Teacher found guilty in anti-vaccine case

Timothy Sullivan
High school teacher Timothy C. Sullivan leaves a disciplinary hearing in Toronto, on Tuesday, February 21, 2017. An Ontario science teacher accused of telling his high school students they could die as a result of vaccination had a history of pushing anti-vaccine theories, the hearing heard Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – An Ontario science teacher stormed out of a hearing after being found guilty of professional misconduct for telling students vaccines could kill them.

An independent disciplinary committee with the Ontario College of Teachers found Timothy C. Sullivan guilty Wednesday of five acts, including abusing students psychologically or emotionally.

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 nurses of withholding information from students receiving vaccinations.

The college is seeking penalties that include a reprimand, a suspension for one month and completing an anger management course. When the lawyer for the college submitted a case to base the penalty on, Sullivan quickly looked at the document, stood up and walked out.

He came back in wearing his coat and asked if he had to be there, before making reference to the other case that contained the words “abused” and “sexually.”

“You already have some ideas what you’re going to do, don’t you?” he told the committee as he left.

Sullivan, a teacher at a high school in Waterford, Ont., who represented himself in the two-day hearing, said outside court he was upset because he felt his actions were being compared to the other case.

When asked if he would return to teaching, he said “we’ll see if they let me.”

The college’s lawyer, Christine Wadsworth, told the hearing after Sullivan left that the other case had nothing to do with sexual abuse, rather it was about a teacher who coached his school’s hockey team and used profane language with the league’s convener.

Although, she said, those words were in the document provided to Sullivan.

The disciplinary committee, which required a few recesses after the outburst to figure out its next steps, is going to deliberate on Sullivan’s sentence.

Sullivan denied many of the allegations, but admitted to leaving class once to speak with nurses and to telling one student that a side effect of one of the vaccines was death.

He maintains that the students weren’t given proper information to consent to be vaccinated, including information about potentially serious, but rare, side effects of the shots.

He was suspended for one day without pay in April 2015 for his actions the previous month.

On Tuesday, Angela Swick, a nurse with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, told the hearing she felt threatened and intimidated by Sullivan’s three visits to the cafeteria that March day where she and her colleagues were giving vaccines to students.

Swick said she felt “uneasy” about the interactions with Sullivan and told the committee he shouted at her and her colleagues.

Sullivan came into the cafeteria of the school, which cannot be named due to a publication ban in place to protect students’ identities, as she and her colleagues were administering four different types of vaccines and demanded information about the drugs, she said.

“He then turned around, came back and put his hands in front of me (on the desk) and said ‘I hope you’re letting these students know these vaccines could cause death,'” Swick told the hearing. She said she was afraid of Sullivan and told her supervisor and the principal about the incident.

She said he came back twice more.

Brian Quistberg, the school’s principal at the time, testified that he locked one set of doors to the cafeteria to try to keep Sullivan out.

He also detailed a history of complaints about Sullivan’s views on vaccination, adding the teacher told his pupils there is a link between vaccines and autism — a view that is widely denounced by the scientific community.

Quistberg said he had sent Sullivan a letter just two weeks before the incident, warning him that his fixation on vaccines had affected his teaching.

During Sullivan’s closing arguments, he said he had the students’ health and best interests in mind when he visited the clinic.

He said he asked one student: “Are you aware one of the side effects in the manufacturer’s insert is death?”

“I said that. If that’s emotional abuse or psychological abuse, I’m guilty.”

He said he was trying to be a role model to his students.

“If asking uncomfortable questions makes me disgraceful … then I’m guilty as charged.”