August 10, 2014 1:06 pm

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president stripped of authority

Colin Keess, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, says he has been stripped of his authority.

File / Global News

SASKATOON – The president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) has been stripped of his authority.

Colin Keess, who was elected to a third term as president in May, said he was notified of the decision a few days ago and said a matter from almost 20 years ago may be behind the reason.

“I just can’t believe an old disciplinary case should be subject matter of the non-confidence motion nearly 20 years later,” Keess said in the statement.

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“I am even more concerned that some people are trying to make a live issue over something that happened in the 1990s in the midst of contract negotiations today, it’s not like it was a secret then.”

According to an email obtained by Global News that was sent to STF members on Friday, the non-confidence motion was passed for “circumstances related to Mr. Keess’s conduct as president of the federation.”

The email, reproduced below, goes on to state Keess shall not perform any of his duties as president “including but not limited to acting as a signing authority for the federation.”

Keess alleges someone at the STF received a phone call in late June referring to a foreign website which had posted an appeal from a disciplinary decision involving him that reached the Court of Appeal and asking for 19 Euros to have it removed.

“The disciplinary hearing is already well known in the teaching community and extensively covered in the media at the time,” reads the statement from his lawyer, Robert Dobrohoczki, which appears in full at the end of this article.

“It was the first public disciplinary hearing for a teacher, a public process Mr. Keess has always endorsed as president in moving toward greater accountability and transparency.”

Keess also accused STF executive director Gwen Dueck of prohibiting him from communicating with the executive and for calling multiple executive meetings without notice to him.

“I find it most appalling the executive director is trying to stop the elected president selected by 13,000 teachers of Saskatchewan from actually talking to the teachers,” said Keess.

He also claims he has been denied minutes and motions of meetings.

“I have no idea what the ‘conduct as president’ refers to in the (STF) release (to teachers), and I suppose I won’t until a proper process is followed and I hear the allegations.

Attempts to contact the STF for comments on the accusations and decision have been unsuccessful. Keess’ profile on the STF website states he is “on leave.”

LATEST: STF mum on stripping authority from its president

In June, 63 per cent of teachers who voted on a tentative contract rejected the deal reached between the STF, the Saskatchewan government and school trustees.

At the time, Keess stated he was “concerned that the agreement, which in our judgement was the best that could be reached at the bargaining table, was not acceptable to teachers.”

Teachers in the province have been without a contract since the end of August 2013.

Email sent to STF members on August 8, 2014

Aug. 9, 2014 email to STF members on the passing of a non-confidence motion against its president Colin Keess.

Supplied

Statement from Colin Keess and his lawyer Robert Dobrohoczki

For immediate release:

August 10, 2014

STF President Keess concerned teachers are not being heard

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Colin Keess would like to respond to the release purported to be from the STF Friday afternoon.

The biggest concern for Mr. Keess since his involvement with the STF is the disconnect between the Federation and the teachers. He has always advocated bringing the teachers’ voice back to the Federation. This is true from the good standing policy about teacher regulation he tried to introduce to the many miles he has travelled throughout the province to hear the voice of teachers and bring it back to the office.

Mr. Keess has not been given a chance to speak to the executive about the non-confidence motion and has been systemically denied due process since late June. The STF executive director has prohibited Mr. Keess from communication with the executive and has called multiple executive meetings without notice to the President. Calling executive meetings is normally the purview of the President under the federation bylaws. His e-mails to the executive have also been denied, and he has been denied minutes and motions of meetings. Under the federation bylaws the President is elected to a one-year term and speaks on behalf of teachers. Mr. Keess is only the 3rd STF President to be elected to three consecutive terms. Mr. Keess is weighing his legal options.

A matter nearly 20 years ago resurfaced in late June at the same time. A mysterious phone call was purported to have been received in the dead of night to someone at the STF referring to a foreign website posting the appeal of a disciplinary decision involving Mr. Keess from the mid 1990s that reached the Court of Appeal, and carried erroneous information. The website asked 19 euros for its removal of personal information. “I didn’t pay it.” Mr. Keess states.

The disciplinary hearing is already well known in the teaching community and extensively covered in the media at the time. It was the first public disciplinary hearing for a teacher, a public process Mr. Keess has always endorsed as President in moving toward greater accountability and transparency. The case is mentioned in Harry Dahlem’s book From Classroom to the Courtroom: A Legal History of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation and is actually distributed among STF executives for the legal issues involved.

Mr. Keess has always been open about his past during a time he had faced discipline relating to medical issues he was battling, and successfully recovered from, leading to a stellar additional 18 year career in the teaching world, rising to the top of the organization in now his third term as elected President. “The support from my peers to see me through my troubles then made me the tireless advocate for teachers that I am today,” Mr. Keess says.

Mr. Keess admitted that back in the 1990s he plead guilty to a technical breach of a Court order, and also had a drink in a local bar, for which he neglected pay.  Both matters were deemed by the Court to be so trivial as to be discharged without any conviction, and were not reflective of the serious allegations made against him at the time. He has never had a criminal record. Independent legal counsel for Mr. Keess maintains it is unfortunate that based on a review of the original pleadings in the case the judgment appears to be in error on facts that were alleged over the facts admitted. Errors of fact are not appealable to the Court of Appeal, only errors of law, and the facts were not germane to the legal issue appealed.

“I just can’t believe an old disciplinary case should be subject matter of the non-confidence motion nearly 20 years later.  It was from that experience that I knew that it was absolutely paramount that we needed greater regulation, like doctors, nurses, and lawyers, which is why I was pushing for a Good Standing Policy for teachers, which is unfinished, and has yet to get to Council.”

“I am even more concerned that some people are trying to make a live issue over something that happened in the 1990s in the midst of contract negotiations today, its not like it was a secret then,” Mr. Keess says. The current Executive Director, and her predecessor, both knew about the discipline case back in the 90’s, and both had assured Mr. Keess that there were no liability issues. “I have no idea what the ‘conduct as President’ refers to in the release, and I suppose I won’t until a proper process is followed and I hear the allegations.”

Mr. Keess concludes: “I find it most appalling the Executive Director, is trying to stop the elected President selected by the 13,000 teachers of Saskatchewan from actually talking to the teachers. Teachers need to have their voices heard by the Federation.”

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