Case 1109

DATE: January 22, 2021

PARTIES: University of Toronto v. J.A. (“the Student”)

HEARING DATES: November 26, 2020, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Ms. Erin Dann, Chair
Professor Lynne Howarth, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Emily Hawes, Student Panel Member

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

Not in Attendance:
The Student

In Attendance:
Mr. Christopher Lang, Director, Office of the Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances, University of Toronto

The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) on the basis that she knowingly represented an idea or work of another as her own in an assignment. 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 with an assignment.

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students provides that students enrolled at the University are responsible for maintaining current contact information in the Repository of Student Information (“ROSI”) database inclusive of a valid University-issued email account. Rule 9 of the Rules provides that service can be effected on a student by various means including email to the student’s email address in ROSI. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at her ROSI-listed email address with the charges and notice of hearing. The Student was subsequently provided an opportunity to provide submissions in relation to the request of the Assistant Discipline Counsel for the hearing to proceed electronically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Student did not respond to this request and the hearing was ordered to proceed electronically. The Panel received evidence that Assistant Discipline Counsel corresponded with the Student via email which included invitations for discussion, efforts to arrange scheduling, disclosure of materials for the hearing and reminders of the hearing. The charges, notice, and other email correspondence to the Student went unanswered. Relying on Rules 17 and 9 of the Rules and ss. 6 and 7 of the SPPA, the Panel ordered that the hearing proceed in the Student’s absence as they found that reasonable notice of the hearing had been provided to the Student.

Regarding the charge laid under s. B.i.1(d) of the Code, the Panel examined the evidence of the Professor who taught the course for which the assignment in question was submitted. The Professor indicated in his evidence that he used the “Turnitin” software which flags any areas of potential plagiarism in written work. The “Turnitin” software generated a report that showed that a large portion of the assignment was copied verbatim from online sources. It was the Professor’s evidence that he visited each of the online sources and compared the content of the assignment with the online sources and determined that approximately 80% of the assignment was copied from the online sources and these sources were not cited. On the evidence presented by the University and the Panel’s review of the assignment in comparison to the online sources, the Panel found that on a balance of probabilities the Student was guilty of one count of knowingly representing the work of another person or persons as her own, contrary to section B.i.1.(d) of the Code. Given the Panel’s finding, the University withdrew the charge under s. B.i.3(b). 

In determining sanction, the Panel considered the principles and factors relevant to sanction discussed in University of Toronto and Mr. C. (“Mr. C. factors”) and determined that it was important to consider the Student’s character, likelihood of repetition of the offence, the serious nature of the offence, the great detriment to the University and the need to send a strong message to other students that such misconduct is a serious offence. As outlined by the Discipline Appeal Board, but without citing any particular decision, the Panel relied on the general principle that there should be consistency in the approach of the Tribunal to sanction so that students are treated fairly and equitably. Upon review of the relevant case law and the Mr. C. factors, the Panel accepted the sanctions proposed by the University. Without the Student’s participation, there was little evidence of mitigating circumstances or factors that would prevent the Panel from imposing a sanction that is consistent with other plagiarism cases previously heard at the Tribunal. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the course; a two-year suspension from the University; a three-year notation of the sanction on the Student’s transcript ; and a publication by the Provost of a notice of the decision and sanctions imposed with the Student’s name withheld.