Ontario needs to do more to combat racism in schools, says NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo

Kitchener Centre NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo says the Ontario government needs to act when it comes to fighting racism in the public school system after a recent rise of racists incidents in schools.

Lindo proposes 3 calls to action, plans to table private member's bill

NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo says the Ontario government needs to do more to combat racism in the public school system. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo says the Ontario government needs to do more to combat racism in the public school system.

Lindo, who represents Kitchener Centre, pointed to several recent incidents, including one at a Toronto high school where a teacher wore blackface for Halloween, and an alleged incident at a Kitchener elementary school where a child's hands were duct taped as punishment in October. In that case, the child's father said he suspected was because of the child's race. Police are investigating.

"While we do hear that the government is committed to ending racism, the reality is, on my side of all of this, we have an Anti-Racism Act that doesn't seem to be, A) catching these experiences and B) addressing them in a meaningful way," she said during a virtual news conference Wednesday.

Lindo, the Opposition critic for anti-racism, listed three calls to actions, urging the province to:

  • Initiate an equity audit that takes incidents of racism seriously at all Ontario schools.
  • Dedicate a specific budget line for combating racism in the province ahead of the fall economic update later this week.
  • Collect race-based data beyond the student population.

She said the equity audit needs to include experiences of racism from students, educators and support staff, including those at the post-secondary level.

There also needs to be race-base data collected from everyone in the school system, Lindo said. While the province is collecting data at the student level, she said it doesn't go far enough to fully combat racism.

"Knowing that the student body is diverse is something that, to be honest, we already know," she said.

"What we don't know and don't have provincial data on is who it is that's in positions of leadership and the representation on that level compared to the diversity that exists among our student body."

A dedicated budget line will ensure the work gets done, Lindo added.

"In order to rebuild trust with racialized communities, there needs to be transparency from government, a budget line that is dedicated to this work and this work alone will help in large part to get us there," she said.

In an email to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce's office said, "The government is already acting on these measures, including the expedited directive for boards to collect race-based data, the increase in anti-racism funding and the requirement that all school boards undergo an equity board improvement plan.

"While we are already taking action on this important work, we have also strengthened sanctions against staff for racist actions or behaviour, mandated anti-racism training for all educators and board staff, along with the transformational destreaming of the Grade 9 curriculum, providing a pathway to success for racialized children."

'The movement is not fast enough'

Two members who sit on the Waterloo Region District School Board's (WRDSB) equity and inclusion advisory committee also joined Lindo on Wednesday.

Marcia Smellie, a former educator and member of the Waterloo Region Congress of Black Women, and Maedith Radlein, also former WRDSB educator and elementary principal, have been working with the board to combat racism and advocate for the inclusion and acknowledgment of diverse staff and students.

Marcia Smellie, left, a former educator and member of the Waterloo Region Congress of Black Women, and Maedith Radlein, bottom, joined MPP Laura Mae Lindo Wednesday during a news conference. Smellie and Radlein sit on the Waterloo Region District School Board's equity and inclusion advisory committee. (Zoom link)

Smellie said the board has made efforts over the last decade to tackle racism and improve inclusion in schools, but more work needs to be done.

"The very fact that these kinds of situations can arise, it clearly tells you that the movement is not fast enough," she said.

Smellie said there also needs to be better accountability when incidents of racism occur.

"[The board] has a small team, which is better than what they had 10 years ago, but we still need to bring far more people to bare on this work and hold people accountable," she said.

"I think that's the part that's missing in the system. The system doesn't give the kind of accountability that I think community members like myself and others want to see."

Need for equity language: Lindo

In addition to the calls of action, Lindo said she is preparing to table a private member's bill that defines racism and anti-racism, as well as what racial equity looks like in legislation that oversees education.

"Ultimately the private member's bill is inserting equity language into all legislation that governs education from Kindergarten to Grade 12, as well as post secondary," Lindo said.

The current Anti-Racism Act of 2017 that was brought in under the previous Liberal government talks about doing racial equity work, but doesn't fully define racism, anti-racism or racial equity, though those terms are used, she said.

"In any piece of legislation, if there is no definition, then there is no way to hold anyone accountable."

Adding those definitions will result in better accountability and more transparency around on who is sitting at decision-making tables, like in school boards, and ensure that expertise in equity work is included as well, Lindo said.

"Anybody that looks 'different' is invited to the table, but that person doesn't necessarily understand how racism operates, so we're going to require that there are experts at the table that do anti-racism work."