HWDSB trustees Archer, Buck and Johnstone respond to findings of racism in school board probe

The agenda for a Monday evening board meeting shows how trustees Kathy Archer, Becky Buck and Alex Johnston responded to an independent report prompted by complaints of racism and exclusion from a former student trustee while trustee.

Kathy Archer defends comments, Becky Buck says activists weren't 'trolls,' Alex Johnstone provides emails

HWDSB trustees Alex Johnstone, Becky Buck, Kathy Archer and Carole Paikin Miller were named in a third-party investigation after complaints of racism and exclusion from a student trustee. (HWDSB)

The agenda for a Monday evening board meeting shows how trustees Kathy Archer, Becky Buck and Alex Johnston responded to an independent report prompted by complaints of racism and exclusion from a former student trustee while trustee.

This comes roughly 10 days after Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted to issue sanctions against Johnstone and Carole Paikin Miller and call for Paikin Miller's resignation.

Paikin Miller has not yet to responded to calls for comment from the CBC.

Archer said she continues to "stand behind" comments she made at a June 22 meeting regarding the end of the police liaison program at the school board.

The report concluded she made comments to the effect of "all lives matter" during the discussion, which she should've known were "not only insensitive but expressions of anti-Black racism."

Archer apologized if her comments were "perceived by some to be offensive or racist" because "that was in no way my intention."

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)

She added she never made comments regarding Black voices and said she supports the report's reference to the concept of equity.

Archer also denied ever using a racial slur toward Black people as alleged by former student trustee Ahona Mehdi. The report also could not verify the allegation.

"I can only add that I rarely attend these pre-board dinners, and categorically state that I did not attend the dinner in question, nor at any time did I describe any person by the use of the 'N-word,'" Archer wrote.

She didn't face any sanctions for her comments.

Becky Buck says she wasn't calling activists 'Twitter trolls'

Becky Buck says when she used the term "Twitter trolls" during that same meeting on June 22, she was "in no way referencing any of the individuals who were expressing concern at the meeting."

"In no way did my comment refer to those presenting serious concerns that I valued and respected, including the issues of racism that were being raised. I did not intend for my remarks to silence these claims in any way," she wrote.

The report concluded her comment, like Archer's, was racist.

But Buck says she was actually referring to anonymous people online sending her hateful messages.

While the report concludes she was referring to activists, Buck says that wasn't accurate.

"What I had shared with the investigator was that many who were sharing their opinion on Twitter did so in a matter-of-fact way and were not disparaging. I was not in any way upset with how they shared their opinions. However, there were also others whom I felt were personally harassing me," she wrote.

"There is an important distinction to be recognized between those who were 'trolling' trustees conversation that evening and those who were advocating for their community on this social media platform."

Buck said she felt "harassed and bullied" by comments she received online and added she was dealing with multiple stresses at the time.

She didn't face any sanctions for her comments.

Johnstone apologizes and breaks down allegations

Four of the allegations against former chair Alex Johnstone violated the code of conduct and she faced sanctions for two of them.

In the lead up to the June 22 meeting, Mehdi was preparing a motion to terminate the police liaison program. The report states she was asked to do so under Johnstone's supervision, as well as a staff member, which "is inconsistent with the autonomy the student trustee holds as a member of the board representing student interests."

Johnstone says her role as the student trustee mentor was to coach and guide the student trustees.

Trustee Alex Johnstone provides emails sent by former student trustees Ahona Mehdi and Camerona Prosic in 2019. (HWDSB)

She says Mehdi and the other student trustee both emailed Johnstone, but said Mehdi didn't send her questions or comments. Johnstone says she offered Mehdi feedback over the phone, but emailed the other student, because he sent his comments via email.

"Upon reflection, I can appreciate how the power dynamics between the chair and the student trustees could make an offer to provide feedback feel like a requirement," Johnstone wrote, noting she tried to do so in good faith.

Johnstone also felt she was following the code of conduct when she told trustees their comments needed to be based on issues and not personal experiences. 

The former chair also prevented Mehdi's motion to end the police liaison program. Johnstone said Mehdi tried to submit it without a written notice and says she told Mehdi to work with the trustee liaison officer and a trustee to come up with the notice. Johnstone said she provided similar advice to the other student trustee earlier.

Johnstone said there were four considerations for denying Mehdi's motion and added she made the decision after speaking with then-Vice Chair Dawn Danko, director Manny Figueiredo and the trustee liaison officer:

  • The motion contravened the Education Act as it sought to terminate the Board's protocol with municipal police services.
  • A trustee did not submit a written notice.
  • The motion was submitted past the deadline.
  • A motion that was in order and effectively the same had been put forward by an advisory committee and added to the agenda (which led to the end of the program).

"I thought it was my role to apply the rules equally to everyone; however, equitable application of the rules should be paramount." Johnstone wrote.

Johnstone faced sanctions for this.

Alex Johnstone is the former chairperson for Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

She also faced sanctions for not stopping the insensitive and racist comments Archer, Buck and Paikin Miller made on the June 22 meeting as outlined in the report.

Johnstone agreed she can raise issues of oppression or anti-racism more gently and in a less challenging manner.

She apologized multiple times after the report was publicly released and recently highlighted a number of steps she took to address the concerns.

Her sanctions included receiving a formal letter of censure, a request to officially apologize, doing more training on equity, governance and anti-racism, and barring her from holding any position of chair on any committees until December 2021.

No response from Carole Paikin Miller

The agenda doesn't include any response from Paikin Miller, who was asked to resign as trustee.

Paikin Miller faces sanctions that include censure, a call to publicly apologize, and more training on equity, governance and anti-racism. She's also barred from sitting on any committees until December 2021. 

This comes after allegations that she made anti-Muslim remarks, had a poor attitude at human rights and equity advisory committee meetings, and said comments to the effect of "all lives matter."


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.


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