York Region school board trustee apologizes after using racial slur
'You can't punch me in my face in public and then whisper in my ear privately to say sorry,' says parent
York Region District School Board trustee Nancy Elgie has apologized after using a racial slur to refer to a black parent, but the parent says the apology doesn't do enough to solve the problem of systemic racism within the board — and is calling on its director to step down.
Charline Grant received a letter from Elgie earlier this week in which the trustee admitted to using the slur — which Grant says was "the N-word" — in reference to her on Nov. 22, apologized and committed to equity training. The letter also states that the word isn't one she normally uses.
"There is no excuse for what I said, only the explanation that I was clumsily trying to refer to your concerns as reported in the media, not to you personally," Elgie wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to CBC Toronto.
"As soon as my brain registered what I had said, I was overcome with shock and dismay. I felt heartsick and deeply ashamed to have said something so hurtful – even unintentionally – and so foreign to the values I have held throughout my entire life. It also sickened me that I could have reinforced the systemic racism that so many have experienced in our society."
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Elgie said she would like to have apologized immediately but was advised not to until the board completed its investigation into the incident.
"To be honest, my first reaction was that at least she admitted it. She admitted to saying it and that was important for me to hear," Grant said.
The slur against Grant came after the mother of three previously filed a complaint alleging her son had suffered discrimination at his Woodbridge-area school, she said.
"I was standing up for my child," Grant said, regarding the complaint. To have the word used against her in any context, let alone that one, made the comment that much more hurtful, she added.
Issues of racism long unaddressed within board, critics say
"It was offensive to my children, to my entire family and my community," Grant said. "That word is a hateful word that's always been used to belittle us and dehumanize us and devalue us."
In a message posted to the school board's website Thursday, director J. Philip Parappally said the parties involved in the investigation were made aware of its outcome Wednesday.
"Staff members took these allegations very seriously, and immediately launched an independent investigation," he wrote, adding that racism of any kind is not acceptable. "Because this matter involves a trustee, staff members are unable to make additional comments."
In her letter, Elgie said her use of the offensive word does "not reflect how I have lived my life or conducted myself in my personal relationships, my professional capacity as a child psychologist, as school board trustee and in a variety of volunteer roles."
She closed the letter by saying she accepts "full responsibility for what I have said and can only hope that this apology can begin to mend any harm I have caused."
Elgie could not be reached for comment by CBC Toronto on Friday.
Grant said she appreciates the apology but said issues of racism have long gone unaddressed under Parappally's watch.
In November, Ontario Education Minister Minister Mitzie Hunter demanded an action plan from the board on how it plans to address allegations of Islamophobia and systemic racism — saying she wanted an answer within two months.
Parents criticized the board's response to Hunter, saying it provided no concrete details on how it would do so.
When asked about Elgie's letter on Friday, the education minister said her role was to focus on addressing the complaints from parents about systemic racism within the board.
"I want parents to know that the standard that I expect all board trustees and all boards of education to uphold is one in which they create a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment for students," Hunter said Friday. "Discrimination of no kind is ever tolerated."
One of the most prominent of those cases involved Ghada Sadaka, principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier Public School in Markham, who published several posts on Facebook about Islam and refugees that some parents reported as offensive. Sadaka later apologized for the "discriminatory postings," one of which suggested banning burkas in Europe.
Parent Naeem Siddiqi said both Elgie and Parappally should step down.
"Nancy Elgie should have resigned. Using extremely hurtful words like that reduces her credibility and removes any trust visible minority parents have in her ability to represent them," Siddiqi told CBC Toronto in an email.
"This is another example of a lack of leadership at the YRDSB."
As for the apology from Elgie, Grant questions why it was sent to her privately rather than made public.
"This was a public matter," she said. "You can't punch me in my face in public and then whisper in my ear privately to say sorry."
With files from Philip Lee-Shanok and Laura Fraser