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RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AND BULLYING AT SCHOOL: PARENTS SLAM THE EDUCATION MINISTER’S INACTION



Montreal, November 23, 2017 — Quebec Education Minister’s Sébastien Proulx needs to acknowledge his responsibilities in protecting racialized children and teenagers who are affected by racial discrimination and bullying at school. He must stop lending a deaf ear to this growing serious problem.

This call to action is sent to the Minister by three racialized parents who broke the silence to call out the minister personally about the dire lack of action by the Quebec government in the fight against racism in the province’s schools.

These three cases illustrate the inadequate institutional reactions to a very pressing situation which require immediate solutions:

❏ Case 1: “Gabriel”, 8 years old, of African origin, attends a Marguerite Bourgeoy School Board elementary school. From his enrolment in September 2015, his 11-year old sister and himself have been the targets of racial slurs (“you are dirty like all Africans”) and acts of physical intimidation and assault from other students as well as from school staff, including a bus driver. Whenever Gabriel has tried to react to the acts of harassment, he has been subjected to, by physically defending himself, he was the one to receive the blame.

His mother has tried several times, to no avail, complain about the situation before the school administration. Finally, fearing for the well-being of her child, “Gabriel’s” parents decided to withdraw him from the school and opted for home-schooling, with the help of a specialized organization.

❏ Case 2: “Emmanuel”, 18 years old, of Haitian origin, attends a Des Affluents School Board secondary school. Last May, during a lesson break, he said hi to another Black student with a handslap. Suspecting that an illegal transaction had just took place, the female assistant director forced both youngsters to undergo a body search. As Emmanuel refused to be frisked by a person of the other gender, he was expelled from the school on the spot. Pursuant to the Education Act, he filed a formal complaint before the Council of Commissioners about these two abusive actions by the school. However, the Council did not care to respond. His father then wrote to Minister Proulx, who also did not respond to his request. CRARR wrote to the Minister and to the school board president. To this day, neither has responded.

❏ Case 3: “Audrey”, a 16 year-old Asian girl, has attended Collège Charlemagne, a private school since 2005. During the 2014-2015 school year, she was intimidated by other female students, but obtained no protection from the school. On the contrary she was sanctioned by the school for her verbal reactions to the acts of intimidation; she was eventually expelled in October 2017 on the basis of a single remark she made about her harasser . Until then, her parents had never been informed of the situation and of the recourses available to them. Reacting to a complaint by Audrey’s father, the Education Ministry recognized that the measures available to fight intimidation, and to help Audrey and her parents in this situation had not been applied. Except for this recognition, no further action was taken by the authorities to protect the rights of Audrey and her parents.

“Neither the minister nor the school boards abide by a law that spells out very clearly their obligations concerning students’ rights to a school environment without racism nor intimidation”, says Asha , Gabriel’s mother. ”The law against intimidation does not work in real life, especially when children of color are involved. I received no help from the school board. Instead, they reported us to the YPD,” she added.

For Emmanuel’s father, “the way my son was treated is an example of the systemic racism that exists in the education system, starting from the top , at the minister’s office level which seems to consider that the unfair treatment of a black youth is a non-event, not worthy of ministerial intervention.”

For Audrey’s father, the problem extends much farther than the school board. After CRARR filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, both father and daughter were interrogated by a white female lawyer during a 90-minute preliminary assessment of the complaint. The lawyer questioned at the outset the credibility of the racism allegations, and through an intimidating and inquisitive tone, ended up re-traumatizing the young girl, who was visible under undue pressure and unable to correctly answer questions.

“I complained to the Commission about the way my daughter was treated by their lawyer, but my complaint went nowhere as expected,” says Audrey’s father. “The Commission needs to hire more investigators coming from racialized minorities who have the competency and experiences to help children and youths of color, ” he stressed.

The underrepresentation of Black, Anglophone, and English-speaking racialized lawyers in the legal affairs department (which prepares legal opinions and cases to bring before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal) and the investigation department, has long been a systemic problem at the Commission.

From these parents’ experiences, it is obvious that racialized students are too often treated as the offenders by school authorities when, in fact, they are the victims of systemic intimidation and discrimination. Not only are they unjustly and severely punished, but that their complaints are often ignored by the Education Ministry as well as the Human Rights Commission. This indicates a worrisome trend toward the trivialization of acts of racial discrimination acts in schools.

Since January, CRARR has received 20 requests for help from racialized parents. However, it notes that parents from the Haitian and North African communities prefer not to file complaints as they have little faith in the justice system in Quebec and fear reprisals.

While there is no plan in Quebec to combat systemic racism in the province’s school system, parents and advocates in Ontario and other North American jurisdictions have sued school boards and schools for their practices that make schools into a “pipeline to prisons” for racialized youths, and anti-bullying measures that in effect disproportionately penalize students of color.