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Nova Scotia

Group says private school near Montreal ignored racism complaints

MONTREAL — A private high school west of Montreal is promising to make changes after allegations that administrators ignored complaints of racial bullying against two black students for years.

MONTREAL — A private high school west of Montreal is promising to make changes after allegations that administrators ignored complaints of racial bullying against two black students for years.

Joel DeBellefeuille, founder of Montreal-based anti-racism group Red Coalition, said the girls’ family reached out to his organization after administrators brushed aside their grievances.

“They tried to tell them that they were spat on, their hair pulled, and called the N-word by other students at the school on numerous occasions,” DeBellefeuille told reporters Wednesday. He said the family’s older daughter was abused six years ago while she was enrolled at Collège Bourget in Rigaud, Que.

DeBellefeuille said the family did not want to be identified because they feared their children would be abused by other students or school staff.

The two sisters, he said, were attacked by students through text messages containing racist memes, slurs and stereotypes. DeBellefeuille also said that all of her ideas were shot down when one of the students tried to organize a Black History Month event at the school.

“She suggested bringing some food and was told that African food smelled too strong.” In a recorded statement played to DeBellefeuille at a news conference, the girl said she felt teachers were treating her differently than other students.

“It’s gotten hard going to school, acting like you’re happy when you really aren’t, and feeling hated by everyone,” she said in the recording.

“I faked being sick or faking an injury just so my parents could let me stay home because I wasn’t up for a day of school because I didn’t know if I would be bullied if someone walked up to me to come and say the N-word or if I would get in trouble just for acting like a normal student.”

Philippe Bertrand, chief executive of Collège Bourget, said in an emailed statement that the school is taking the situation seriously and is working to remedy it. He said that despite the fact that college staff have received training on students’ “other realities,” more needs to be done.

“The college will be joined by an expert to take stock of the situation and ensure best practices in terms of prevention and intervention are in place to ensure each student, despite their differences, feels safe and accepted,” he wrote and added that this process will take a few months.

In the meantime, he said, the school – which has preschool, elementary and secondary programs – will try to rebuild bridges with the girls’ families.

A complaint about the girls’ treatment will be filed with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, DeBellefeuille said, adding that the family also wants the Quebec Minister for Combating Racism and the Department of Education to investigate.

“What’s going on is a classic example – and a clear example – of how systemic racism continues,” DeBellefeuille said. “Here you have authoritative members of the school who should be doing the right thing by educating the students and chiding those who perpetuate the hate. However, for the last six years, this has just kind of been swept under the rug.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 1, 2023.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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