TCDSB decides to impose sanctions on trustee who likened LGBTQ issues to bestiality

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has decided to censure and to impose sanctions on one of its trustees who made homophobic comments at a public meeting more than a year ago.

Board decided that Michael Del Grande did breach trustees' code of conduct after all

At a Nov. 7, 2019 board meeting, trustee Michael Del Grande had compared LGBTQ issues to bestiality and pedophilia, cannibalism and more. (Toronto Catholic District School Board)

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has decided to censure and impose sanctions on one of its trustees who made homophobic comments at a public meeting more than a year ago.

At a Nov. 7, 2019 board meeting, trustee Michael Del Grande likened LGBTQ issues to bestiality and pedophilia, cannibalism and more.

The TCDSB, at a special meeting on Wednesday that lasted more than seven hours, decided that Del Grande did breach its code of conduct for trustees and it will censure him for behaviour that it said was "disrespectful of the LGBTQ community as a whole, as well as the TCDSB community."

The board also decided it will refrain from appointing him to any representative position or role on behalf of the board for a period of three months. 

Del Grande, who has 14 days to appeal the board's decisions, will be asked to present a public apology and required to complete an equity training program.

As well, the board reversed an earlier decision it made on Aug. 20, 2020, when trustees had decided that Del Grande had not breached the trustees' code of conduct with his statements. 

The censure and sanctions came after former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, who spoke as a delegate, urged trustees to sanction Del Grande and release a confidential report on comments he made.

"You can choose to hold your colleague to account," Wynne told the board.

"You are the front-line of upholding the integrity of the Catholic education system in Ontario," she added. "I ask you to do the right thing: Release the report and sanction your colleague."

The board decided it will release a portion of the confidential report, including the findings and analysis section, to the public with any necessary redactions.

At the meeting, the board heard from 12 delegates before it made its decisions.

Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne told the Toronto Catholic District School Board on Wednesday: 'You can choose to hold your colleague to account.' (CBC)

Trustee Norm Di Pasquale said the decision that Del Grande had breached its code of conduct was important to restore public confidence in the board, while trustee Markus de Domenico said the board needed to right a wrong.

Trustee Maria Rizzo noted the board had received hundreds of complaints about the comments.

Trustee Nancy Crawford argued that reconsidering the board's earlier decision would set a "dangerous precedent," while trustees Teresa Lubinski and Garry Tanuan recused themselves from the vote.

At the meeting, the board took nearly two hours to approve its agenda and the meeting was marked by much procedural wrangling and points of order.

Confidential report concluded Del Grande breached code

In May, Michelle Bird, a lawyer with Rubin Thomlinson LLP, had prepared a report for the board in which she found Del Grande had violated the trustee code of conduct. The report has not been made public but was obtained by CBC Toronto.

"The narrow issue I have been asked to investigate is whether Mr. Del Grande's specific comments at the meeting on November 7, 2019, violated the Trustees' Code of Conduct. I have determined that they did," Bird says in the report.

"Simply put, there were many ways in which Mr. Del Grande could have argued his disagreement with the motion to amend the Code of Conduct without crossing the line into disrespectful rhetoric. In choosing the words that he did, he created an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community."

Last November, Del Grande, a former Toronto city councillor who served as budget chief during Rob Ford's mayoralty, made the comments toward the end of a six-hour meeting where trustees eventually voted to amend the board's code of conduct to include broader protections for LGBTQ students.

Del Grande 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."

"I'd like all these terms to be considered — after all, everybody's concerned [that] the right terms are used, it's important to have the terms," Del Grande said at the meeting.

Adding things like gender identity to the board's code of conduct amounts to a "slippery slope," Del Grande said.

"So this is how slippery it's going to get," he added.

"The point that I wanted to make is you wanted to add four terms. And my concern is that why stop at the four terms? Because it doesn't cover everybody."

Del Grande later withdrew his amendment at the meeting after TCDSB Director of Education Rory McGuckin said that many of the acts in the amendment were criminal in nature and would result in criminal charges.

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.

All four terms the board eventually voted to include in its code of conduct are identified in the Ontario Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds for discrimination.

With files from Angelina King, Adam Carter