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Education minister calls on OCDSB trustee Blackburn to resign over 'racist' comments


Education Minister Stephen Lecce has called on Ottawa public school trustee Donna Blackburn to step down because of what he described as her racist and shameful behaviour toward a black teenager.

Addressing the Ontario legislature Wednesday, Lecce said he shares with others “deep concern” about the comments that Blackburn directed toward a teenager playing basketball by himself in a park then closed because of COVID-19.

“As stated by members of the community, it was shameful, it was racist, and it was an abuse of her privilege,” Lecce told the legislature. “It’s clear that this trustee must do the right thing and step down.”

The minister said the parents of the young man expect accountability and justice for the trustee’s “bad judgment.”

Matthew Kedroe, the young man’s father, said Wednesday he was grateful for the minister’s action. “ My family thanks you,” he said on Twitter .

Lecce’s public call for Blackburn’s resignation comes one week after the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board censured the trustee and asked her to step down for what it termed “an act of anti-Black racism.”

Blackburn, a three-term trustee, has said she has no intention of stepping down from the school board. Her lawyer, Brenda Hollingsworth, said Wednesday that Blackburn “ will respectfully decline the request by the minister of education 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,” Hollingsworth said. “She looks forward to having the opportunity to do so.”

Blackburn filed an appeal Wednesday to the school board’s decision to censure her for her conduct.

“Trustee Blackburn is the single mother of a black daughter, now in her 20s,” Hollingsworth said. “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.”

Last week, her fellow trustees voted unanimously to bar Blackburn from attending one meeting and sitting on committees for six months — the most severe penalty allowed under the board’s code of conduct.

Trustee Sandra Schwartz described Blackburn’s actions as those “of a bully who abused her privileged position.” “I’m angry that the reputation of the OCDSB has been damaged by the acts of one renegade trustee,” she said.

Blackburn has previously issued a public apology for her behaviour in the park. But she has insisted that she did not discriminate against the teenager and did not target him because he was Black.

“All my life I have fought against discrimination and hate,” she said. “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have firsthand experience dealing with discrimination. It is simply not who I am to discriminate.”

According to a fact-fining report, Blackburn approached the 17-year-old and asked him to leave the park, which was closed that day due to COVID-19. When he declined, Blackburn told him that people who don’t follow the rules go to jail. She briefly posted his photo on her Facebook page, vowing to keep her community safe. Blackburn also asked for the youth’s name and school, and said she might phone his basketball coach.

Blackburn said she approached 10 other people at the park that day, all of whom complied with her request to leave.

The board’s characterization of Blackburn’s behaviour as an “act of anti-Black racism” was at odds with the findings of an independent investigator, who termed her actions “racially insensitive.” The board-financed report also said there was “compelling evidence that trustee Blackburn has done much for marginalized communities in Ottawa, including OCDSB students, such as promoting prayers for Muslim students in OCDSB schools.”

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