Plagiarism at Toronto Star Exposed, Chris Spence Quits School Board Job

iMediaEthics publishes international media ethics news stories and investigations into journalism ethics lapses.


Home » Plagiarism»

(Credit: Toronto Star, screenshot, highlight added)

The unraveling of a plagiarism scandal that cost Toronto District School Board’s director of education Chris Spence his job started with his plagiarism in a Toronto Star editorial.

As the Star revealed in one of its reports on Spence’s plagiarism, the Star’s public editor Kathy English learned Spence plagiarized from a 1989 New York Times article and others after a reader tip.

Spence owned up to his plagiarism in Star’s op-eds, saying he “was careless and sloppy and rushed, and I should have given credit to some of the work I used.”  And, the Star tacked a “Public Editor’s Note” to the top of that article explaining the plagiarism and attribution issues and listing the sources Spence failed to provide. The note reads:

“Public Editor’s note: This Opinion article includes substantial unattributed material from several other sources. Those sources include the ‘Coaching Excellence’ blog of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, the blog, Pro Sport Chick, an online encyclopedia and a 1989 Op-Ed article in the New York Times written by Anita L. Defrantz, then president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles and a current member of the International Olympic Committee. Spence has acknowledged  that he plagiarized parts of his article and apologized to the Star and its readers.”

English also published a Jan. 9 post about the plagiarism noting that Spence apologized for the plagiarism, and the Star also pointed to Spence’s Jan. 9 “lengthy apology on the board’s website” in which he openly explained that he plagiarized “in no less than five different instances.”

“I am ashamed and embarrassed by what I did. I have invited criticism and condemnation, and I richly deserve both,” he said. Spence also listed several steps he plans to take because of his failure and in order to “set a clear example” for students, including:

  • “I intend to enroll myself in the Ethics and Law in Journalism course offered by Ryerson University. A component of that course is identification, and avoidance, of plagiarism. I will enroll in that course at the earliest opportunity.”
  • “I intend to identify any place where the discredited op-ed has appeared, online or off, and take concrete steps to have it completely removed, with my full retraction and apology put in its place.”
  • Publicizing his apology and giving a apology “unreservedly and categorically”

However, that wasn’t the end of it. After the initial case of plagiarism was exposed, the National Post busted Spence for plagiarizing in “several additional” cases.   The Globe and Mail added that Spence may also have questionable attribution in his dissertation as “passages…appear copied from unattributed sources.”

Check out a side-by-side comparison of some of the dissertation and other Spence articles or speeches with original sourcing published by the Toronto Star.   In that, the Star listed affected articles by Spence for the Star:

  1. May 5, 2010 “Full service schools offer more than just education
  2. Dec. 16, 2012 “Connecticut School Shooting: ‘Heavy with Hurt’ in Toronto
  3. Jan. 5, 2013 “Without school sports, everyone loses

According to the Star‘s report, the Post said Spence’s December op-ed for the Toronto Star contained “Huge swaths…from a grab bag of sources: the Post-Dispatch, the Sacramento Bee and the San Diego Union-Tribune.”   Interestingly, as of late evening on Jan. 10, that article contained no editor’s note or disclosure of any apparent plagiarism, but by mid-day Jan.11 — a couple hours after iMediaEthics’ inquiry to the Star about the lack of a notice, a “public editor’s note” had been appended disclosing Spence’s plagiarism. That reads:

“Public Editor’s note: This Opinion article includes unattributed material from several other sources. Those sources include an article by Aisha Sultan  of  the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Melissa Arca of the Sacramento Bee and Neil Hokanson’s letter to San Diego Union Tribune.  Spence has since resigned as director of education for the Toronto District School Board.”

Spence ended up stepping down from his position with the school district over the plagiarism.

iMediaEthics has written to Star public editor Kathy English asking

  • For a count of how many of Spence’s Star articles contained plagiarism
  • What the Star‘s procedure for indicating plagiarized content to readers will be?
  • If the Star will be adding notes to all of Spence’s content disclosing the plagiarism scandal even if there isn’t plagiarism in an article?
  • If the reader who tipped the Star off to the plagiarism wished to remain anonymous
  • what the review of Spence’s work included

An email has also been sent to the school district seeking comment and asking if it will be adding disclosures of this issue to any of Spence’s blog posts on the district’s website. We’ll update with any responses.

Submit a tip / Report a problem

Plagiarism at Toronto Star Exposed, Chris Spence Quits School Board Job

Share this article: