DATE: June 23, 2020
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.M. (“the Student”)
HEARING DATE: June 11, 2020
Ms. Michelle S. Henry, Chair
Professor Ernest Lam, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Elizabeth Frangos, Student Panel Member
Ms. Tina Lie, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Not in Attendance:
Ms. Krista Kennedy, Hearings Secretary, Office of the Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances, University of Toronto
The Student was charged with one count under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (“Code”) for knowingly forging or in any other way altering or falsifying a document or evidence required by the University of Toronto, or uttering, circulating or using such forged, altered or falsified document, namely a Verification of Student Illness or Injury form, which she submitted in support of her request for academic accommodation or relief in a course. Alternatively, she was also charged under s. B.i.3(b) of the Code.
Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. As a preliminary issue, the University requested that the hearing proceed in the absence of the Student. It provided evidence that the Student had been served with various documents by email to the email address the Student had provided to the University’s Repository of Student Information (“ROSI”). Documents served by email include a letter regarding the charges, a copy of the Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”), a pamphlet for Downtown Legal Services, the University’s disclosure brief, a copy of the University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students, information concerning the scheduling of the hearing and affidavits on which the University intended to rely upon at the hearing. The University also tried calling the Student at different times of the day, at the phone number that the Student had provided in ROSI. The University led evidence establishing someone had accessed the Student’s university-issued email account after service of these documents. The Panel concluded that the Student was given reasonable notice of the hearing in accordance with the notice requirements set out in the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (“Act”) and the Rules. It proceeded to hear the case on its merits in the absence of the Student.
For the course in question, attendance in studio, lectures and exercises was mandatory. Students were advised that if they missed class as a result of illness, they were required to submit a Verification of Student Illness or Injury form completed by a doctor. Among other things, the course syllabus contained provisions regarding attendance, participation and late submission of assignments due to illness and other circumstances.
The evidence established that the Student had emailed her instructor advising that she was unable to attend class due to illness and attaching a copy of a Verification of Student Illness or Injury form signed by a doctor. The Student subsequently missed a class and in response to the instructor’s email asking whether she was still ill, she provided another signed copy of a Verification of Student Illness or Injury form, which appeared to be from the same doctor. The University contacted the doctor and discovered that the second medical note had been forged. The doctor’s affidavit establishes that he had not seen the Student on the date specified on the second medical note and had not completed that note.
The Panel found the Student guilty under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code. In determining the sanction, the Panel noted there was no evidence regarding the Student’s character other than the facts relating to this offence and the lack of response from the Student. While the Student did not have a prior record of academic offences, the Panel was unable to make any findings regarding the likelihood of a repetition of this offence due to the Student’s failure to attend the hearing and a meeting with the Office of the Registrar and Student Services, Daniels Faculty, to discuss the allegation of academic misconduct. The Panel considered the serious and deliberate nature of the offence and the detriment to the University. It stated that forgery is considered a serious offence, especially in these circumstances. It added that given the size of the University, and the fact that the University is unable to verify every single medical note submitted to instructors, the University must be able to trust that students are submitting legitimate Verification of Student Illness or Injury forms and that accommodation requests are legitimate.
Since the Student did not participate in the hearing, the Panel found no evidence of mitigating or extenuating circumstances. The Panel accepted the University’s concerns that the Student’s conduct in forging medical notes implicated medical professionals and undermined the integrity of those charged with providing those medical notes, as well as the University’s procedure for assessing and granting accommodations to its students. It also stated that the University and the Tribunal must send a strong message to other students that such misconduct is considered a serious offence.
The Panel imposed the following sanctions: grade assignment of zero in the course; a two-year suspension; three-year notation of the sanction on academic record and transcript from the date of the Order; and publication by the Provost of a notice of the decision and sanctions imposed, with the Student’s name withheld.