Quebec's Human Rights Tribunal has ordered a Montreal-area school board and two of its employees to pay a total of $17,000 in damages to the family of a Filipino-Canadian boy who was repeatedly reprimanded by a lunch monitor for eating with a fork and spoon at the same time.
Eleven-year old Luc Cagadoc was discriminated against by the board and its employees as a result of his ethnicity, the tribunal ruled in a decision made public on Friday.
The family of the boy, who was attending Grade 2 at Lalande School in Montreal's Roxboro district, filed a complaint with the province's Human Rights Commission after the conflict with the school administration in April 2006.
The boy's mother met with her son's lunch monitor, Martine Bertrand, after she told him that his habit of eating his noodles with both a fork and a spoon was disgusting.
Maria Gallardo said she explained that the practice was a tradition in the Filipino community, but that Bertrand was unwilling to compromise.
When Gallardo tried to meet with the school's principal to address the situation, Normand Bergeron dismissed the request and said her son should learn to eat like other Canadians.
On another occasion, when Luc had forgotten to wash his hands before eating, Bertrand asked whether hand-washing was a common practice in his country.
When she showed up at the school again to deal with the issue, Gallardo was sent a letter by the Marguerite-Bourgeoys school board ordering her not to return.
Boy glad case is over
Initially, the Human Rights Commission dismissed the case as an isolated incident, arguing that Cagadoc had been disciplined for clowning around, rather than for his way of eating.
But the boy's family fought on and the case was ultimately heard by the tribunal.
In its ruling, the tribunal concluded that the situation had been handled poorly by the school and the school board.
The situation led Luc to feel shame towards his ethnic origin and left him facing social exclusion and suffering from nervousness and insomnia, the tribunal's president Michèle Rivet wrote.
'Even though this case is over … I'm always going to remember how I was humiliated and discriminated [against],'—Luc Cagadoc
The court ordered the school board, Bergeron and Bertrand to each pay Luc's family $5,000 in damages for their cultural insensitivity. Bergeron was also fined $2,000 for his lack of remorse.
The tribunal said the Marguerite-Bourgeoys school board should have been particularly motivated to be more sensitive to intercultural relations after losing another much-publicized court battle to eject a Sikh student from a different school for carrying a ceremonial sword known as a kirpan.
"I just felt happy we won the case," said Luc, speaking with reporters in Montreal on Friday. "Even though this case is over … I'm always going to remember how I was humiliated and discriminated [against]."
Following the events, he said he was rejected by other students who would no longer let him participate in games like basketball and tag.
Now that he is attending a different school, Luc said he is "just living an ordinary kid's life."
His mother said the tribunal's ruling restores her confidence in the justice system.
"Seeing my little boy still proudly eating with spoon and fork gives me great pride for my heritage," she said.
The school board declined to comment saying its lawyers are currently studying the ruling.
All parties have 30 days to appeal the ruling.