Calls mount for school board action after vice chair links LGBTQ debate and cannibalism
Next steps unclear even after dozens of complaints about Michael Del Grande’s conduct
- The Toronto Catholic District School Board said Thursday it has received "numerous" complaints.
- The board says complaints will be brought to trustees Thursday for "immediate review and action."
Parents and community members say they are pushing the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) to take action after the board's vice-chair linked debate over LGBTQ issues with cannibalism, pedophilia and bestiality.
But even after an avalanche of angry emails in recent days, the chair of the board says no one has yet made an "official complaint" — leaving questions about a nebulous review process at the TCDSB.
That's leaving people like Nicole Richard befuddled and angry. She is a godmother to a transgender child who is enrolled in a TCDSB school, and launched an online petition this week asking for Michael Del Grande to be removed. Over 800 people had signed that petition by Wednesday afternoon.
"I immediately assumed he would be reprimanded, and it's crazy to think that almost two weeks later the board hasn't even addressed this publicly," she told CBC News.
Del Grande made a series of controversial comments toward the end of a six-hour board meeting on Nov. 7 where trustees eventually voted to amend the board's code of conduct to include broader protections for LGBTQ students.
Trustees voted eight-to-four in favour of a motion to add four terms to the board's code: gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status.
I expect our members to be civil, and to not liken our LGBTQ community to bestiality and polygamy and all sorts of other things.- Maria Rizzo, TCDSB chair
Del Grande, who is a former Toronto city councillor and budget chief during Rob Ford's mayoralty, moved an amendment at the meeting asking for other terms to be added to that list, including bestiality, pedophilia, cannibalism, auto-erotic asphyxiation and "auto-vampirism."
Adding things like gender identity to the board's code of conduct amounts to a "slippery slope," Del Grande said at the meeting.
"So this is how slippery it's going to get," he added. The amendment was later ruled out of order and was withdrawn.
Del Grande told CBC News on Monday that his amendment was "hyperbole" and "not serious." He had little to add to his comments when reached by phone Wednesday.
"There's not much more I can say or do," he said.
'Jesus loves me'
After CBC News posted a story about the issue Monday, several people wrote in to share complaints they had made to both the board and Del Grande himself.
Andrew Evans shared screen shots of his email correspondence with Del Grande, where he told the trustee he had displayed "disgusting ignorance" and should resign.
Del Grande then responded with, "No because Jesus loves me."
He declined to elaborate on that response Wednesday.
"It speaks for itself," Del Grande said.
TCDSB chair Maria Rizzo told CBC News Wednesday she has received dozens of emails from people condemning Del Grande's comments, but no one from the public had yet "launched an official complaint."
"We have the power to make inquiries into complaints, but somebody needs to formally complain," she said.
Rizzo said there is no special avenue a person would need to use to submit a formal complaint. They would just need to specify in an email to the board that they weren't simply sharing an opinion, but formally complaining.
How would an investigation work?
That's something that has already happened. Etobicoke resident Fred Pritchard wrote to Rizzo on Tuesday morning, calling Del Grande's comments "vile and disgusting."
"Please consider this a formal complaint about his conduct," Pritchard wrote.
Rizzo said she hadn't seen that email Wednesday as her inbox has been flooded. She also said she expected a former student trustee who is part of the LGBTQ community to make a formal complaint to the board about Del Grande's conduct.
What happens next isn't totally clear. Rizzo said she doesn't yet know if the board will decide on an investigation, but if it does, the TCDSB would hire an investigator who would then make recommendations based on their findings.
That investigation would happen in private, she said.
Then, depending on the results of the investigation, trustees could decide on sanctions laid out in the education act, including censure and removal from certain committees or meetings.
Possible investigation aside, Rizzo also condemned Del Grande's comments.
"As the chair of the board I expect our members to be civil, and to not liken our LGBTQ community to bestiality and polygamy and all sorts of other things," she said.
"I know he said it's hyperbole, but to be perfectly honest, as far as I'm concerned, it sends a message to our students and it's a terrible message."