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.
- Halloween stores starting to get the 'appropriation' message
- Are we overthinking costumes?
- Your Kids' Costumes Matter: How Not To Be A Jerk This Halloween
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 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.
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.