Friday, February 2, 2007

Iranian refugee wins first battle in bid to teach in Ontario

Iranian refugee wins first battle in bid to teach in Ontario
Fights 13 years to have credentials evaluated
Ottawa Citizen
Graham Hughes, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, January 12, 2007

Fatima Siadat, who fled Iran in 1990, has won a 13-year legal battle to have the Ontario College of Teachers consider her application for a hearing to evaluate her qualifications to teach in Ontario.

In Ottawa yesterday, Ms. Siadat was ecstatic about what could be a precedent-setting legal decision.

"I can't believe it happened after all these years," she said.

To teach in Ontario's publicly funded schools, a teacher must have a Certificate of Qualification from the college, which was created in 1996. Officials there deemed her few documents insufficient to judge her abilities to teach and refused her requests for a personal interview or to develop alternate means to evaluate her abilities.

Ms. Siadat fled Iran after falling afoul of the education authorities by teaching high school students that authors had a right to freedom of expression. Ms. Siadat, a teacher for 16 years, received death threats and faced a "political trial."

After arriving in Canada, she obtained a community college certificate in early childhood learning, and worked in day-care facilities and elementary schools.

She opened her own day care, Our Little School, in 2001.

Now, she said, she hopes she will be able to meet with college officials, receive accreditation and then "work as a kindergarten teacher."

Ms. Siadat said if she gets her certificate, she intends to work in schools "until I die."

"I have been working with children all of my life and the older I get, the more I enjoy it," she said. "All the experience builds up and I think I'm better at it than I was 10 years ago."

She pointed out that "teaching is a job where experience is more important than anything else."

In a series of approaches beginning in 1993, first to the education ministry and later to the college, Ms. Siadat had asked authorities to waive the requirement that her qualification papers must come directly from the issuing authority. She requested that the college develop an alternate method of evaluating her qualifications as a teacher.

In Toronto at a hearing last September, Chantal Tie and co-counsel Jean Lash of South Ottawa Community Legal Services argued the college's refusal to evaluate her documentation had violated their client's human rights as a refugee. The legal aid clinic became involved in the case in 1999.

At one point, Ms. Siadat said, she was tired of the fight and ready to give up but, encouraged by Ms. Tie, she decided to battle on "to open the door for other people so they don't have to go through all this hassle."

Her refugee claim was based on persecution by the Iranian government, which included, over and beyond a threat to her life, the deliberate withholding of all her official documents to prevent her from ever teaching again.

Ms. Siadat had only a teacher's identification card and handwritten copy of her university course transcripts, photocopies of her Bachelor's degree and her employment order from the education ministry.

These were not acceptable, the college ruled, as it refused to meet her or to explore ways to assess her credentials that do not rely on official documents.

The decision, written by Justice John Brockenshire of the Superior Court of Justice, was issued Wednesday in Toronto. He wrote that the college "failed to meet both the obligation to properly interpret and apply the relevant law, and the obligation to provide adequate reasons for its decision, that its decision must be rescinded, and the application of Ms. Siadat must be referred back to the committee for re-hearing."

Justices Ellen Macdonald and Donald Cameron, who also sat on the appeal tribunal, concurred.

A teachers college spokesman said a copy of the decision was delivered late Wednesday. "We are currently reviewing the document and will develop a response in due course," Brian Jamieson said.