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York board parent files human rights complaint after racial slur

Charline Grant was referred to as a 'n-----" by then-trustee Nancy Elgie, who later resigned from the York Region District School Board.
April 8, 2017
Noor Javed and Kristin Rushowy

A York Region parent has launched a human rights complaint to “force the school board to take racism seriously” after a trustee referred to her as a “n-----.”

The latest blow to the troubled board comes as Education Minister Mitzie Hunter confirmed Friday afternoon that she had formally received a copy of a report she ordered probing incidents of racism and Islamophobia as well as concerns over trustee spending.

“Due to the significant implications of the review, it is essential that I take the necessary time to review their detailed observations and the recommendations based on the concerns raised by local parents and community organizations, and determine our‎ next steps,” likely by next week, said Hunter.

“We know that there have been significant and growing concerns from parents and community members regarding governance and equity issues in the York Region District School Board.”

Two investigators were tasked with looking at how the board handled complaints of racism, which is also one of the main issues in the human rights case parent Charline Grant has filed against the board, the director and former Georgina trustee Nancy Elgie.

Last November, Elgie, 82, used the word “n-----” to refer to Grant while speaking to a colleague after a meeting — a comment that was overheard by others. The board hired an outside investigator to look into the matter, and Elgie later apologized. After much public pressure, Elgie, who said she was suffering from a months-old head injury when the incident took place, resigned in February.

In her statement of fact, Grant outlines how she came to know about the slur, how she feels the board mishandled the investigation, and the impact the incident has had on her and her family.

“Ms. Grant and her family were humiliated by Ms. Elgie’s use of the slur. Ms. Grant has relived the indignity daily and was forced to take time off work to cope with the stress and avoid questions and heightened attention from her co-workers,” Grant wrote in her claim, filed last week.

“Elgie’s slur and the board’s guarded approach to addressing incidents of this nature are an indication of the deeply entrenched systemic barriers that parents face when they seek to challenge racism within the board,” wrote Grant, who has two previous claims against the board for issues of alleged racism involving her children.

Her complaint also names director J. Philip Parappally and the former chair for how they chose to investigate the incident.

In an interview, Grant said that instead of trustees opting to file a code of conduct complaint and publicly censure Elgie, Parappally chose to use an internal staff policy to investigate the allegation, arguing it became an internal human resources issue after staff who overheard the slur complained. Going the human resources route meant the report would never be public.

“In the face of standing up for my children who suffered systemic racism in the York Region board, this incident occurred and the board failed to address it appropriately, funds were wasted on an investigation and there was an attempt to cover up the situation,” Grant alleges.

York school board spokesperson Licinio Miguelo said “while we have not received such a complaint, it would be inappropriate for the board to comment on matters that are, or may come, before the (human rights) tribunal.”

The board, he added, “continues to take action to create learning environments that are safe, welcoming and inclusive. To this end, we welcome and are open to input from the community and look forward to the recommendations from the reviewers’ report when it is released.”

Elgie did not reply to a request for comment, sent through a family member.

Grant is seeking $20,000 in her claim for “damages to the applicant’s dignity and self-respect” and is also pushing the board to implement a host of equity policies, including:

“My hope is through this, the board will finally take racism seriously and incorporate changes that will protect marginalized children and their families,” Grant said.

Board Chair Loralea Carruthers said she “looks forward to receiving the report, reviewing it with my colleagues and working with the community to take the decisive action needed.”