Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montréal, Canada, October 2, 2008 --- The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has partly upheld a complaint of racial discrimination filed byCRARR on behalf of a Filipina mother whose son was exposed to discriminatory remarks and treatments for eating with a spoon and a fork in school.

In a decision sent to the parties last month, the Commission ruled that while the comments of educator M.B. were discriminatory and violated the boy’s rights, the Commission found no evidence that Luc, the then seven-year-old Grade 2 student, was reprimanded because of his cultural habit of eating with a fork and a spoon.

In May 2006, CRARR filed a complaint on behalf of Maria Gallardo, Luc’s mother, who complained that Luc was subjected to negative verbal remarks and other conduct by Ms. B. because of his eating with a spoon and a fork the Ecole Lalande, a school of the Marguerite Bourgeoys School Board located in the West end of Montreal. Luc’s eating manner was deemed to be messy and “disgusting” by Ms. B. In another incident, she asked Luc, in a “humoristic” manner, whether “Filipinos washed their hands before they eat” (although in her written representation, she said she asked Luc whether “in his country, do people wash their hands before they eat?”. Luc was born in the Philippines but came to Canada at the age of 8 months).

When Ms. Gallardo brought the matter to school principal N.B., he allegedly told her that “you are here in Canada... you should eat the way Canadians eat.” Later in a press article, he also stated that “here, this is not the manner in which we eat... I don’t necessarily want students to eat with one hand or with only one instrument, I want them to eat intelligently at the table... I have never seen somebody eat with a spoon and a fork at the same time.”

In the decision dated August 18, 2008 and transmitted to the parties on September 12, 2008, the Commission considered Ms. B.’s comment related to hand-washing in Luc’s “country” to be discriminatory, but an isolated incident. Furthermore, the Commission ruled that Luc was actually reprimanded by Ms. B. for his “inconvenient” eating manner at lunch and his acting like a clown, rather than for his culture-based eating with a fork and a spoon. The Commission chose not to bring the case before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal and suggested mediation for the parties.

Reacting to the decision at a press conference attending by supporting Filipino Montrealers, Ms. Gallardo expressed dissatisfaction and disappointment over the fact that the Commission seemed to have:

❐ ignored the exchanges between her and Ms. B. over the fact that eating with a spoon and a fork is part of the Filipino culture (Ms. B. pointed to a Filipina girl who ate with the spoon alone to claim that eating with two ustensils is not part of the Filipino culture);
❐ failed to rule on whether statements allegedly made by the school principal in a
telephone conversation with Ms. Gallardo and in the West Island Chronicle interview, were discriminatory; and
❐ ignored CRARR’s questions as to whether the school board had policies to define and prevent racial discrimination, whether school personnel had adequate training on anti-racism and whether this contributed to the incident.

“In going over the investigation report and the final decision, we have the distinct impression that the human rights commission not only gave more weight to the School board’s version, but that it also had problems understanding racism and its manifestations in a systemic and subtle manner. Key witnesses were not interviewed and important evidence not assessed,” she added.

“Frankly, my family and I believe that the Commission did not investigate and analyzed our complaint properly and fairly because it has difficulties understanding systemic racism,” she added.

Ms. Gallardo’s concerns are shared by CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi. “We are very concerned that the Quebec Human Rights Commission handled a case with elements of systemic racism in education and school disciplines, without having policy positions on these issues in order to analyze the case properly, especially in assessing the organizational culture and institutional, not individual, practices.”

“Sadly, after all these years of recommendation, we are still waiting for the Commission to adopt a policy and develop investigation guidelines on systemic racism in education or employment,” he added.

Mr. Niemi stressed that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has adopted comprehensive policies on racism in education and even concluded settlement agreements with school boards in cases of racially biased conduct of school personnel and school sanctions that discriminate against racialized and disabled students.

CRARR is waiting for access to the investigation file and will study with the family the possibility of bringing the case before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal by the statutory deadline in early December 2008.

Since Ms.Gallardo will have to take legal action at her own costs, financial donations from all over Canada and the U.S. are being sought now to help fund the lawsuit.