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Canada Ontario teacher who pushed anti-vaccine views suspended for talking to media

Teacher Timothy Cyril Sullivan is seen during a break in his Ontario Teachers College disciplinary hearing on Feb. 21 2017.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

An Ontario high school science teacher who was found guilty of professional misconduct after pushing anti-vaccination views says he was suspended without pay for three days for speaking to the media about the case.

Timothy Sullivan said he received a letter from the Grand Erie District School Board that said he had breached the ethical standards of the Ontario College of Teachers.

"You have drawn your employer, the board, into the media attention," said the letter, dated April 20 and signed by superintendent of human resources Scott Sincerbox.

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"The result of that is that the board's image in the public domain has been negatively impacted."

Sullivan said he served his suspension last week.

In February, the southwestern Ontario teacher attended a public hearing at the Ontario College of Teachers in Toronto.

The college accused Sullivan of professional misconduct for his actions on March 9, 2015, when he shouted at a public health nurse administering vaccines at his high school and accused the nurse of withholding information from students receiving vaccinations.

The proceeding also heard Sullivan asked a student if they knew that one particular vaccine could cause death.

An independent disciplinary committee of the college found the teacher guilty of five offences, including abusing students psychologically or emotionally. He is awaiting sentencing from the college, which is seeking a suspension for one month, completion of an anger management course and a public reprimand.

Sullivan denies the allegations from that case, despite his finding of guilt, and is confused about the suspension for speaking with the media.

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"I didn't think it was actually hidden. The charges against me were on the Ontario College of Teachers website, the hearing dates were published in advance and the hearing itself was public," Sullivan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"Yet, I'm hesitant to talk because that's an odd letter and here I am talking to the media."

In the letter, Sincerbox chastised Sullivan for speaking to reporters during the college's two-day hearing, calling the media attention "excessive."

"Tim, your actions brought unnecessary publicity and attention to the matter," Sincerbox wrote. He also wrote that the board was not looking for a repeat of "the unwanted media attention."

Another line from Sincerbox's letter that sounded ominous to Sullivan read: "Please note that future incidents of this nature may lead to further discipline, up to and including dismissal."

Sullivan said he turned to the media because his union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, dropped his case and didn't attend either the hearing with the college or the meeting with the board.

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The union said it would not comment on the matter.

Sincerbox declined comment in an email citing employee confidentiality.

During the hearing with the college, the school's principal at the time testified that parents and students had complained about Sullivan's views on vaccination in the past, adding the teacher had told his pupils there is a link between vaccines and autism — a view that is widely denounced by the scientific community.

Is he against vaccines?

"I won't say I'm anti-vaccine, as it does seem like they've had some benefit over the years, but the number of them and the ages of — no, I'm going to end it there," Sullivan said. "I'm pro informed consent, let's leave it at that, OK?"

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