Friday 3 February 2017

Should a school trustee resign for using a racial slur?

I am in my eighties and all through my life; I have never referred to a black person as a nigger. The term used nowadays is ’black” or “blacks”. They are also referred to in the United States as “Afro-Americans”. I should point out however that many years ago, it was OK to refer to them as “Negroes
 and/or “Negroids” but gradually those terms passed away. Referring to blacks as niggers is insulting and a slur deserving of contempt. It is used by persons who are angry with a black person or black persons in general.  However, there have been on occasions black people referring to themselves as niggers but it is done harmlessly as an expression to emphasize a point.

Recently in York Region (just north of Toronto Ontario). Nancy Elgie who is a long-time school trustee and the widow of a prominent Ontario cabinet minister in the Bill Davis government in the 1970s and ’80s, admitted to using a racial slur in November 2016 against Ms. Charline Grant, a black parent. No matter how angry Ms. Elgie was when she used the term “nigger” when referring to Ms. Grant, the word should never have been used by Ms. Elgie.

In her apology to the parent she insulted, she said in part;

“There is no excuse for what I said. I was clumsily trying to refer to your concerns as reported in the media, not to you personally. 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.” unquote

She referred to Charline Grant as a nigger in public, after a meeting of trustees. Therefore she lied in her email to the Toronto Star when she said that the term “nigger “wasn’t directed to Ms. Grant.

In an email to the Star recently, Ms. Elgie said.

“I immediately explained to the person with whom I was speaking and have now extended that apology to the parent and others affected.  I was fully open with the investigator about what happened and accept her finding. Naturally, it is clear that by using such a horrible word, even inadvertently, I breeched the (school) policy. That is why I have tried to apologize and explain.”

From what I have seen in the Internet, she didn’t immediately apologize to the woman she insulted. More on that alter in this article.

Shernett Martin of the Vaughan African Canadian Association said, “An apology, via email, is a paltry attempt at best. Ms. Grant deserves far more than Nancy Elgie’s few paragraphs asking us to see past her one racist indiscretion. This elected official tossed the word nigger around in the presence of her colleagues as if it was deep within her personal vernacular.  (It) is a disgrace to education and elected office.”

In an email, Trustee chair Loralea Carruthers said,  

“It remains clear that our board has a lot of work to do to regain public trust and make necessary changes, and I am committed to working together with parents, students and staff to ensure we do so. unquote

I have concerns about Ms. Elgie’s so-called apology.  In my opinion, Ms. Elgie’s apology was not sincere. I say this because she didn’t give the apology days after she insulted Ms. Grant.  She gave it months later. She said that she wanted to apologize earlier, but couldn’t do so because of an investigation. That excuse is hogwash. An apology should come as soon as the person who commits the act realizes that what was said was very wrong.

In an email to the Star, Trustee chair Loralea Carruthers LAO said in part;

“I am truly sorry for the hurt this incident has caused. It was utterly unacceptable. I believe the apology was sincere but I also know people are still rightfully upset and hurt by it. To that end I have strongly urged my colleague to do what is required to make this right.”  unquote

In her email to Ms. Grant, Ms. Elgie said;

 “My words on that day in November do 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. I accept full responsibility for what I have said and can only hope that this apology can begin to mend any harm I have caused.”

Did she did give her apology to Ms. Grant on her own volition? I doubt it. if she gave an apology to Ms. Grant very soon after she referred to Ms. Grant as a nigger;  then her apology would have been sincere. Being ordered to apologize months later would hardly make her apology sincere.

If this woman really believed that she did something very wrong, why did it take so long for her to realize that her use of the word “nigger’ was most inappropriate? In my opinion, she never would have apologized to Ms. Grant if she hadn’t be encouraged to do so by Ms. Caruthers. She would still have looked upon blacks as niggers.

Normally, trustees are subject to a code of conduct complaint, which must be brought forward by a fellow trustee. Under the code, a trustee is investigated and can be sanctioned by colleagues. However, in this case, the director decided to pursue an independent investigation under the board’s Respectful Workplaces and Learning Environments Policy that is intended for staff. The subsequent report, which was finished three weeks after it was supposed to have been completed, was shared internally with the staff who complained and with Elgie.

I sh0uld point out that the York school board is already in hot water with the province after a string of controversies, including numerous complaints about racist incidents and Islamophobia that are ignored, as well as a lack of transparency. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter is in the midst of reviewing the board’s response to her demand that it outline how it will address racism and improve openness about trustee spending.

On January 20th 2017, Hunter said, “It’s very important to parents and a priority for me that issues of racism and discrimination are not tolerated in our education system. It is my expectation that all of our publicly funded schools are inclusive and safe places for student well-being and learning. “Due to the severity of this issue, it is essential that I take the necessary time to review the York Region District School Boards action plan in response to concerns raised by local parents and community organizations. I am focused on the entire board and how they intend to build public confidence in their communities on this important issue and ensure that these serious concerns are addressed in a manner that will restore public confidence in the board’s ability to meet the needs of its diverse population.”

The school board is also the subject of a human rights complaint, launched by the Vaughan African Canadian Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims on behalf of a number of families. Ms. Grant also has a separate, ongoing human rights case over alleged discrimination her son has faced.

Human rights lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, who is calling on Elgie and director J. Philip Parappally to step down, said;

 “I am disappointed that it took so long for her to issue an apology. Why was it was not issued earlier?  The equity training at (the York board) is akin to a fly landing on a buffalo. It has little to no effect. What is needed is training in how not to be racist and to unpack the racism that is rampant in that school board.” unquote

The Vaughan African Canadian Association made the following statement in an online petition in part;

“If the York Region District School Board has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination, how then can they allow Ms. Elgie to represent them? Thus, we are calling for the immediate resignation of Ms. Elgie for her complete disrespect of a black parent and our community and her blatant use of the racist and violent slur, nigger” unquote

The new school board chair, Loralea Carruthers, said that she has heard from many concerned parents, but that she has no power to force Elgie out.

I should point out that school trustees are elected into office and for this reason; they can’t be fired or suspended unless a court judge orders that kind of discipline.

Quite frankly, I think that Ms. Elgie should step down. There should be some consequences when elected officials denigrate their characters by using the word “nigger” when referring to black persons. It is a sign of a hidden hatred of blacks that goes much deeper than simply using a slur as an insult. That kind of hatred goes right to the bone of anyone who uses that kind of word to insult a black person.  Demands that she resign, quickly garnered more than 1,600 signatures.

UPDATE: February 8, 2017--- I have since learned that after Ms. Elgie used the word nigger when speaking to a fellow trustee, she immediately apologized to her. Further, I learned that she fell against a cement patio on October 19, 2016 which require 20 staples to close the wound on her skull. Family and friends have said that she had difficulty in adding numbers and mixes her words when speaking to them. A specialists has stated that she suffered from a concussion and experienced  the classic symptoms of concussions which is also exacerbated by her age which is 82. She is currently taking time off from her duties as a trustee in hopes that later she will be well enough to return to her work as a trustee. 

It has always been my policy that if I learn new information about someone I have written about, be it bad or good, I will place it at the end of my article as an update. 

UPDATE: February 19, 2017---Ms. Elgie has decided to resign as a trustee of the Georgina  School Board. She publicly said, "I have decided that the best thing I can do to serve the people of Georgina and the board is to sit down. I hope that this will allow the trustees to move forward and focus on the many important issues they face, and that it will enable a process of healing and restoaration to begin." unquote 

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