The Peel District School Board, its director, vice-chair and two other staff members have launched legal action — targeting pro-Black Twitter accounts that have been posting rumoured instances of bigotry at the schools.
The accounts also post criticism of the board members for allegedly not doing enough to combat anti-Black racism in classrooms.
In a Notice of Application filed at the Superior Court of Ontario, the board’s director Peter Joshua and vice-chair David Green ask Twitter to produce names, email addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses, among other details, related to six Twitter accounts — many of which claim they are trying to hold board members accountable in eliminating racism from Peel schools.
The documents registered with the court in late May allege that the Twitter accounts “have intentionally perpetrated a campaign of defamation, posting false and misleading statements” about Joshua and Green since January of 2020.
The Notice of Application highlights more than 50 tweets by the six Twitter accounts that PDSB claims to be “defamatory”, alleging that they implied that some board members, including Joshua and Green, participate in racism.
Some of the tweets refer to school board members as “corrupt”, claiming they are “racist idiots” and that they have “colonized minds.”
The Notice of Application also states the PDSB is pursuing legal action to stop the leak of alleged confidential information, which it claims was tweeted out by the listed social media accounts.
One instance of confidential information being tweeted is alleged to have involved details in about planned letter that was to be written by senior PDSB staff and sent to Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce. The documents claim that knowledge of the intent to write a letter to Lecce was only conveyed to senior PDSB staff at a confidential meeting.
The document also adds that obtaining the personal information of the social media users behind the Twitter accounts is necessary “to determine against whom the PDSB has a cause of action and whether any other confidential information has been disclosed.”
“This is simply a fishing expedition,” said Alex Battick, a lawyer that has been retained to represent the people behind the Twitter accounts.
“It is no guarantee that even if that information that was supposedly confidential was tweeted from any of these accounts … it’s a huge leap to assume that those accounts are directly related to any employee or any member of the Peel school board,” Battick added. “For all they know, a third party could’ve picked up that information from anywhere.”
Battick alleges that public funds are being used by the school board in the legal action aimed at Twitter users.
“If the Peel School Board is attached to that (Notice of Application), then it’s not an individual that’s funding that school board’s litigation,” said Battick. “So the fact that the Peel District School Board is listed as an Applicant, there’s an obvious connection to them using their resources to fund that application.”
The legal action comes after two provincial reviews concluded systemic racism exists within the school board — one of the reports was released as recently as March and resulted in more than two dozen directives to combat anti-Black racism at Peel schools.
On Thursday, Lecce said the province will assign a supervisor to take over the board while it struggles to address racism and dysfunction. Bruce Rodrigues was appointed to the position. Officials said he has “an outstanding track record in Ontario’s publicly funded education system with commitment and passion to drive change.”
At least two PDSB trustees say that they were never consulted before the board went ahead with legal action.
“I actually didn’t hear it, I saw it on Twitter and I was quite shocked,” said PDSB trustee Kathy McDonald.
“The fact there’s a trustee and the board involved and that it was never brought to our attention, I just find it mind-boggling.”
Now, there is concern among trustees that this legal action will undo much of the work the board and province have done to combat anti-Black racism at Peel schools.
“It’s the wrong move in the direction of building a better relationship with the Black community and being able to really restore that relationship with their trust in our public education system,” said PDSB trustee Nokha Dakroub.
Dakroub adds that the Twitter accounts were helpful in bringing some alleged instances of racism to light.
“There has been instances that they have brought up issues that I was not aware of.”
In response to Global News’ request for an interview, PDSB vice-chair David Green would not comment on whether taxpayer dollars were being used in the legal action or if other trustees had been consulted before the Board filed the Notice of Application in the courts.
“My request is for twitter to hand over anonymous twitter accounts who have been attacking me and defaming my character,” said Green in an email.
“I was called the following names: the big black monkey sitting at vice chair, uncle Tom, the n-word, Judas, sell out, liar. They also used Twitter to spread false information about me, (and) threaten me,” Green alleges.
Green said it has nothing to do with the Board, but that it is a personal matter.
“What I plan to do with the names depend on whether or not the attack continues. Where are the funds coming from? That is confidential between my lawyer and me. However, I do not need board funds to fight my battles,” Green added.
PDSB Director Peter Joshua did not respond to Global News’ request by deadline. Global News had reached out to Joshua Saturday afternoon and had yet to receive a response 24-hours later.
Education minister calls for an end to legal action
In a tweet posted Monday, Lecce said he has asked the new PDSB supervisor to “immediately withdraw from litigation against community members to begin the process of driving change & meaningful engagement with those affected.”
“We cannot silence community,” he added.
“In fact, we need more community in these moments.”