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Tribunal drops B.C. teacher's gender-based discrimination complaint

A North Vancouver teacher claimed students' complaints about 'manspreading' was "a gender-based slur."
Shawn Stibbards pictured in a 2015 North Shore News photo from a story about his publishing a novel. | Cindy Goodman / North Shore News files

B.C.’s Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a case in which a North Vancouver teacher claimed he was discriminated against on the basis of sex because he couldn’t read a student’s stories with sexual content while a female teacher could.

In a newly released June 5 decision, tribunal member Edward Takayanagi said Shawn Stibbards filed a complaint alleging that his employer, the North Vancouver School District , discriminated against him because the school board investigated him for allegations of misconduct only because he is male.

He alleged that the board discriminated in the investigation process by questioning him about reading a student’s stories that contained sexual content while a female teacher who read the same stories was not investigated; that the district used used the gender-specific term “manspreading” when telling Stibbards that students complained about his posture in class; and that by concluding that it was misconduct for him to discuss issues pertaining to females because he is male.

This was the third time Stibbards made allegations the board discriminated by investigating him based on complaints of misconduct, Takayanagi said.

The allegations

Stibbards has been a district teacher since 2002 and was teaching Grade 10 English in the in the 2018/2019 academic year.

In April 2019, parents of a female student in Stibbards’ class complained about his “lack of professionalism, lack of instruction and the content of his class discussions.”

They alleged Stibbards sat on a desktop during class with his legs spread, ignored boundaries with respect to approaching a female student and pressured students “to participate in uncomfortable and inappropriate classroom discussions.”

On May 2, 2019, the board initiated an investigation into the allegations.

Stibbards said he became concerned about the investigation and went on sick leave on or about May 8, 2019.

While on leave, Takayanagi said, Stibbards was contacted on Facebook by a Grade 12 student asking if he would review some short stories she had written.

“Mr. Stibbards read and provided feedback on the stories,” Takayanagi said. “The parties agree the short stories contain some sexual content.”

The investigation spoke with witnesses who raised additional concerns about Stibbards’ behaviour, including that he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the student whose stories he read.

The board provided Stibbards with an amended notice of investigation on June 14, 2019, and further particulars of the allegations it was investigating on June 25, 2019.

When he returned from sick leave, Stibbards was interviewed about the allegations that he made inappropriate, offensive, and sexist comments with no connection to the curriculum during his classes.

“The alleged comments were about the role of women in society, abuse, abortion, miscarriages, public execution, and suicide,” Takayanagi said. “He was told that several students complained that he was ‘manspreading’ by sitting in front of them with his legs spread wide to display his crotch.”

Inappropriate relationship

And, he was told he was alleged to have engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a student, including inappropriate communications and sharing inappropriate sexually explicit stories.

On March 23, 2021, the investigator reported to the board.

“The investigator found the allegation that Mr. Stibbards sat with his legs spread apart occurred but was not misconduct. The investigator found that it was inappropriate for Mr. Stibbards to communicate with a student on Facebook when he was on medical leave. The investigator did not find that it was inappropriate for Mr. Stibbards to review the student’s stories but had crossed appropriate teacher-student boundaries by communicating with a student while on medical leave,” Takayanagi said.

The investigator found there was a pattern of inappropriate, offensive and unprofessional comments and questions made by Stibbards in his classes, which amounted to misconduct.

However, before deciding what action to take, the board received medical information from Stibbards saying much of his inappropriate behaviour may be a result of a mental disability.

“Based on the medical information, the board decided not to discipline Mr. Stibbards,” Takayanagi said.


On the issue of reading the student’s stories, Takayanagi found there was no reasonable prospect Stibbards would prove at a hearing that he was questioned only because of his sex.

The board said the issue was that he was communicating with the student on a non-work platform, while on leave.

“The board says other female teachers were not questioned about reading the student’s stories because there were no allegations that they had violated student-teacher boundaries by communicating with a student while on leave on non-work platforms,” Takayanagi said.

Further, Takayanagi said, while Stibbards had characterized the term ‘manspreading’ as “a gender-based slur,” the evidence appeared to be that the investigator was simply providing details of allegations during the investigation process.

“I find the board has put forward evidence that persuades me there is no reasonable prospect Mr. Stibbards will establish that his sex was a factor in the adverse treatment alleged,” Takayanagi wrote.

Reporter's note: Tribunal decisions, until recently, were available on its dedicated website soon after decisions were made. They are now delayed as they are posted on the Canadian Legal Information Institute site.

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