HWDSB trustee files complaint about 3 other trustees who supported student's claim of racism

Carole Paikin Miller made a code of conduct complaint against Maria Felix Miller, Cam Galindo and Paul Tut for supporting a student trustee who said someone on the board used a racial slur.

Carole Paikin Miller made a code of conduct complaint against Maria Felix Miller, Cam Galindo and Paul Tut

Trustees Maria Felix-Miller, Cam Galindo and Paul Tut attended Ahona Mehdi's press conference in August and stood behind her in solidarity. They are shown here behind student speaker Ruby Hye. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A Hamilton public school board trustee has filed a code of conduct complaint against three fellow trustees for attending a press conference where a student trustee said there was racism on the board.

Carole Paikin Miller, a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustee for Ward 5 (Centennial), says fellow trustees Maria Felix Miller, Cam Galindo and Paul Tut shouldn't have attended an Aug. 3 press conference by Ahona Mehdi. At the press conference, Mehdi detailed allegations of racism while being a student trustee, and serving on the board was the "most patronizing experience of my life."

In her complaint, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News, Paikin Miller said their attendance violated the rule of "procedural fairness and unbiased process."

By attending, the trustees "indicated [their] position on the allegations against other members of the HWDSB."

The board is doing an internal investigation into Mehdi's allegations right now, and by attending, the trustees showed they will be "biased in favour of the accuser and not neutral."

Board chair Alex Johnstone and director of education Manny Figueiredo also attended the press conference but were not named in the complaint. During the event, Felix Miller (Ward 3), Galindo (Ward 9) and Tut (Ward 13) stood behind Mehdi as she spoke.

Mehdi said, among other allegations, that a trustee used the "N-word" to describe tennis star Serena Williams.

Figueiredo said that day that an investigation into the racial slur and the other allegations could result in sanctions implemented by the board of trustees, including censuring some trustees from participating in board or committee meetings.

Tut also tweeted that any trustee, or person of authority, who uses racist language should be removed from their position.

Neither Paikin Miller nor the trustees named in the code of conduct complaint would comment on Tuesday. Neither would HWDSB. 

"Our code of conduct processes are considered confidential until they are investigated," Johnstone said in an email.

Ahona Mehdi raised allegations of racism and oppression based on her experience as a student trustee with the HWDSB for the 2019-2020 school year. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Mehdi said it spoke volumes that the complaint is against the three racialized members of the board. 

She also wouldn't comment on whether Paikin Miller was part of her allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

"I will just say her filing this complaint speaks for itself," she said.

"It's honestly not shocking."

Under HWDSB trustee code of conduct, the chair or vice-chair will conduct inquiries into potential breaches. When appropriate, alternate trustees will be appointed, and if they can't agree on a finding, an outside consultant. Appointments to the code of conduct review committee was on the agenda for Monday's board meeting, but it was cancelled due to a power outage and rescheduled for Oct. 5.

Carole Paikin Miller, second from left, represents Ward 5 with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Paikin Miller is shown at a 2015 event with, from left, her husband Paul Miller (NDP MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and then-party leader Tom Mulcair. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Potential sanctions include censuring the trustee, or barring that trustee from attending meetings or sitting on committees. 

Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University associate professor who studies critical race theory in the faculty of social work, says trustees should be encouraged to attend events where racialized students are speaking out. If that happened more often, he said, demonstrations wouldn't be necessary.

"To penalize that kind of effort is the wrong move," he said. "It sends a message that we don't want to exemplify relationships that are open to listening to these matters."

"If anything, those trustees should be celebrated [for attending] an event like that, that's trying to bridge the gap with community members who feel like they're not listened to."

The board also did not offer comment on the status of the investigation in Mehdi's claims.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca