Case 1155

DATE: July 26, 2021
PARTIES: University of Toronto v. Y.W. ("the Student")

HEARING DATE: May 5, 2021, via Zoom

Panel Members:
Mr. Simon Clements, Chair
Professor Lynne Howarth, Faculty Panel Member
Ms. Shirley Deng, Student Panel Member

Appearances:
Mr. Robert Centa, Assistant Discipline Counsel, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP
Ms. Sonia Patel, Articling Student, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Not in Attendance:
The Student

Hearing Secretary:
Ms. Carmelle Salomon-Labbé, Associate Director, Office of Appeals, Discipline and Faculty Grievances

The Student was charged under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, 1995 (the “Code”) with two counts of knowingly altering or falsifying a document or evidence required by the University or uttering, circulating or making use of the altered or falsified document, namely a VOI, which the Student submitted in support of his petition requests for a late withdrawal in five courses. 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.     

Neither the Student nor a legal representative of the Student appeared at the hearing. The Panel waited fifteen minutes after the hearing was scheduled to commence to allow for the Student to appear, but the Student did not appear. The University’s Policy on Official Correspondence with Students provides that students are responsible for maintaining a current and valid postal address and email account in ROSI. Students are expected to monitor and retrieve all mail, including emails, on a frequent and consistent basis. Rule 9(c) of the University Tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure (“Rules”) provides that service can be effected via email to the student’s email address in ROSI. The University provided evidence that the Student had been served at his ROSI-listed email address with the charges and notice of electronic hearing. The Student was subsequently provided an opportunity to provide submissions in relation to the request of the Provost of the University for the hearing to proceed electronically. The Student did not respond to this request and the hearing was ordered to proceed electronically. Counsel for the University provided further evidence that the Student’s email account had been accessed after the charges and the email correspondence from the Tribunal seeking submission on the format of the hearing. The charges, notice, and the submissions request went unanswered.  The Panel found that reasonable notice of the hearing had been provided to the Student in accordance with the Rules, therefore the Panel ordered that the hearing proceed in the Student’s absence in accordance with Rule 17 of the Rules.  

Regarding the charges laid under s. B.i.1(a) of the Code, the Panel examined the affidavit evidence of the Assistant Registrar of Academic Standards & Petitions in the Office of the Registrar at the University of Toronto Mississauga (“UTM”). The Assistant Registrar’s evidence explained that their office facilitates student requests to withdraw from courses past the deadline. The Assistant Registrar affidavit further advised that the Student submitted a petition for late withdrawal without academic penalty for five courses in the 2019-2020 academic year. The VOI submitted by the Student purported to be signed by a physician at Centenary Hospital in Scarborough which supported his claims of depression and noted that the Student required increased rest and a reduced workload. The Student attached the same VOI to his request for a refund of his Winter 2020 fees. It was the Assistant Registrar evidence that the Registrar’s Office contacted Centenary Hospital to confirm if the doctor identified on the VOI has completed and signed the document. The doctor informed the Health Information Management office of Centenary Hospital that he had not filled out the VOI and that none of the writing on the VOI, including the signature, belonged to him. Centenary Hospital relayed this information to the Registrar’s Office. The Panel also received affidavit evidence of the Manager of Academic Integrity & Affairs at the Academic Integrity Unit in the Office of the Dean at UTM (“Manager”). The Panel had an opportunity to ask questions of the Manager as she was present at the Dean’s meetings and took minutes. The minutes were not attached to the Manager’s affidavit but were obtained by Counsel and provided to the Panel during the hearing. These minutes were admitted into evidence pursuant to rules 64 and 65 of the Rules. Once the Panel had an opportunity to review the minutes, they found that the contents of the Manager’s affidavit and the minutes were consistent. The Panel noted that, pursuant to the Manager’s evidence, at the commencement of the meeting, pursuant to s. C.i(a)6 of the Code, the Student was given the Dean’s Warning which warns the Student that any admissions or statements made during the meeting can be used or received in evidence against the Student in the hearing. In accordance with this, the Panel accepted the admissions of the Student as evidence in the hearing. The Panel noted that at the hearing the Student explained that he had lost both of his grandparents the previous year and that this had a significant impact on him. The Student further explained that he had not seen a doctor but knew he needed documentation from a physician so a friend of his offered to have someone fill out a VOI for him. The Student accepted the friend’s offer and submitted a forged VOI in support of his petition for late withdrawal. Based on the evidence, including the Student’s admission, the Panel found that the Student was guilty of two counts of knowingly using a falsified document contrary to s. B.i.1(a) of the Code. Due to the Panel’s finding, the University withdrew the alternative charge.

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 serious nature of the offence, the detriment to the University occasioned by the offence and the need to deter others from committing similar offences. The Panel agreed with the decision in University of Toronto v. X.T. (Case No. 1080, September 29, 2020) with respect to the aforementioned factors. The Panel in that case noted that forgery is a serious offence, especially given the deliberate nature of the offence; that it undermines the integrity of those charged with providing the medical notes, as well as the University’s procedure for assessing and granting accommodations to its students; and that the University and Tribunal must send a strong message to other students that such misconduct is considered a serious offence. The Panel further noted that since the Student did not participate at any stage of the hearing process there is no evidence before the Panel of good character, likelihood of repetition of the offence, or mitigating or extenuating circumstances. The Panel did consider the fact that the Student admitted to the offence and was cooperative with the discipline process up to the Dean’s Meeting but this, in the view of the Panel, did not amount to an exceptional circumstance which would cause it to deviate from the recommended sanctions provided in the Code, nor from the sanctions imposed in similar cases. The Panel imposed the following sanctions: a final grade of zero in the five courses; a two-year suspension; a three-year notation on the transcript; and a report to the Provost for publication.