No 'terrorists' or 'pocahotties': Toronto schools set out Halloween costume ground rules

Toronto schools are taking action in hopes of preventing students from picking Halloween costumes deemed offensive.

With Halloween around the corner, schools have prepared dos and don’ts for students

Spiderman costumes are fine, but a number of other costumes, like Pocahontas, gypsy or terrorist, are finding themselves on the 'no' list of many Toronto schools. (Alex Wong/Getty)

As Halloween approaches, educational institutions in Toronto are releasing guidelines to prevent students from picking costumes that are deemed offensive.

The conversation around which costumes are appropriate and which aren't has heated up over the last few years, with students catching flack for opting to dress in blackface or as Middle Eastern sheiks and Viet Cong fighters. In 2015, a Liberal MP was forced to apologize for wearing a costume based on an Asian ethnic stereotype

The Conseil Scolaire Viamonde, a French-language public school board with 13 schools in Toronto, sent a checklist out to parents listing dos and don'ts, including avoiding costumes where students dress as stereotypes (such as terrorist or gypsy) or change the colour of their skin.

"We wanted to start a conversation," said Viamonde spokesperson Claire Francoeur on CBC Radio's Here and Now. Francoeur said the students will also take part in discussion groups at school — though no students will be sent home for costumes that don't comply.

The dos and don'ts list sent to parents from Conseil Scolaire Viamonde, which includes bullet points about avoiding stereotypes, transphobia, and historical oppression in their costumes. (CBC )

The Toronto District School Board costume memo, penned by a leader at its Aboriginal Education Centre, calls out costumes like 'Pocahottie' and 'Tribal Temptation'" and encourages teachers to sit down with students and discuss what makes some costumes hurtful.  

Security will screen costumes at college party

Post-secondary institutions are also taking up the cause: at the University of Toronto, plans are in motion for a social media campaign during the week leading up to Halloween that addresses not only what costumes should be avoided, but why.

"I think when going into these conversations ... one thing that's missing from a lot of this discourse is the emphasis on empathy," said Chimwe Alao, the vice president of equity with the U of T Students' Union.

It's costumes like these - 'Indian Warrior' and 'Reservation Royalty' - that educational institutions are hoping to avoid. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Ignite, the association representing Humber and Guelph-Humber college students, has posted a list of rules online and says security officers will pre-screen costumes prior to the school's upcoming Halloween party.

"Regardless of how well-intentioned your costume may be, it can still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas. Cultural costumes will not be permitted into the event; this is a zero-tolerance policy," the rules read.

About the Author

Kate McGillivray

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Kate McGillivray is a jill-of-all-trades at CBC Toronto, working as a reporter in the field and on the digital desk. Originally from west-end Toronto, she began her reporting career in Montreal and Sherbrooke, Quebec and is now thrilled to be home. She likes going places and meeting people.