West Island grad labelled 'most likely to become wanted criminal' in yearbook speaks out against racism

Lindsay Place High School administrators had stickers placed over the photograph of a student crudely described as the "most likely to become a wanted criminal," but people easily removed the sticker to reveal the face of Michael Thomas, 17, who is Black.

'Racism isn’t just in America,' says 17-year-old Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas was labelled the most likely to become 'wanted criminal' in Lindsay Place High School yearbook. He worries his reputation will be tarnished. (Submitted by Michael Thomas)

Michael Thomas was eager to get his copy of Lindsay Place High School's yearbook, after spending five years working his way to graduation.

Then the 17-year-old's social media pages began lighting up with alerts, as video after video streamed in of a sticker being torn off a photograph to reveal his face, identified as "most likely to become a wanted criminal."

Thomas did not find anything funny about the label.

"They know me. It's not like I'm a stranger. I've been there five years. I've been there the whole time. I participate in all the sports and everything," said Thomas.

"I feel like them portraying me like that is very disrespectful."

Many people in Montreal's West Island are outraged to learn about the controversial incident — the second in two weeks to come to light at a school in the Lester B. Pearson School Board's jurisdiction.

School vows to reprint yearbooks

Last week, Montreal police launched but eventually dropped an investigation into two teenage girls at John Rennie high School who made a racist video brimming with slurs and insisting Black people have no place in Canada. 

The Pearson board passed a motion just last Monday, vowing to tackle the issue of systemic racism within its ranks.

Lindsay Place High School said the publisher put a sticker on the image that was supposed to be permanent, but people quickly discovered it could be removed. (Instagram)

Lindsay Place issued a statement via Facebook Friday afternoon, signed by principal Kerry-Ann Payette and vice-principal Brigitte Valois, explaining the situation. 

"We have had to order a reprint of our yearbooks. You may have been made aware that we felt compelled to place a non-peelable sticker over an inappropriate category that never should have made it to print," the administrators said in the statement.

"We were assured by the yearbook company that the sticker could not be removed."

The sticker has a message printed on it, saying: "Our apologies, an error was made that does not reflect the values of Lindsay Place High School."

The school then learned that students were able to peel off the sticker. Videos posted to social media show people removing the sticker quite easily with their fingers, showing Thomas's face and name. 

He is wearing his cap and gown, holding his diploma and smiling broadly.

"We would like to formally apologize to our graduating student and to his family," said the school administrators.

"We regret that this has unfolded and will be taking action to ensure that this does not happen again."

Payette told CBC in an email Friday that the 100 yearbooks, distributed Thursday, have been recalled. Staff will be visiting each residence to collect the books, she said, and a revised version will be distributed in the fall.

'Racism isn't just in America,' says Thomas

Thomas is still reeling from the incident. He wasn't warned and had no idea it was going to happen.

He said students put the yearbook together, but he's certain it gets approved by a teacher or administrator at the school. It's unclear how students are selected for the "most likely to" categories.

But either way, he said, he doesn't want anybody to think he is a criminal, "because I am not," and he does feel that race may have played a role in someone's decision to put him in that category.

He said there aren't many students of colour in the school, and it hasn't always been easy.

"Racism isn't just in America," Thomas said.

"It's everywhere. I've gotten plenty — not just at school, but just everywhere — but I've definitely had racist comments at school."

"It's nothing new."

He now worries his name has been tarnished.

"This affects my future. This is not what I needed. Nobody else got that title."

With files from Brennan Neill and Matt D'Amours