Toronto

School board vice chair likens LGBTQ issues to bestiality and pedophilia

A Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee is under fire over comments he made at a marathon board meeting this month where he connected debate over LGBTQ issues with bestiality, pedophilia, cannibalism and more.

Michael Del Grande says comments were 'hyperbole' and 'not serious'

Vice-Chair Michael Del Grande introduced an amendment at a recent Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting that would add protections for terms like bestiality and pedophilia into its code of conduct. The amendment was later withdrawn. (Toronto Catholic District School Board)

A Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) trustee is under fire over comments he made at a marathon board meeting this month where he connected debate over LGBTQ issues with bestiality, pedophilia, cannibalism and more.

TCDSB Vice-Chair Michael Del Grande made the comments toward the end of a six-hour 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.

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."

"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.

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.

"[These are] contrary to the human rights code," McGuckin said.

'I wasn't serious about it'

Del Grande referred to his amendment as "hyperbole" during a telephone interview with CBC News on Monday.

"I wasn't serious about it," Del Grande said.

"[But] where else does it end? Where else does it stop? … That was the point I was making."

On Monday, the school board said it hadn't received any formal complaints about Del Grande's conduct, and no review has been launched.

But on Tuesday, Shazia Vlahos, chief of communications for the TCSDB, said: "We have received some calls and emails regarding the comments that were made and we are monitoring the situation at this time."

Nicole Richard, who identifies herself online as a godmother to a transgender child who is enrolled in a TCDSB school, launched an online petition this week asking for Del Grande to be removed. Video of Del Grande's comments surfaced online again this week when she included a link in her petition.

Del Grande's conduct was "shocking" and "out of touch," she said in a post on the petition's online page.

"Trustee Del Grande abused his platform [by] speaking out of line, and should be removed from his seat as a result," Richard wrote.

Ministry pushing boards to update codes of conduct

Just over 100 people had signed the petition as of Monday afternoon.

The TCDSB's move to bring in broader protections for LGBTQ students comes on the heels of an order from the Ontario Ministry to Education to boards across the province to update their codes of conduct.

An October 2018 directive from the ministry noted that the provincial code of conduct had been revised to include the four terms, and school boards should follow suit. Another directive in August said that the amendments should be made by Nov. 4. 

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.