May 2009 E-Bulletin-E
As we celebrate Asian Heritage Month, the ugly incident of bullying and racial slurs which took place in late April at Keswick High School, Ontario, is a reminder of racism in our midst, and the power of our young people to stand firm against it.
On April 21, 2009, a white student uttered a racial slur at an Asian-Canadian class mate after an argument during a gym class. The argument between the two quickly escalated into a physical fight, resulting in a broken nose for the white student, and arrest, charges of assault causing bodily harm, suspension and possible expulsion for the Asian-Canadian student.
Commenting on the incident, the Asian-Canadian student's mother felt the school should be responsible for preventing racism on school property. "There should be a special program to teach them about (inclusion)", she said. Her message to the school is to "please educate" the students about anti-racism. (Georgina Advocate, April 29, 2009).
Although this incident is a reminder of racism in our midst, the remarkable ensuing demonstration of support quickly made the Asian-Canadian family realize the importance of community involvement. On April 27, 400 students carrying signs of support for the Asian Canadian student, walked out of Keswick High School and protested in front of their school. Mathew Winch, a grade 12 student who organized the walk out, said that the school has fewer than 10 Asian students, but everyone wanted to stand up against bullying and racism. (The Globe and Mail, April 29, 2009). The significance of the student walk out is that it took place in the same area where a series of attacks on Asian-Canadian recreational fishermen took place in 2007. The so-called "nipper tipping" incidents were investigated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who found them to be racially motivated.
Bullying and racism in our schools continue to be a problem. In 2008, the Ontario Minister of Education called for the creation of an equity and inclusive education strategy for Ontario schools to advance three core priorities: improving student achievement, reducing achievement gaps, and increasing public confidence in the education system. The Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy recognized Ontario's growing diversity as a strength. It promoted fundamental human rights as described in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Strategy adopted a four-year action plan aimed at developing and implementing equity and inclusive education policies.
Although the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy is a pivotal instrument in the promotion of equity and inclusivity in our schools, there is a need to link and coordinate with similar initiatives/policies at the community level. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, in cooperation with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and other partners such as provincial human rights commissions, is active in the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination (CMARD). Municipal governments, as well as other levels of government in Canada, along with local and national organizations and institutions, share responsibility and have an important role to play in fostering equality and respect for all citizens. The daily lives of residents are shaped by the policies and activities of local communities and municipal governments. By taking action to combat multiple forms of discrimination, schools and municipalities have an integral role to play in building respectful, inclusive and safe societies where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the educational, economic, social, cultural, recreational and political life of the community.