The Ottawa teen arrested for spray-painting hateful graffiti onto religious buildings has a history of violent and anti-Semitic behaviour dating to at least last November, according to a human rights complaint filed by the parents of a student at a local school.

Jim and Laura Armitage filed a complaint claiming the school and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) should have done more to protect their son — who was the target of multiple anti-Semitic incidents — and should also have found a way to help the teen.

In their complaint, they describe the teen as a troubled, violent youth with a penchant for engraving swastikas and hateful language onto students' property, school equipment, and even a teacher's car.

The family reached out to police last week with information about the teen in custody, based on their experience a year earlier.

"It's sad all around," said Laura Armitage in an interview with CBC News. 

"It's sad for the community. It's sad for the boy now facing charges. And we need to — as a community — examine what happened here and make changes."

The teen is currently in police custody, facing 20 charges for the vandalism of six different religious buildings last week. 

Six of the charges are related to breaching conditions from convictions earlier this year as a result of the police investigation of the attacks on Armitage's son.

"It was unnecessary," said Jim Armitage. "It didn't have to go this far."

Laura and Jim Armitage

Laura and Jim Armitage have filed a human rights complaint against the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. (CBC)

Assaults and death threats, complaint alleges

The events are laid out in a 23-page complaint made to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario last spring against the OCDSB.

The main complaint suggests the board failed to provide a safe school environment for their son, who shared shop class with the teen — referred to as "AB" in the OCDSB's response to the tribunal.

Armitage's son, who was in Grade 12 at the time, is alleged to have been the victim of repeated assaults and death threats by "AB" during the first semester of the 2015-16 school year.

According to the complaint, the situation came to a head in November 2015 when the shop teacher had class equipment and his car vandalized with swastikas and other racist slogans.

"AB" was suspended until the end of the term but returned after the Christmas break.

"The accused is motivated by hate, anti-Semitism and white supremacy beliefs and objectives," the complaint states, further suggesting that his actions were known and being investigated by the school, the board and Ottawa Police Service's hate crimes unit.

Facebook profile page

A screenshot from the teen's Facebook page. The Armitage family's human rights complaint includes a note that the teen's Facebook page "exhibits a concentrated devotion to the underlying hate and belief system that he acts upon." (Screen grab )

The complaint notes that "AB" also allegedly:

  • Engraved a swastika on both a car and a hoist in the shop class.
  • Engraved a swastika on the victim's binder.
  • Vandalized the victim's family's car with a swastika, male genitals and the words, "greetings b--ch."
  • Repeatedly "uttered disturbing and gruesome references about the holocaust" to the victim.
  • Repeatedly "uttered [the victim's] home address to him as a threat to his personal safety and to his family."
  • Repeatedly asked the victim if he is Jewish, even though he is not.
Armitage graffiti

Jim Armitage noticed the graffiti on his family's car last year looked strikingly similar to graffiti found on religious buildings in Ottawa last week, prompting the family to call police. (Jim Armitage)

Anna Maranta Graffiti

The Armitage family said the person responsible for the graffiti on their car had the same distinct handwriting as the person who left graffiti last week at a home where a woman holds a Jewish prayer group. (Jim Armitage)

"In this environment of active hate and anti-Semitic demonstrations at [the school], [the victim] was singled out and targeted by the accused with escalating acts of violence and threats," according to the complaint.

The parents accuse the board of failing to expel the teen despite a number of alleged acts of violence they felt satisfied the board's criteria for expulsion, including:

  • Brandishing, possessing and repeatedly using an ice pick as a weapon in shop class.
  • Using a weapon to threaten another person — for instance, pretending to slit his throat and making jabbing motions.
  • Expressing hate-motivated thoughts through the destruction of school property, staff property, and student property. 
  • Expressing hate-motivated thoughts and beliefs through assault and death threats.

In one incident described in the complaint, the teen threw an object into the shop class's chop saw while the victim was operating it — an act the teacher suggested at the time could have badly hurt the operator.

'Immediate action' 

During a meeting on Nov. 24, 2015, described in the human rights complaint, the shop class teacher "specifically discussed the safety of the applicant and the anti-Semitic actions of student 'AB.'"

The teacher demanded the principal remove the student and "stated that he would turn out the lights and lock the door if the principal would not take immediate action," according to the complaint.

The student was suspended formally until Dec. 15, 2015, according to the school board's response to the complaint.

At the same time, the board's response suggests it became aware of charges laid against the teen under the Young Offenders Act, including bail conditions that prevented "AB" from attending the school.

The criminal charges included uttering threats and assault and were being investigated by the Ottawa Police Service's hate crimes unit, according to the Armitage family's complaint.

It was within days following the school suspension, the complaint says, that the victim's family car was vandalized with the swastika and other engravings.

The family upgraded its home security and invested in surveillance video cameras. The bail condition, however, was lifted by the following term, which — according to the school board's response — launched a process for the school to re-accept the suspended student.

Teen posed 'low risk,' board claims

The victim's family launched the complaint after school officials told them in January 2016 that they could not guarantee the protection of their son. They also decided, following that meeting, that their son would not be going back to the school.

In its response, the OCDSB said that a school board psychologist undertook a risk assessment of "AB" before his return to school.

"The results of the assessment indicated that [the teen] posed a low risk of causing harm to the applicant or others at [the school]," the board response said.

The teen was placed in a special program known as "house building," in which students spend most of their time outside the school.

The family, however, wrote in its complaint that the OCDSB "failed to address the behavioural problems of a dangerous offender motivated by anti-Semitic and white supremacy hate."

'Speaking up came with a promise the system would protect [the victim], and a promise to deliver a program of rehabilitation and support for the accused.' - From the Armitage family's human rights complaint

The board also failed to protect their son, they wrote, who — after two months of keeping some of the abuse to himself — had been promised that speaking out would include protection.

"Speaking up came with a promise the system would protect [the victim], and a promise to deliver a program of rehabilitation and support for the accused," the family said in its complaint.

Parents seeking 'charter of rights' against hate

The Armitage family is now seeking $100,000 and is calling for a charter of rights for students who suffer religious, racial and hate-motivated assault, abuse and threats while in school.

The board denies the Armitage family's allegations, including their claim that there was "a poisoned school environment after the incidents were reported." In its response, the OCDSB said the family's complaints "constitute nothing more than mistaken understanding of fact, pure speculation and the subjective beliefs of the applicant and his parents."

The board also denies it failed in its duties under the Education Act, arguing that "the sanctions imposed on student 'AB' were reasonable and appropriate."

The board is asking the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to hold a summary hearing and rule that the complaint has "no reasonable prospect of success."

The allegations have not yet been heard by the tribunal, according to a spokesperson.