A Calgary man says a recent fight outside of Western Canada High school is yet another case of racial bullying that’s not being addressed by school officials, so he’s decided to speak up to highlight the problem.
“I cannot turn my back on it anymore, ” said Stephen Allen, President of the African-Caribbean Canadian Association.
“No student should be made to feel they are in an unsafe environment or an environment where they have to be emotionally tortured in a way,” he said. “On the other side of the coin, no student should feel it’s okay to bully another student.”
According to witnesses and one of the teens involved, some white teenagers used racial slurs against some black teenagers.
Some of the kids who say they were targeted with those slurs – retaliated. Two of them were charged with assault causing bodily harm and at least one was suspended from school.
The CBE won’t confirm if there were other suspensions or expulsions.
Two of the white teens were injured, one seriously enough to be treated in hospital.
‘He got upset’
One of the students who was charged emigrated from Ghana with his family five years ago. His father, who can’t be identified to protect the identity of the boy, admits his son shouldn’t have reacted with violence and feels bad for the injured student, but he wonders why the white kids aren’t being punished as well.
“Something just happened, the kids was calling him, bullying him, racist names and all this, and he got upset.”
CBC News reached out to the family of the injured teen, but did not hear back.
The suspended teen’s father also says he’s upset with the way school officials have been dealing with his son.
The father met with the school board to find out if his son could return to Western or if he would have to go to another school to finish Grade 11. The conversation which he says took place, shocked him.
“Instead of to get my son to maybe a different school, what he’s talking about is if my son is involved with the guns and if he’s hanging around with the people who have, you know … was so surprised with the board.”
CBE says race wasn’t central issue
The Calgary Board of Education won’t comment specifically on this case, except to say its own investigation determined race wasn’t the central issue around the fight.
“For us, it’s kind of a one-off, isolated incident, however not an incident to be downplayed,” said Calvin Davies, director of area seven for the CBE.
“I wasn’t there, but I am not going to say that there weren’t some potentially inappropriate comments made, but for us it’s continuing to work on discussion and dialogue as opposed to physical reactions.”
Davies couldn’t say whether the school would punish the students who may have used racial slurs.
“They take it very seriously, so on all angles, what occurred in this altercation, there is nothing that is being swept under the carpet,” he said.
Allen said racial bullying is not only happening at Western. He’s hearing from families at other Calgary schools and believes it needs to be better addressed at the institutional level.
“There has to be something in place, even of a disciplinary nature, that won’t be tolerated. Because we have certain workplaces that have zero-tolerance policies when it comes to racial slurs and so forth … an institution of learning or education, that should be implemented as well,” he said.
Message of inclusiveness
The CBE said its messaging from Kindergarten to Grade 12 is about respect, empathy and inclusiveness, but it knows there are always areas for improvement.
“I would never want to be quoted that [race is] not an issue. Interactions, interpersonal dynamics are always an issue no matter what kinds of groups of people you put together,” said Davies.
He said the board has a number of policies in place including a student code of conduct, as well as different after-school clubs that celebrate differences in race, religion, culture and sexual orientation.
Allen said he appreciates the work being done by the different schools, but based on his experience he believes it’s not enough to erase the problem completely.
To that end he created a Facebook group called Calgary’s Racial Bullying as a potential forum for kids of all backgrounds who are being racially bullied in order to bring awareness to the issue. And then help address it.