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Montréal, December 16, 2020 – It is now the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board’s turn to pay a Black mother and her two Black sons $30,000 in damages for repeated acts of racist harassment and aggression in school, including insults using the N-word slur and institutional failure to end and prevent such racist incidents.

In Winter 2017, Adrienne Charles, a Terrebonne resident, publicly denounced acts of racist bullying directed at her two sons by their classmates since 2016 at McCaig Elementary School in Rosemere, a school that is predominantly white. After the departure of a Black principal in 2016, racist incidents became more explicit and virulent towards her two sons, who were 8 and 11 at the time. These acts include:
• A Latin American student who said on the bus where her older son was sitting, that her mother compared Black people to gorillas;
• Another female student told her older son that Black people are dirty, and that she would not touch him. When asked by the Vice-Principal to shake his hands as a way to make amends, she did so but immediately wiped her hands in front of her son and the Vice-Principal;
• Her younger son was hit in the stomach by a classmate who also called him the N-word;
• In February 2017, as part of activities on bullying, white students called her sons “Golden N-” when the latter were coming off of the bus.

Her older son frequently complained of being the target of racial slurs, jokes and physically aggressive acts by other students, which created an unbearable toxic environment for him and his brother. The effects of racial harassment and violence undermined the boys’ physical and psychological safety as well as their self-esteem.

“It was months of constant stress and insecurity for us. As a mother, I lived through trauma to the point where it became so exhausting that I had to go on sick leave from my job,” Charles said.

On numerous occasions, Charles complained to school authorities which, according to her, often trivialized the racist incidents, treating them as if they were isolated situations rather than indicative of a systemic problem.

For instance, on one occasion, a school manager challenged her son’s version of an incident because, in his view, the student who had made the anti-Black comment was of Latin American background, and therefore ‘could not be racist.’ Ultimately, the school failed to take the necessary corrective and preventive measures to end the frequent violence directed at her sons.

After denouncing her situation to the media, Charles successfully forced the school to send a letter to parents asking them to explain to their children that racist insults in school were unacceptable. However, the letter praises general values of multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity without sufficiently addressing her sons’ experiences with anti-Black racism at the school.

In her opinion, the Chair of the SWLSB at the time, who is today a member of the National Assembly, should have acted more adequately against racist bullying directed at her sons.

“The problem is one of violent anti-Black racism. They talked to me about tolerance, celebrating diversity and anti-homophobia, but never specifically addressed the anti-Black racism my sons were experiencing. I was and am still very disappointed by the lack of effective actions to protect my sons,” Charles stated.

In May 2017, she sought CRARR’s help in filing a complaint against the SWLSB with the Human Rights Commission for racial discrimination. After three years of investigation, the Commission ruled that her sons were effectively victims of discrimination and harassment based on race and color.

The Commission is seeking a total of $30,000 in damages from the School Board and three school management team members. More specifically, it is seeking $12,000 for each of her two sons and $6,000 for Charles herself.

The Commission also asks that the SWLSB take measures to ensure the effective implementation of its anti-bullying plan and to offer training to all staff on an ongoing basis.

“As with the case of racism in education that we presented last week, this case shows the need for systemic solutions to systemic problems. School service centers and the Ministry of Education should take note,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi.

The SWLSB had until December 4 to comply with the measures sought by the Commission. Since it declined to do so, the case will head to the Human Rights Tribunal.

Charles is planning to file additional complaints with the Human Rights Commission for her sons who have experienced other racist insults in 2018 and 2019 at the same school.