A former Chisasibi high school teacher who now lives in Val d’Or has been arrested three times for indecent acts and molesting children. The news has sent shockwaves through Chisasibi and the school system.
Joe Cannon taught high school in Chisasibi for a year in the mid-1980s. He was fired after complaints from female teachers who said he would hang around without any clothes on in the laundry room in the teachers’ residence.
Last February, Cannon was sentenced to three months in jail and three years’ probation after pleading guilty to molesting two Native girls he had lured into his house. One was 9 years old, the other 11. In Sept. 1995, Cannon got a $200 fine after pleading guilty to committing indecent acts in the presence of a minor. In Feb. 1995, Cannon was sentenced to three months in jail for indecent acts involving two minors.
Cannon was never accused of misconduct toward students while in Chisasibi. Still, parents, administrators and teachers are asking how someone like Cannon could be allowed to teach kids. How did he get hired in the first place? And why is it so hard to get rid of a teacher once problems surface?
“In the past, the school committee didn’t look at references,” said Mary McKee, Community Education Administrator in Chisasibi. “Now they’re very careful.”
McKee also pointed a finger at the teachers’ union for defending unqualified teachers and making it hard to dismiss them.
“I don’t fault the union,” said Terry Gates, a high school teacher in Chisasibi. “It’s an organization. Naturally it’s going to stick up for its members,” he said.
“I would fault the administration because time and time again they don’t take proper procedures and keep track of the details in a case, and when it goes to grievance, it gets thrown out,” said Gates.
Getting rid of a teacher is a long and expensive process for the Cree School Board. The school board is presently embroiled in court cases with four teachers it’s trying to dismiss, two in Chisasibi and two in Mistissini.
One of the cases, that of Chisasibi teacher Hugh Mahabir, has been in the courts for seven years, since 1989, according to Francois Badin, personnel director at the Cree School Board. Mahabir is accused of inappropriate behaviour in the classroom, according to Badin—”borderline with sexual connotations.”
The other Chisasibi court case involves a Cree teacher accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour toward children.
Not all cases result in victories for the school board. Far from it. An example is Chisasibi teacher Louise Cloutier, who was let go in June 1995 after numerous complaints about allegedly abusive conduct toward students. In one incident, she allegedly threw a flute at a student.
Cloutier filed a grievance and in an out-of-court settlement the school board agreed to take her back. But because her position had been abolished, she was put on an availability list, receiving full pay for no work.
“It’s very expensive,” said Badin. “Arbitrators across Canada are very difficult right now. They won’t confirm a dismissal like that, only if it’s a very, very serious case. We’ll use that option only if we have no choice.”