Professionals should be allowed to speak freely

August 18, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Zwaagstra

The Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) serves as the regulatory body for public school teachers in Ontario. When a complaint comes in, the OCT is obligated to investigate and, if the teacher is found guilty, decide on an appropriate consequence.

By investigating complaints against teachers in that province, regulatory bodies such as the OCT play a crucial role in holding teachers accountable to the public.

Unfortunately, the OCT is considerably less useful when it goes after teachers who espouse the “wrong” political ideology. For example, Ottawa high school teacher Chanel Pfahl is currently being investigated for two brief comments she made last year on a private teachers’ Facebook group.

In her first comment, Pfahl argued that teachers shouldn’t indoctrinate kids in critical race theory but should instead show kindness to everyone and speak out against all forms of discrimination. Pfahl’s second comment consisted of a link to a speech by United Kingdom cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch explaining her government’s opposition to critical race theory.

Pfahl’s comments form the basis for OCT’s investigation, which began several months ago and is still underway. One wonders how long it takes OCT officials to investigate two Facebook comments.

What should be of concern to everyone is that this investigation has nothing to do with Pfahl’s professional work as a teacher. Instead, it amounts to an evaluation of her political beliefs. Whether Pfahl’s views are right or wrong is a matter of opinion and falls well outside the appropriate domain of any professional regulatory body.

Regulating professional activity is one thing. Regulating political ideology is quite another. Teachers can be effective in the classroom regardless of whether they are right-wing, left-wing, centrist, or completely apolitical. Simply put, one should expect to see a diversity of opinions among the members of any profession.

Sadly, this type of mission creep is not limited to the OCT. Amy Hamm is a registered nurse in British Columbia. She is currently being investigated by the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM) because she publicly expressed the view that it is important to protect the sex-based rights of women and girls.

Hamm’s opinion on this issue might be correct. It also might be dead wrong. Either way, it isn’t the role of the BCCNM to police the political beliefs of its members. A nursing regulatory body should focus on upholding the professional standards of the nursing profession, not on ensuring that all nurses hold the “correct” view on controversial topics.

Fortunately, some professionals are pushing back against regulatory bodies that overstep their authority. For example, when the Law Society of Ontario tried to force all lawyers to adopt and abide by a statement advocating equality and diversity, dissenting lawyers got organized and voted in a new board of directors (benchers). The new benchers then voted to scrap this mandatory statement of principles.

Regulatory bodies already have plenty of real work to do without getting into the business of policing the political beliefs of their members. While professionals should be expected to meet a common professional standard, they do not need to hold the same political beliefs. Diversity of thought among professionals should be welcomed, not shut down.

Regulatory bodies should stick to their core purpose and stay out of politics. This would benefit everyone.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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