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Former Winnipeg Catholic school student speaks out about racist environment

Lack of action, frustration lead Winnipeg father to speak out about racist bullying at Catholic high school
WATCH: The high school at the centre of the controversy has since hired an independent conflict mediator and clinical psychologist to lead an internal review, after a black Winnipeg man pulled his children from classes over racially-based bullying he says was never properly addressed. Global's Malika Karim has the story.

Jason Pinder says his daughter was subject to harassment and anti-Black racism when attending St. Boniface Diocesan High School in 2017 and 2018. He says he chatted with the school’s principal on numerous occasions but nothing was done to make his daughter feel safe.

“St. Boniface Diocesan High School definitely has a culture of anti-Black racism,” Jason said. “And when I say culture, I mean it’s very deep-seated.”

Jason’s daughter, Imani, says the harassment from fellow students was astonishing.

“There’s this kid that would wait for the bus with me every single day and he would show me videos or pictures of the KKK rallies, Black people being hung,” Imani recalls. “Saying racial slurs to my face or in a song.

“He would get the other kids to contribute to this behaviour.”

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Read more: Indigenous teacher alleges systemic racism within the Calgary Catholic School District

Imani says she went to school administrators to report what certain students around her were saying, but that nothing was done.

She created an Instagram page to combat the racism, posting about her experiences and using it to educate others. In retaliation, classmates created a “white lives matter” page, mocking her activism and bullying her online.

Jason says their family decided to take both their children out of St. Boniface Diocesan High School following an incident around Halloween 2018 in which students suggested they paint a pumpkin black and name it Imani.

“I think its ridiculous, because as adults you’re supposed to be making kids feel safe, you’re supposed to be the person that kids can turn to when things happen, and the fact that Black kids and myself can’t do that is sad,” Imani said.

Although the Pinder families’ concerns were not heard in 2018, Jason felt he needed to say something now.

“I sent a letter to the Catholic Schools Board and the Archdiocese of St. Boniface,” Jason said. “Out of response of what I’m seeing across Canada, and the United States and around the world. People getting together, speaking out against anti-black racism.”

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In a statement to Global News, the high school confirms they received complaints, saying the students were disciplined and the student who was bullied was offered support.

“We can confirm we received  complaints from the student in the fall of 2017 and in early 2018 respecting racially based bullying from other students.

At the time we:

  • acted immediately to investigate the complaint
  • contacted the families of the students involved in the bullying
  • disciplined the students involved in the bullying.
  • we offered support for the child who was bullied.

We recognized at the time that we needed to listen and learn more deeply about what we could do differently to continue to create a safer environment at school.”

The Pinders say one student was suspended for one day, with no other changes made to help combat racism at the school.

Read more: Prominent Winnipeggers on personal experiences with racism

Imani says it’s not enough.

“If a kid makes a whole hate page in my opinion I feel like that deserves expulsion,” Imani said. “They talk so much about cyber bullying and how that’s so bad. He was basically cyber bullying. All these kids were cyber bullying.

“How come they weren’t taken serious enough? We’re taught that’s a crime. So I don’t understand why as soon as it’s racism, people just want to brush it under the rug and act like it doesn’t happen.”

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‘I want them to know systematic racism is real’: Black Lives Matter Calgary
‘I want them to know systematic racism is real’: Black Lives Matter Calgary

Since writing the letter, the Pinder’s met with the Archdiocese of St. Boniface, who he says told them changes do need to be made.

The high school now says they’ve hired an independent conflict mediator and clinical pPsychologist to lead an internal review.

“We know we have more work to do, which is why this week we have asked an independent, impartial and experienced person to lead an internal review. We have invited students or parents or staff to meet with the reviewer privately and confidentially. The expert we’ve hired is a conflict mediator and clinical psychologist with decades of experience in trauma and has worked at both Menno Simons College and the University of Winnipeg,” the high school said in a statement.

“The goal of this review is to ensure the best policies and practices are in place at St. Boniface Diocesan High School to promote and support a culture of respect and ensure student safety, security and well-being as it relates to racism.

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“It’s unclear how long her review will take, but when it is complete we will share a summary of her recommendations and our plans to implement those recommendations with our parents, staff, alumni and students.”

“I don’t know what this review will do, but I hope it makes some systemic change,” Jason said.