Montreal

Montréal-Nord high school teacher captured on video repeatedly using N-word in class

A teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School is being called out after using the N-word multiple times during an online class, just days after the Quebec government waded into a controversy over the word at the University of Ottawa.

Teacher using N-word multiple times in English and French leaves sister of student 'appalled'

A teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School, who appears to be white, referenced the recent controversy at the University of Ottawa while repeatedly using the N-word during an online class discussion. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

A high school teacher in Montréal-Nord is being called out after using the N-word multiple times during an online class captured on video.

The man in the video has been identified as Vincent Ouellette, a history teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School, a large and diverse French school in the city's northeast end.

He appears teaching an online class when he uses the N-word in both French and English.

CBC News has only viewed short clips of the video, but it appears to be a discussion on the term's usage in history and, more recently, the controversy at the University of Ottawa.

"I was appalled. I was astounded that he just felt so comfortable using it, almost as if it wasn't the first time he was saying this word," said Marlyne Désir, who posted segments of the video to Instagram where they quickly drew attention.

"I understand it was in an academic setting, but to still see a white person — someone's white mouth saying these words — I was taken aback. It was wrong to me."

Vincent Ouellette, a history teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School, was teaching an online class when he repeatedly used the N-word. (Instagram)

Her sister is a student at Henri-Bourassa and showed her the video earlier this week.

Désir said the teacher made reference to the hotly disputed suspension of a University of Ottawa professor, who used the N-word in class last month. 

He also referenced a monologue by Quebec author Yvon Deschamps, the title of which contains the N-word. The teacher names the full title of the monologue, including the N-word in English.

CBC News has spoken to two of his former students who said he made discriminatory remarks when they were in his class.

The service centre that oversees his school said Ouellette wouldn't comment.

Marlyne Désir says she was appalled by the teacher's use of the N-word. (CBC)

Deputy premier stands by her remarks

The incident comes just days after Premier François Legault criticized the University of Ottawa for its suspension of the professor and warned of "censorship police."

His deputy premier, Geneviève Guilbault stressed in a Facebook post that universities must be "places of freedom."

When asked about the Montréal-Nord incident Friday, Guilbault stuck to her position, maintaining that freedom of expression is "very, very important."

She added, however, that words should be used "respectfully" and that "we are looking deeper into the situation you are talking about."

The director of the Centre de services scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île (CSSPI) said the high school and the service centre are looking into the matter as well.

"We take the situation seriously and actions have been taken to shed light on these events, which are occurring in a particularly delicate context," said Valérie Biron.

"Inclusion, equity and benevolence are at the heart of the CSSPI's educational mission and no form of discrimination can be tolerated in our establishments."

Sylvain Mallette, who represents the teacher as head of the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement, called for calm. He said in a statement that students should try speaking to their teacher directly rather than taking to social media.

A teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School is captured on video repeatedly using the N-word in French and English during an online classroom discussion. The image has been blurred to protect the privacy of the students in the class. (CBC)

A heavy burden for high school students, says expert

Even without knowing the context of the class, Dr. Myrna Lashley said the teacher's choice of words was "somewhat provocative," especially given the timing.

Lashley, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University, is a former director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. She also serves as a consultant to governments, schools and police departments on race-related matters. 

Watching the video excerpts left her concerned that a high school teacher is unable to get his point across without resorting to using inflammatory words.

"I think that when you're dealing with high school students, it's a whole different ball game," she said. 

"I'm not saying they don't understand. I'm just saying, it's a bigger burden to put on their shoulders to interact in a way that looks at the subtleties of language and the subtleties of the genesis of this word." 

If the word is going to be used, she said it is important that a discussion be held beforehand — warning students about the structure of the class and the possible use of the word.

"If they say 'this going to be too painful for us,' come to an agreement on what word they would prefer to use and still get the concept across," Lashley said.

"This is a very delicate thing."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

Based on reporting by Alison Northcott, Matt D'Amours and Simon Nakonechny

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