Ontario’s education minister — under fire after not appointing someone from the Black community to help probe allegations of racism at the Peel school board — has now named a third reviewer, the Star has learned.
The appointment of Shawn Richard, past president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, “is intended to address feedback from community members and stakeholders about the need to have an independent Black reviewer who can contextualize lived experiences that are being shared, and to ensure that there is a voice to speak to the specific ways in which systemic racism affects the Black community,” Stephen Lecce said in a written statement.
“We are determined to root out discrimination in all of its forms, and with the addition of Shawn Richard, I feel confident that we will deliver,” he also said.
“We want Black and racialized families in Peel and across Ontario to know that their government is listening and firmly committed to improving equity and opportunity for their children.”
In early November, Lecce ordered the review in Peel after the board reached out because of struggles with equity issues, trustee divisions and accusations of racism — including a trustee who referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School in Brampton as “McCriminal.”
As well, Poleen Grewal, a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination initiatives, had launched a human rights complaint against the board, alleging racism and harassment.
At the end of the month, Lecce named Suzanne Herbert and human rights lawyer Ena Chadha to look at racism, equity issues and trustee dysfunction, among other troubles plaguing Ontario’s second-largest board that covers Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga.
Herbert, a veteran public servant, was part of a two-person team that led a 2017 review into racism and governance at the York Region District School Board, along with human rights expert Patrick Case.
Case, an assistant deputy minister in the education ministry, was to oversee the Peel review, but that did not quell concerns that a member of the Black community should be on the front-lines.
The reviewers are to report to the minister with recommendations for improvement before winter’s end in 2020, with an interim report by the end of this year.
Richard graduated from law school at the University of Toronto more than a decade ago — after starting his career as a researcher and bioethicist — where until last year he also taught.
He is now partner at Lenkinski Law — soon to be Lenkinski Carr & Richard — where he focuses on family, estates and civil litigation. Six years ago, he served as co-counsel for the Elliot Lake Mall Action Committee at the inquiry into the deadly mall collapse.
Richard could not be reached for comment.
Lecce had faced questions from the Black community in Peel, as well as opposition MPPs in the legislature, about the original decision not to have an independent Black reviewer on the panel.
While New Democrat MPP Jill Andrew (Toronto-St. Paul’s) lauded Case for being “a phenomenal leader. He is a community leader in the Black community,” she said “he is not an independent reviewer. You’re not listening to the community.”
In December she told Lecce that “in order for a review of anti-Black racism in our schools to have any credibility … the minister needs to get the fundamentals right. Black reviewers need to be at the table. Black community outreach staff need to be in place to connect with said Black community. The review needs to be accessible to students and parents who have experienced anti-Black racism.”
Earlier this month, New Democrat Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre) questioned Lecce about why he hadn’t acted “when even public pressure has not made the minister recognize that it is mandatory to have independent Black reviewers at the table?”
“Black community members continue to speak out because we have been here before: ministers who talk a good talk, then return to their offices and ignore report after report telling them how to address the root causes of anti-Black racism,” she also said.
Lecce has met with Lindo as well as leaders in the region, and last Monday he took part in a Peel youth anti-racism roundtable — all which prompted his decision to appoint a third reviewer.
Earlier this month, he said he “reached out to each of the (NDP members) from Peel Region, as well as members of our government, in the days leading up to my decision to appoint reviewers.”
He said the government “moved very quickly, perhaps with the quickest decision points made in the context of sending in reviewers to a board that had made some requests — both complaints from parents and families. Any form of discrimination and prejudice is unacceptable in our schools. It’s why we moved quickly.”
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And despite rumours that the board itself was not on side with the review, Peel Director of Education Peter Joshua recently sent out a memo urging all staff to take part.
“I want to confirm, unequivocally, that participation should not be discouraged,” he said in the message.
“In fact, we have been encouraging all members of the Peel community, including staff members, to participate and using our intranet, board website and social media channels to do this. Whatever input you wish to share — good, bad or indifferent — as it relates to the scope of the interview, is welcome and entirely up to you.”