School trustee under investigation after confronting teen

An Ottawa public school board trustee is under investigation for allegedly harassing a teenage boy at a Barrhaven park for not abiding by physical distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis.

OCDSB 'very concerned' about racism allegations against Donna Blackburn

The OCDSB is investigating an incident involving trustee Donna Blackburn, shown here in this photo from 2016. (CBC)

An Ottawa public school board trustee is under investigation for allegedly harassing a teenage boy at a Barrhaven park for not abiding by physical distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustee Donna Blackburn posted on Facebook on March 27 about a teen playing basketball for more than an hour, apparently alone, at Neill Nesbitt Park on Foxfield Drive.

"I have called by-law and will stand here until they come," Blackburn wrote in the post, which included a picture of the teen. "I will follow him home if I have to."

Blackburn posted this message on social media on March 27, 2020. (Facebook)

Late Monday, a statement from the board indicated it did not know all the details of the incident, "but we are very concerned about the allegations of racism and bias that this has generated."

The board has asked its human rights and equity adviser to investigate the matter, and said it's reached out to the boy's family to see if he's alright. OCDSB chair Lynn Scott has also asked Blackburn "whether she wishes to initiate any action to bring a resolution to this matter," according to the statement.

Blackburn could not immediately be reached for comment.

The boy's father, Matthew Kedroe, is calling for Blackburn to resign. 

In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, Kedroe said his 17-year-old son, Styles Lepage, headed out late Friday afternoon to take the family dog for a walk. Lepage, who had his basketball with him, bypassed the three schools nearest his home because they were too crowded.

"The reality was there were so many people out on Friday because it such a beautiful day that he decided to keep going and not interact with any of those people and find a secluded basketball court he could shoot some hoops and go get some exercise," Kedroe said.

According to Lepage and another bystander, Lindsey Davey, Blackburn approached the teen and began yelling at him to leave the park, demanding to know his name and where he went to school. Kedroe said his son gave Blackburn false information.

Davey told CBC that Blackburn accosted Lepage, who was alone, even though there were two other teenagers playing baseball nearby. For his part, Lepage was "calm and quiet" and "looked like a deer in headlights," Davey said.

Angry message

Later that evening, Kedroe was alerted to Blackburn's post about his son and became furious. He admits to leaving an angry message on Blackburn's voicemail.

In a late-night Facebook post that same Friday, Kedroe questioned why the trustee singled out his son when other people were also in the park.

The father of Styles Lepage, 17, says the teenager sought out an empty basketball court to get some exercise by himself. (Matthew Kedroe)

"You decided to approach, take unsolicited pictures and speak with my son. Leaving others to walk their dogs, play soccer and play at the park," Kedroe posted. "I wonder why you might have singled him out? Was it because he was all alone or was it because he was … "

Kedroe did not finish the sentence, but implied Blackburn had singled out his son because he's black. The boys playing baseball where white.

When asked specifically if he believed Blackburn's actions were motivated by race, Kedroe replied: "Do you believe they were racially motivated? There's proof that were other people at this park. There were definitely folks walking their dogs, etc. She had no mind for all of them. She specifically singled out one kid and posted his information online without care."

While the guidelines for Ottawans to stay home and keep their physical distance from others have been in effect for about three weeks, the actual rules of what's strictly forbidden change frequently.

At its last council meeting on March 25, city officials said that all parks and sports fields would remain closed. But it wasn't until March 27 that the City of Ottawa explicitly stated that all city facilities, including park playgrounds, were off limits. And on March 30, three days after the incident with Blackburn, the province ordered the closure of all public and private parks, including basketball courts. 

Authorities have asked that anyone who wants to complain about people not following physical distancing rules, which became more stringent last Saturday, call 311.

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