Human Rights Commission awards Quebec mother $65K over racism, bullying at kids’ school

In this March 2018 file photo, CRARR's Fo Niemi (left) can be seen sitting next to mothers Asha (centre) and Nathalie (right). The Quebec Human Rights Commission has awared Asha and her two children $65,000. Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Felicia Parrillo/Global News

A Quebec mother and her two children have been awarded $65,000 by the province’s Human Rights Commission, which found against a Montreal-area school board over allegations of racism, aggression and failure to provide a racism-free school environment.

The decision, which was issued in July but only came to light Monday, found the Marguerite-Bourgeoys school service centre in Montreal was at fault.

With no agreement between the parties, the case will now go before the province’s human rights tribunal next year, said the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), who helped the mother bring the case before the commission.

“This is a very important decision in terms of the amount of damages awarded to victims — especially children — of racism in a school,” Fo Niemi, the executive director of CRARR, said Monday.

“Given the systemic remedies asked by the commission, this will certainly have an overall impact on every school board or service centre — French and English — in Quebec.”

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Click to play video: 'Fighting racism-based bullying in schools'
Fighting racism-based bullying in schools

The board — which is now known as a service centre under changes to Quebec’s education system — did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The mother, identified by her first name Asha to protect her children, said the case involved racist bullying and harassment over a three-year span before she pulled her son, now 12, and her daughter, now 14, out of the school. The children are Black.

The rights commission investigated the complaints and found evidence of anti-Black comments from other students, with school authorities not doing enough to end the discrimination.

Instead, authorities often blamed Asha’s son under the pretext of having a difficult personality and questioned the seriousness of the incidents. It also found that he was the victim of differential treatment when it came to disciplinary measures: downplayed when he was a victim but severely punished when he was the initiator of the altercation.

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Asha also filed a complaint about her daughter, who received a homework assignment involving the N-word.

The recommendations in the rights commission’s decision included requiring school staff and students to undergo regular anti-racism training and a review all educational materials to remove racist references.

Niemi noted Quebec schools are required to have anti-bullying policies, but they failed Asha’s kids.

She pulled her son out of the school in 2017 and her daughter a year later. She said her son, who was just seven when the incidents began, still feels the impact of the bullying. “I cannot say he’s OK 100 per cent. We have a lot of work to do still,” she told a Zoom call with reporters.

In 2018, Asha went public with a complaint after her then 11-year-old daughter was sent home with a homework assignment involving the N-word.

The exercise involved a long list of French nouns, which included various objects and animals. Among them was the French version of the N-word. The publisher subsequently changed the material.

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“The school regularly denied racism,” Asha said Monday. “A teacher even said the N-word wasn’t racist in the French language because it is used in French books.”

Niemi said in terms of the N-word, too often the debate is framed from the perspective of freedom of speech versus equality and anti-racism.

“The N-word is not just about an intellectual or philosophical debate,” Niemi said. “The N-word in the context of the classroom is about creating a racially-poisoned and toxic environment for Black students and Black parents who experience the effect of that racist expression.”

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