Education minister calls for Ottawa school board trustee to resign
OTTAWA -- Ontario’s education minister is calling for an Ottawa school board trustee to resign after an incident in March in which she confronted a Black youth in a local park and posted his photo to social media.
Donna Blackburn, an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee, has faced intense backlash after calling out teenager Styles Lepage, who was playing basketball alone in a Barrhaven park that was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in the legislative chamber at Queen’s Park that he was “disturbed” by her comments, accusing her of “bad judgment.”
“As stated by members of the community, it was shameful, it was racist, it was an abuse of her privilege. It is clear that this trustee must do the right thing and step down.”
Lecce also said he had spoken to the young man's father.
Blackburn referred a request for comment to her lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth, who said in an e-mail that the trustee will not resign.
"Trustee Donna Blackburn has the utmost respect for the Minister of Education and understands the pressure he would feel," Hollingsworth said. "However, she will respectfully decline his request that she resign."
The OCDSB’s board of trustees sanctioned Blackburn last week, saying in a statement her behaviour “did not meet the behavioural standards of an elected trustee.”
The board’s decision came after an independent investigation concluded Blackburn was “racially insensitive” in her comments to the teenager.
Hollingsworth said Blackburn filed an appeal on Wednesday of the OCDSB's sanction.
"She looks forward to result of their reconsideration in light of the information she has highlighted," she said. She added that Blackburn has not had an opportunity to provide her version of events to the board or the public "due to constraints imposed on her by the Code of Conduct and her Board."
Lepage's father Matthew Kedroe said Wednesday he was pleased at the news.
"Awesomesauce. I think that's a great word to start out with," he said.
Kedroe said his son didn't know parks were closed because of the pandemic, only that he should keep his distance from others.
Blackburn is now barred from attending board meetings to discuss the 2020-21 budget, and is also barred from several committee meetings for a six-month period.
She has also been encouraged to participate in anti-racism training and further professional development.
Blackburn has apologized and also said she regretted posting on her private Facebook page about the encounter. She’s also been engaged in training related to racial sensitivity since the incident.
Hollingsworth added that Blackburn is a single mother of a black daughter in her 20s and has experienced anti-Black racism as a parent, including in public education.
"She is an ally and is committed to her role as Trustee in part because of her experience parenting a racialized child," she said. "She looks forward to continuing this important work."
- With files from CTV's Megan Shaw
Full statement from Brenda Hollingsworth, Donna Blackburn's lawyer:
Trustee Donna Blackburn has the utmost respect for the Minister of Education and understands the pressure he would feel. However, she will respectfully decline his request that she resign.
During this process Trustee Blackburn has not had an opportunity to provide her version of events directly to the Board or the public due to constraints imposed on her by the Code of Conduct and her Board. She looks forward to having the opportunity to do so.
Today, Trustee Blackburn filed an appeal from the determination and sanction of the OCDSB. She looks forward to result of their reconsideration in light of the information she has highlighted.
Trustee Blackburn is the single mother of a black daughter, now in her 20s. She has experienced anti-Black racism as a parent, including in public education. She is an ally and is committed to her role as Trustee in part because of her experience parenting a racialized child. She looks forward to continuing this important work.