Ottawa

School board failed student troubled by antisemitic peer, tribunal finds

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board breached Ontario's human rights code by failing to properly address a student's ongoing concerns following threatening encounters with an antisemitic peer, the province's human rights tribunal has found. 

Decision to readmit abusive student made before consulting victim, tribunal finds

Jim and Laura Armitage filed a human rights complaint after they were unsatisfied with how their son's school handled another student's threatening and antisemitic behaviour. (CBC)

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board breached Ontario's human rights code by failing to properly address a student's ongoing concerns following threatening encounters with an antisemitic peer, the province's human rights tribunal has found.

In a decision released last month, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario adjudicator Leslie Reaume weighed in on a human rights complaint filed six years ago by the parents of David Armitage, who was a teenager at the time of the complaint. 

According to the decision, Armitage was threatened and assaulted by his classmate, who was also a minor at the time. The other student was charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and therefore cannot be identified. 

Armitage was also the unwelcome recipient of rants covering violent, racist, sexual and pornographic topics, as well as the Holocaust, Nazis and Hitler, despite telling his classmate he was not Jewish, Reaume wrote.

After a family car parked at their country home was defaced with a swastika and other hateful symbols, Armitage grew so terrified he slept in his parents' room, Reaume wrote.

The Armitages' family car at their country house was vandalized after their son reported the other student's behaviour. (Jim Armitage)

Armitage completed his final semester of high school online and skipped his June 2016 graduation ceremony instead of risking a run-in with his former classmate, who was allowed to return to school following a suspension, she added. 

By deciding to readmit the other student before adequately consulting Armitage — who had complained about feeling unsafe — the school board erred, Reaume found.

"There was no assessment of [Armitage's] experiences, his ongoing fears, the supports he would need and the likely impact on his ability to perform effectively at school during what was described as a critical semester," she wrote. 

Laura Armitage, David Armitage's mother, said the tribunal's findings were not surprising. 

"We knew that it was wrong," she said. 

David Armitage, who is now 22 and has graduated university, declined through his parents to be interviewed. 

"It's in his past," said his mother. "He's got very strong views about what happened and I'll let him explain those someday, maybe."

Education key to stamping out hatred: mother

A year after Armitage's experience, the other student went on a racist spray-painting spree.

He was later sentenced to time in custody after pleading guilty to inciting hatred, mischief against religious buildings, threatening conduct, weapon possession, and breaching conditions imposed after a previous conviction.

The Armitage family is speaking out about the long-awaited tribunal decision to bring awareness to those who deal with repeated discrimination, said David's father, Jim Armitage.

"The odds of our family experiencing hate-motivated actions against us, white supremacist actions against us, it just doesn't make sense, right?" he said. "We have the privilege of never likely experiencing [that] ever again."

Rooting out hatred early, in class, is key, said Laura Armitage.

"For this to happen in a school and for the school to not act appropriately, not recognize it for what it was and to come up short for us in that situation, it's obviously really important that be addressed," she said. 

Reaume did find the school's early actions, up to and including the other student's suspension, were prompt and reasonable. 

School board responds

The OCDSB is carefully reviewing and considering the tribunal's decision, a board spokesperson said via email.

"[The board] is committed to improving its practices when supporting students who have experienced hateful behaviour," the statement added.

The board has also worked to address issues of hate and discrimination by adopting a new human rights policy earlier this year and planning three workshops on the ongoing impacts of the Holocaust and antisemitism in partnership with the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship.

A newly established group of Jewish educators has also convened a team of writers "to create ready-to-use learning activities for use in classrooms from kindergarten to Grade 12," the spokesperson said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

With files from Kimberley Molina

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