A report from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection says 252 current or former school personnel committed or were accused of committing offences of a sexual nature against 548 children over a five-year span.
It says another 38 personnel were criminally charged for child pornography-related offences during the same time frame of 2017 to 2021.
“It is startling and a bit infuriating,” said Noni Classen, director of education at the Winnipeg-based centre.
Classen said it is the only known publicly available, Canada-wide snapshot of sexual offending in schools. The centre searched disciplinary records, media sources and criminal case law to build the database.
The report includes any person working in a school environment, including teachers, administrators, bus drivers and custodial staff.
Since education falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, most bodies responsible for overseeing discipline of school employees are not required to make the outcomes of investigations public. There is a complete lack of transparency, Classen said, and she suspects the report’s numbers are an underestimation.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
The report says 71 per cent of victims were girls and 29 per cent were boys, when gender could be identified. Of all the offending behaviours, 37 per cent involved physical contact.
SECE, which stands for stop educator-child exploitation, is made up of survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by school teachers. The group is calling for the establishment of national or provincial independent bodies to investigate teacher-on-student sexual exploitation.
It also wants a national inquiry into the abuse of children at the hands of school personnel and restitution for survivors.
The report says 167 school personnel had criminal charges laid against them over the five years, mainly sexual assault, sexual interference and sexual exploitation.
When a secondary role was identified, 74 per cent of offenders were coaches. The vast majority – nearly 85 per cent – were men.
Classen said all children have the right to safety, especially at schools. More than 58 per cent of the offences took place on school property.
When a trusted adult or authority figure exploits that trust, the harm to the child is intensified, Classen said. A sexually explicit text message or inappropriate comment isn’t just an act of grooming, she added — it can be devastating to a child.
“That someone betrays the trust of the child and family … I don’t know that there is a larger betrayal than that,” she said.
Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook were the platforms most commonly used to facilitate victimization, the report says.
It recommends independent bodies be established to receive and investigate complaints. It also suggests disciplinary records around these offences be made public and that all school personnel complete child protection training programs. And there should be more trauma-informed support for students who are victimized.
Classen said the vast majority of teachers and school personnel are there for the right reasons. They also want more consistency in disclosure and policies to make sure students are safe, she said.
There have been positive changes in recent years, Classen added, but not enough.
“There’s so much work that needs to be done,” she said. “We are not seeing it at the pace we would like to.”
—Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press