents, the Panel took the view that the appropriate suspension was three years, on the basis that it would be unsound to impose the same sentence as cases where there were aggravating factors and no mitigating ones.

The Panel therefore imposed the following penalty: a final grade of zero in each of the courses; a suspension from the University for a period of three years, effective immediately; a notation of the sanction on the Student’s academic record for the duration of the suspension; and that the case be reported to the Provost for publication of a notice of the decision and the sanction imposed, with the name of the Student withheld.