York school board trustee 'reconsidering' resignation after saying opponent 'not born in Canada'

A newly elected York Region District School Board trustee has resigned after making comments perceived to be discriminatory and xenophobic during her campaign. She is the second trustee at the scandal-plagued board in two years.

Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey initially denied comments, but now admits they were 'hurtful and offensive'

Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey, left, defeated Lena Singh for the school board trustee position in East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch-Stouffville. (Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey, Lena Singh)

A newly elected York Region District School Board (YRDSB) trustee who resigned after making comments perceived to be discriminatory and xenophobic during her campaign is now rethinking her decision.

"With a heavy heart and after much reflection, I have decided to withdraw my name as trustee-elect for East Gwillimbury and Whitchurch-Stouffville," wrote Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey in a statement on Thursday.

Then, YRDSB chair Corrie McBain issued a statement late Friday afternoon saying: "Terrell-Tracy has indicated that she is reconsidering her decision to withdraw from the position of trustee."

Terrell-Tracey is the second YRDSB trustee to resign over allegedly discriminatory remarks in the past two years.

She was elected in the district in a head-to-head race against fellow candidate Lena Singh, who Terrell-Tracey targeted with the comments on social media. Singh declined an interview about this story.

Screen captures of the comments were shared with CBC Toronto by multiple community members who had expressed support for Singh.

"I would like to inform people… Just so you know… Ms. Singh was born in Guyana," Terrell-Tracey wrote in a community Facebook group in September. "You are backing someone not born in Canada."

Terrell-Tracey later elaborated on her argument in a private message to a member of the group who endorsed Singh.

"Crime is prevalent across Guyana. Assaults, break-ins, armed robberies, pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft from cars and carjacking are common," Terrell-Tracey wrote to Arnold Neufeldt-Fast. "She is born there."

"It was very clear that this was an anti-immigrant rant that she was sharing with me, with racist overtones," Neufeldt-Fast said about the message. "It was very disturbing, especially for someone running for school board trustee."

A comment left by Elizabeth Terrell-Tracey in a Whitchurch-Stoufville community Facebook group. (Arnold Neufeldt-Fast)

After initially claiming that her Facebook account was hacked, Terrell-Tracey now appears to be taking ownership of the posts.

"I understand that some of my comments were hurtful and offensive and I am sorry. These comments are not reflective of me, my values and beliefs," she wrote in her resignation statement.

Terrell-Tracey declined an interview with CBC Toronto on Friday after not responding to multiple requests since her election.

But in an email to CBC Toronto, she said: "I love all people. Anyone trying to take that away from me is incorrect." 

Parents in 'complete shock'

Kesha Wint, a parent with a child who attends an elementary school in the district, said she was in "complete shock" after Terrell-Tracey's election.

"This is like when Trump said that Obama needed to prove that he was American," Wint told CBC Toronto. She added that Terrell-Tracey would have been incapable of representing all children at the board due to her beliefs.

"I was so grateful. I think justice has been served and this was the right thing for her to do," Wint said of the resignation.

While she expressed relief at Terrell-Tracey's decision, Wint said she remains disheartened that people in her community elected her to begin with.

Local parent Kesha Wint said she was shocked and disheartened after Terrell-Tracey's election. (Kesha Wint)

She also criticized the statement by McBain announcing the move.

"I would like to thank [Terrell-Tracey] for prioritizing the needs and interests of our students. I also wish Elizabeth all the best as she focuses on her health," McBain wrote.

Wint said the message should have acknowledged the concerns around discrimination raised by the community.

"They made it all about her health issues, rather than the fact the she made racist remarks," Wint said. "For me, it's 'call a spade a spade.'"

McBain said the board is now "exploring the process for filling the position." The board has since taken McBain's statement off its website, including a copy of Terrell-Tracey's resignation letter. 

"[Terrell-Tracey] will not be filing a disclaimer to the right of office with the Clerk of the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville," McBain said on Friday.  

Another controversy at YRDSB

News of Terrell Tracey's resignation comes after two years of controversy and scandal at the YRDSB.

In early 2017, former trustee Nancy Elgie resigned after using a racial slur in reference to a black parent during a board meeting. There were weeks of protests at the board before Elgie stepped down.

A subsequent review by the province determined the board was operating under a "culture of fear" and "systemic discrimination."

The board's former education director J. Philip Parappally was also ousted following the report.

In September of this year, the board was also forced to apologize after a former principal at a Markham elementary school was found to have made anti-Muslim comments on Facebook during her time as principal.

The board's new trustees will meet in December.

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter and one-man band video journalist based in Toronto. He previously worked for the CBC in Vancouver, Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo. When he’s not chasing politicians or driving to a crime scene, Nick enjoys cooking, comedy and following the NBA.