GN ignored wishes of community and DEA, teacher says
Department of education failed to consult DEA before firing teacher
Residents of Chesterfield Inlet just want to forget the sordid case of Francis Mazhero, a high school teacher who was dismissed from his job at Victor Sammurtok School after being falsely accused of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old student.
“It’s the Inuit way,” said a member of the community’s District Education Authority who asked to remain anonymous.
But Mazhero refuses to forget. Since losing his job almost exactly a year ago, he has waged a bitter battle against the Government of Nunavut and the Federation of Nunavut Teachers to clear his name and support his family.
He is suing a long list of defendants, including the former principal of the school, the former executive director and superintendent of Kivalliq School Operations, as well as officials within the departments of health and social services, and human resources.
And he has filed a second suit against the lawyers hired to represent him by the FNT, and even the arbitrator who was to intervene in the matter this past December.
In total, he is seeking more than $2.6 million in general, aggravated and punitive damages.
Although the community is eager to move on, Mazhero says it was actually their support of him after the false allegations that has led him to this point.
Mazhero alleges that Robert Genge, the former principal of the school, pursued the false abuse claims with the RCMP and the department of social services after he discovered them to be false. He also claims Genge did not inform him that the student recanted her story, and did not inform anyone else in the community about it either.
And when a student at the school started a petition to get rid of Genge, it was partially in defence of Mazhero, the former teacher says.
“The community wanted the principal out,” Mazhero said in an interview. “They said he was racist.”
Mazhero, who is originally from Zimbabwe, has made that claim himself, in an affidavit filed with the Nunavut Court of Justice. In it, he says he was the victim of racism, and his union was unable to help him fight it.
“I am concerned that the FNT is ill-equipped to challenge racism. It appears as though the members of its executive simply do not know what racism looks like or what it does to its victims,” he said.
The issue is an important one, because Mazhero, who taught English and Legal Studies, certainly appears to have been qualified for the job.
Mazhero has a Doctorate in Educational Planning from the University of Bristol, and his work in Zimbabwe has allowed him to put his studies to use in an underveloped educational system – similar to the situation in Nunavut.
“The three papers which you did during the last year on educational developments in Zimbabwe are among the finest, if not the best, done since independence,” wrote Robert Keeley, the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, in a letter to Mazhero in 1983.
“Your hard work, dedication and knowledge about Zimbabwe has gone a long way in helping us to develop what is likely to become one of the most innovative programs in education financed by AID [U.S. Agency for International Development] in Africa.”
Skills like Mazhero’s are desperately needed in Nunavut, and the Chesterfield Inlet DEA may have realized that when they chose to support him over the principal in a meeting with education officials last July.
“They came and held a meeting in the community and said, ‘Either you take our principal and you can have this guy,’ ” Mazhero recalls. “But if the principal goes, if you insist that he goes…”
The Edmonton law firm of Chivers, Kane and Carpenter, the same law firm Mazhero is suing, alleging conflict of interest because the firm also represents the FNT, has filed several papers in Mazhero’s defence.
They say Mazhero’s termination is invalid, in part because the KSO ignored the recommendation of the DEA.
“Executive Director/Superintendent [Chris] Purse did not recommend the dismissal of the Grievor to the District Education Authority. He did not seek the direction of the District Education Authority in relation to the discipline or the dismissal of the Grievor. He bypassed the Chesterfield Inlet District Education Authority and did not even copy to the DEA his letter to the deputy minister of human resources,” the statement says.
Anthyme Kadjuk, the chair of the DEA, did not return a message left at his office, and subsequent phone calls went unanswered.
“That’s where the question of exactly what is the authority and power of the DEA comes in, when it comes to the discipline and firing of teachers,” Mazhero said.
“In my case, they never considered at all the DEA’s view of the things that were happening in the community.”