Hate at school

Schools need to address supremacist hate-motivated acts.

“… I hate [racist slur]. I hope all [racist slur] die. … I just want to line them all up and just chuck an explosive in there and go ka-boom! “

Vancouver, B.C. student rant in an online video targeting Black students
Hate at school: Front cover of special report by tolerance.org
Hate at school: Front cover of special report by https://tolerance.org

Too many Canadians are touched by hatred, and it feels awful. Acts of hatred sear those they attack and it’s important to put clear policy in place to assure anyone facing deliberately hateful acts can access mechanisms that protect them, that bring justice, and that enable finding closure for everyone involved. In Vancouver schools, too many students and stakeholders report feeling that hateful acts are insufficiently addressed. Based on my work I believe there are concrete reason why.

The Vancouver Board of Education is set to vote on a pair of motions tonight that seek to address hatred and discrimination in our schools. It is important to note here that whether the person is hateful or not is not the issue when an act of hatred takes place, but the impact on the targeted person or group.

The two motions call respectively for:

  • VSB to direct the Superintendent of Schools to create a strategic plan that includes 1, 3, 5 – year actions that the district will take to address racism and discrimination in Vancouver Schools.
  • VSB hiring a field expert to advise the Board on policy and procedures that outline an impact-focused, structured response to discriminatory student conduct, specifically including acts of hate – with a process of restorative justice, accountability and restitution for impacted students and staff and for student perpetrators.
School Trustee Jennifer Reddy was elected to the Vancouver School Board in 2018

Put forward by School Trustee Jennifer Reddy following community consultation, the second motion is aimed at providing clarity about what protections can be expected, and offering learning opportunities to both the injured party and the perpetrator to help provide closure.

It is time for concrete policy that lays out consequences to the persons who do emotional violence to others through their hatred and offers mechanisms for carrying out justice that can be seen.

I urge our Trustees to vote in favour of these motions at tonight’s School Board meeting and to instruct staff that they consult with experts in the community and enact robust policy laying out explicit and concrete consequences for acts of hatred online or on their grounds. I further suggest they investigate basing policy on the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of hatred, with consequences proportional to the impact an action has on the targeted person or group.

There is a difference between the right laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for anyone to hold supremacist beliefs and any right to act on those ideas in a way that impacts others. Students, their families, and staff, in Vancouver’s schools deserve and need concrete protection in schools through policy and procedures. I sincerely hope to see all Trustees support these two motions and help staff implement them.

LGBTQ2+ communities and our allies campaigned for years to get a SOGI policy enacted in Vancouver schools that carried consequences, and the lack of a comprehensive policy addressing racism or the other prohibited grounds of discrimination at VSB feels downright embarassing.

To be targeted by hateful acts can be a devastating experience for the persons they target, whether or not the conduct warrants a criminal charge. In a unanimous 2013 decision, Supreme Court of Canada Justice J. Rothstein wrote that:

“Hate speech is an effort to marginalize individuals based on their membership in a group.  Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.  Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members.  It can have a societal impact.

Saskatchewan v Whatcott 2013 Supreme Court of Canada Decision

When anti-LGBT activist Bill Whatcott published and distributed a series of transphobic flyers hoping to keep me from being elected during the 2017 BC General Election, I remember feeling a very deep stinging humiliation from the hatred he communicated in his flyers. Nobody should feel that, especially children in a school system in which they have incomplete agency.

Because I am an adult and an experienced activist, I knew that seeking public office brought the risk that I might face something awful during the election. I also knew that the Elections Act and the BC Human Rights Code were in place to protect me. I knew their power and their limits. I filed a complaint before the tribunal and 2 grueling years later the Tribunal ruled in my favour and fined Bill Whatcott heavily for his conduct.

Today, as I consider the experience of the students targeted by an act of hatred on the basis of their race and initially milktoast response to the incident by a VSB that did not seem to initially take the situation sufficiently seriously with a 3-day suspension, the following paragraph from the BC Human Rights Tribunal decision on my complaint resonates with me:

“Unlike other groups protected by the Code, transgender people often find their very existence the subject of public debate and condemnation. What flows from this existential denial is, naturally, a view that transpeople [sic] are less worthy of dignity, respect, and rights. In the hearing room for this complaint, we were witness to repeated, deliberate, and flagrant attacks on Ms. Oger based on nothing more than a belief that her very existence is an affront.”

Oger v Whatcott 2019 BC Human Rights Tribunal Decision

Students and other stakeholders need a clear policy and explicit procedures describing how they can access justice within the regulatory framework of their school. They need a system that values diversity of ideas and views, and upholds everyone’s right to be protected from outrageous acts within their community. They also need policy makers to ensure that to the extent that it is possible everyone has the chance to learn from their mistakes before they become life-changing.

I am mindful of how the mandate letter to the Federal Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth outlines the need to combat online hate and harassment and ideologically-motivated extremism:

” I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities. In particular, you will:

… Support the work of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to ensure that all Canadian communities feel safe by combatting online hate and harassment and combatting ideologically-motivated violent extremism and terrorist organizations.”

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada

The Vancouver Board of Education has the unique opportunity to take early measures to support the Federal Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth of Canada by enacting the two motions that are before the board tonight. Vancouver School Board Trustees were elected to be leaders, and it’s time to lead.

If I were to advise the Vancouver Board of Education on any consideration to take under advisement while implementing these two motions after passing them, I would highlight to them that racism is one form of supremacist beliefs among too-long a list of discriminatory views our Province prohibits discrimination over.

I would remind the Vancouver Board of Education of the importance of protecting students, their families, and staff against any hate-motivated acts involving supremacist ideas. I would finally remind them that the mandate of the recently-reconstituted BC Human Rights Commission includes providing feedback to Provincial institutions such as school districts on matters of rights and hatred.

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