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North Vancouver teacher suspended for 'back breaker' on students

As part of the agreement, the teacher admitted the allegations were true and that it constituted professional misconduct.
North Vancouver School District administration offices
North Vancouver School District administration offices on Lonsdale Avenue.

A North Vancouver elementary school teacher has been suspended for five days for a series of incidents, including performing a wrestling move known as “the back breaker” on his students.

The complaints against Sylvain Joseph-Leo Desbiens under review by the BC Commissioner for Teacher Regulation date back to 2018 and 2019 when he was a Grades 4 and 5 teacher, according to a consent resolution agreement published on May 17.

In September 2018, a student told their parent that Desbiens would do the back breaker on male classmates, which involved him placing his knee in students’ backs and pulling on their shoulders and arms (without using his full strength.)

“The back breaker was perceived by some of the students as being punitive in nature,” the regulatory documents state.

Desbiens also made light of the students' small size and physically lifted them up to move them when they were standing in the wrong spot, according to the agreement.

Other incidents from the spring of 2019 were the subject of complaints, including more back breakers.

“More than one student said that this caused pain,” the agreement notes. “On one occasion, a group of students nominated a classmate to ‘sacrifice' themselves for punishment by receiving the back breaker as the other students did not want to have the back breaker performed on them.”

On other occasions, he would pinch a student's trapezius muscle to the point where it hurt, the ruling states, and he’d also pretend to strike students by forcefully slapping a hand into his open palm above their heads, although on one occasion, he accidentally made contact with a student. And Desbiens told the class he would be bringing a whip to school, implying it would be used for punishment.

“At least one student reported being afraid of Desbiens,” the report states.

Desbiens has been certified to teach in B.C. since 1997. There were other disciplinary incidents on his record. In September of 2019, the school district suspended Desbiens without pay for three days and required him to attend counselling with a workplace psychologist with a focus on boundaries and expectations. And in 2011, the Vancouver School District issued a letter of expectation to Desbiens after he taped a student’s mouth shut.

As part of the agreement, Desbiens must also complete a course in creating a positive learning environment by March 31, 2023.

In order to be eligible for a consent resolution agreement, Desbiens had to admit that the allegations were true and that they constituted professional misconduct.

Factors in the commissioner’s decision for a five-day suspension included Desbiens’ failure to create a positive learning environment for his students, that his actions jeopardized the physical and emotional safety of his students, and that he had been previously ordered to treat his students in a respectful way.

The ruling does not specify which school or schools where Desbiens had been teaching at the time.

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