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CPA Ontario suspends accountant for six months, issues $7,500 fine in harassment case

by HR Law Canada

An Ontario accountant has been fined $7,500 and has been suspended for six months after admitting to professional misconduct by sending inappropriate and graphic text messages to an international student.

The Professional Conduct Committee of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario) made allegations against one of its members — identified here as PE — stating that he failed to uphold the reputation of the accounting profession and serve the public interest.

The accusations stem from his involvement in sending the messages, considering the nature of the relationship between PE and the recipient.

During a recent hearing, the primary objective was to determine whether the allegations were substantiated, if PE’s conduct breached Rule 201.1 of the CPA Ontario Code of Professional Conduct, and whether such conduct amounted to professional misconduct.

PE, who obtained his CPA, CA in April 2014, had a career trajectory involving various investment banking roles. He had also served as a facilitator for the CPA Ontario Professional Education Program (PEP), responsible for providing feedback on students’ assignments.

Agreed statement of facts

In an agreed statement of facts (ASF), PE admitted to the allegations of professional misconduct presented by the Professional Conduct Committee. The admissions were confirmed before the panel.

The issues addressed by the panel during the hearing included establishing the factual basis of the allegations and determining if the proven allegations constituted professional misconduct.

The panel concluded that the evidence, on a balance of probabilities, supported the facts outlined in the allegations of professional misconduct. It was further determined that his actions violated section 201.1 of the CPA Ontario Code and thus amounted to professional misconduct.

The text messages

The complainant was an international student in the PEP program for which PE was the facilitator.

After completing her Core 1 module in the PEP program, the complainant contacted PE for career advice. They later met at a coffee shop during which they discussed career opportunities in investment banking. PE also provided the complainant with material to help her in preparing herself for professional interviews.

In May 2022, the day after their meeting at the coffee shop, Easterbrook sent the complainant the following series of unwanted sexually suggestive text messages within a span of approximately 5-10 minutes:

Complainant: Yes, I live in downtown Toronto

PE: Ok. Happy to do a mock interview as well

PE: Up to you

Complainant: That’s so nice of you! Thank you, Paul! Really appreciate it! I’ll read through it and set up the meeting

PE: You still dating that guy?

PE: Sorry wrong person

PE: Lol

Complainant: No worries. ? Lol figured that.

PE: Could have made the interview more interesting

PE: Lol

PE: Sorry. Almost sent you a pic that I shouldn’t. Realized you didn’t have the context there

Complainant: Lol no worries 🙂

PE: I can still send it if you want lol Jk

Complainant: No need no need Lol

PE: Shoot sorry that was wrong person too

PE: Jesus. Apologies

PE: Ok. Let’s chat when you’re ready

Complainant: For sure. Thank you for your Support! Have a nice day!

PE: I want to stick my cock in your mouth and cum all over your face

PE: Sorry I think there is something wrong with my phone. Whenever I click on another chat it goes to this one when I type and I don’t notice. Not sure what is going on. Need to reset

PE: Are you getting those messages. Wtfffd

PE: So sorry

PE: Can you do me a favour

PE: Can your delete our convo and I’ll delete as well. My phone is glitching hard

PE: Are you receiving these? Sorry for the bother

Sanctions and penalties

Regarding the decision on sanctions, the panel recognized the need to safeguard public confidence in the standards of CPA Ontario members and the effectiveness of the regulatory role of the organization. Consequently, they imposed the following penalties:

  • A six-month suspension of his membership with CPA Ontario.
  • A prohibition on him acting as a facilitator in the CPA Professional Education Program (PEP).
  • A fine of $7,500 payable by May 4, 2024.
  • A written reprimand.
  • Public disclosure of the terms of the order to all members of CPA Ontario, provincial CPA bodies, and the general public.
  • Failure to comply with the order may result in an extended suspension or revocation of PE’s membership.
  • Additionally, costs amounting to $14,807.67 were ordered to be paid by PE to CPA Ontario by Nov. 4, 2023.

The panel’s decision was based on principles of sanction outlined in the CPA Ontario Sanction Guidelines. The severity of PE’s misconduct warranted a significant penalty to protect the public, deter similar behavior, and maintain confidence in the profession.

Denouncing sexual harassment

The panel emphasized the importance of denouncing sexually harassing conduct and the power imbalance between PE and the complainant.

Mitigating factors considered included PE’s lack of prior discipline history, his expression of remorse, his participation in sensitivity training, and his understanding of the seriousness of his misconduct.

The panel acknowledged that rehabilitation was not a primary objective but deemed a substantial fine, along with the other imposed sanctions, appropriate to reflect the severity of his actions.

Publication of the sanction was deemed necessary for the sake of deterrence, maintaining public trust, and upholding the integrity of the profession. Costs were also ordered to indemnify the CPA Ontario for the expenses related to the investigation, prosecution, and hearing.

For more information, see Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario v Easterbrook, 2023 ONCPA 6 (CanLII).

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