Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montréal, December 7, 2020 –The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has asked the former Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board to pay a Black mother and her two children $65,000 in damages for racist bullying at school that included insults using the "N" word, and for failing to protect the children’s right to an education that is free from discrimination.

According to the mother, Asha, both her daughter and son, now 14 and 12 years old respectively, complained of multiple acts of violent physical intimidation and racist verbal insults from other students following their enrolment at Saint-Clément-Est school in Montreal in 2015, which falls under the authority of the CSMB (now Centre de services scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys). They were often insulted with slurs such as "You're dirty like all Africans” and "You're Black, you smell.”

Since his enrolment in 2015, the son, then 7 years old, was repeatedly harassed in the schoolyard, in class and on the bus. One time, he was physically pushed till he fell; another time he was hit in the face with a piece of ice; the school bus driver told him that he wanted to "casser la gueule" (“beat him up”).

Often frustrated, traumatized and marginalized, the son reacted by physically defending himself. However, he was often reprimanded by the school staff, while the harassers did not receive the same degree of punishment. The school administration once locked him up in a dark room with a special education technician and reportedly told him that when he turned 14, he would go to prison.

His sister, who was 11 at the time, was also subjected to violent and intimidating treatment. She was once punched in the back by a supervisor during lunchtime. Another time, a girl did not want to sit next to her because she did not like “her smell.” Another student told her, ”You look like poo because you're Black.”

As acts of bullying began to threaten her son's physical and psychological safety and seeing the school administration’s failure to take adequate action to protect him, the mother decided to homeschool her son, at the expense of her university studies. The school filed a report with youth protection authorities, which held an investigation and closed the file afterwards.

In 2018, when her daughter was attending another CSMB school, the Académie Saint-Clément, she was given an assignment by her teacher during Black History Month, to find the diminutives of common nouns, including the "N" word. When she raised her objection to the teacher, the teacher replied that the "N" word is still commonly used in French vocabulary and that he saw nothing wrong with it, referring to French-language works such as “Tintin au Congo” and Agatha Christie's “Les dix petits "N"”. Adding to the humiliation, the teacher even suggested the use of the term "négrillon" as a diminutive of the “N” word.

After weeks of unsuccessful discussions with the school principal to restore a climate of respect, that would include awareness-raising activities on racism, and a letter of apology to parents and children in the class, Asha decided to homeschool her daughter as well.

"Our life was hell for three years, to the point where my son did not want to go to school and I had to put my educational and career plans on hold to look after my children's wellbeing," said Asha.

"The worst experience was not only the constant physical and verbal abuse my children experienced, but more also and more importantly, the trivialization, neglect and inaction of the school board in the face of obvious acts of racism; the school principal did not even use the word 'racism' in his letter to parents. This is systemic racism pure and simple," she says.

The mother decided to file a complaint with the CDPDJ on behalf of both her children. In August 2020, the CDPDJ ruled in her favour, recommending that the CSMB pay each of her children $25,000 and the mother $15,000 in moral damages.
In addition, the CDPDJ asked the CSMB to adopt training on racism, including anti-Black racism, within one year, to be given every five years to all staff; to revise its plan to combat bullying and violence, particularly with regard to racially motivated acts; and to revise all teaching materials used in each school so that they are free of any racist connotations.

"Finally, the Human Rights Commission is seeking systemic remedies for racism in schools," said CRARR's Executive Director, Fo Niemi.

"This decision sets a new and very important threshold for all educational institutions in Quebec with regards to the obligation to act diligently and seriously against any act that creates a learning environment poisoned by racism, including the use and justification of the "N" word, for Black students and parents that violates their rights to equality, safety, and dignity," said Niemi.

The CMSB had until September 11, 2020 to comply with the measures requested. Following the failure of negotiations, the case will soon have to be brought before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.