Dan Collen and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network
The campaign against gender-inclusive policies within the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) has several moving parts.
The WRDSB has been contending with a far-right smear campaign, disruptions to their meetings, and even anonymous death threats for making public commitments to support 2SLGBTQ+ students, families, and staff. Employees have faced fierce opposition from anti-transgender activists and hack writers, and even their own elected trustees.
Trustees at the WRDSB are not unanimous in supporting the 2SLGBTQ+ community, which has led to public disagreements about whether delegates with anti-transgender views should be allowed to present.
In January 2022, the board’s then-chair cut off a presentation by a teacher calling to re-evaluate allowing certain books that mention asexual and transgender youth. They voted to cut short Carolyn Burkoski’s presentation which Chair Scott Piatkowski said may violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
It was a divisive call.
Four of the nine sitting trustees voted to let the speaker continue. One of whom, Laurie Tremble, later apologized for her vote.
Burjoski and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are suing the Waterloo Region District School Board for defamation for referring to her comments as transphobic and suggesting that they might violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Later in 2022, the board became a target again after an in-camera vote to censure trustee Mike Ramsay for violating the board's code of conduct following a report from the integrity commissioner regarding Ramsay’s emails, tweets, and retweets. In response, Ramsay filed legal action against the board. This became fodder for the columnists going after the WRDSB. Except for one term, Ramsay has been a Waterloo Region Public School Board trustee since 1989.
Ramsay, who is a Black man, has been a target of hate himself. On June 6, a hearing for Ramsay’s case against the WRDSB was delayed after an attendee “played racist audio recordings and pornographic videos on his screen during the meeting.”
Months after his censure had ended and he was allowed to attend meetings again, Ramsay responded to an open letter by the board addressing parent and activist David Todor’s concerns that it was “facilitating child abuse” by carrying a book with graphic descriptions of incest and sexual molestation in its libraries.
Todor accused the school board of making the book available to his seven-year-old daughter in his delegation on January 16. The open letter from the school board states that the book in question, The Bluest Eye, is “not available in WRDSB elementary schools” and that the audience for this book is adolescents. Written by 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye is a tragedy that explores anti-Black racism, girlhood, and abuse.
“This book is more than 200 pages without illustration and in no way is promoted to young children,” WRDSB says.
Ramsay’s letter argues that Todor’s accusation “could reasonably be deemed to be hyperbolic” but that “the underlying concern is legitimate” in regard to the age appropriateness of the book.
Both Ramsay and fellow trustee Cindy Watson follow and retweet anti-transgender columnists and activists, including those who are serial delegates at WRDSB meetings. Ramsay told CAHN his “duties as a school trustee and my day job do not permit me the luxury of micro-policing the moral tone and content” of every Twitter account he follows.
Watson told CAHN that she sometimes follows Twitter accounts that she opposes and that she is “not responsible for anyone's tweets.”
“They’re not feeling safe”
As the criticism escalated, so did the vitriol towards WRDSB staff, trustees, and students.
“I’ve had calls to my office with a Texas code with people breathing on the phone,” said WRDSB Director of Education jeewan chanicka. “Some of the responses we’re getting, we’re getting from the U.S. and from other places. It’s not just in the region.”
Staff at the school board have also faced obstacles to their jobs and even their own personal safety.
“We've had people on social media who've posted pictures of staff trying to get personal information about them,” chanicka explained.
Trustee Piatkowski has also received death threats. During one alleged incident, an unknown caller accused him of being a pedophile, threatening to shoot him in the head. Another email stated someone would kill him in his sleep. In 2022, Piatkowski’s car tires were popped with nails three times in two months — all while his car was parked at home.
Piatkowski says he has since paid to have a home security system installed.
In addition to the messaging towards the board alleging child abuse, grooming, and pedophilia — all under the guise of protecting children — specific students have also been targeted. Two student trustees on the board have taken to Twitter to show people what they deal with on social media as a result of supporting 2SLGBTQ+ students and inclusive policies.
Student trustee Kenzy Soros posted a thread on Twitter expressing concern that parents were pulling kids out of class in protest of Pride celebrations. On June 3, Todor uploaded a video criticizing her thread and remarking that she “obviously doesn’t have her own kids,” and states that parents are tired of Pride, before congratulating those who did keep their children home.
Todor posted a clip of the video to Twitter, where he tagged Soror’s account directly.
Four days later, Soror described an “orchestrated bullying, hate, misinformation, and homophobia campaign” resulting from the video published by Todor. When asked about the video by CAHN, Todor further criticized Soror, calling her “young and inexperienced.”
Others in the community have targeted the student trustees on social media. A Kitchener-area anti-transgender activist tweeted that the two teenaged trustees had their heads “up (jeewan chanicka’s) ass.” The same account frequently publishes derogatory comments toward the student trustees of the WRDSB.
chanicka says the board has been told by regional organizations how the atmosphere has affected the mental health of young 2SLGBTQ+ people.
“We had a meeting with leaders from the organizations in the community that serve LGBT-identifying children and youth. They told us that they're seeing an uptick of kids with depression, suicidal ideation, and wanting to move out of the region because they're not feeling safe.”
Disruption By Design
In May, the WRDSB had fought yet another battle — how best to install new trustees — but pushback over sex education, 2SLGBTQ+ inclusivity, and equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts spilled over into the debate. At a mid-month meeting, a majority of the board voted to use an appointment process and accept applications to the trustee positions, which would then be decided on by the sitting board members.
Signs reading “Voters Choose Trustees, Not WRDSB,” alongside “education not indoctrination,” waved outside of a WRDSB meeting on May 29. Activists banded together and arrived to present a unified front in arguing for the board to fill two recent vacancies by installing the runners-up from the election. Ultimately, the board went with their original vote; they would accept applicants to fill the seats.
During a special board meeting on June 28, the WRDSB voted in Trustees Joseph Meissner (the son of the late trustee Fred Meissner) and Samantha Estoesta. The board heard bids from 13 hopefuls for the open Waterloo-Wilmot seat, and six for Woolwich-Wellesley.
Waterloo Region Medical Freedom (WRMF), is a COVID conspiracy social media community led by Tim Petrovic, that now focuses on 2SLGBTQ+ and sex-ed issues. Petrovic encouraged members to apply for the WRDSB vacancies, in an effort to disrupt the proceedings. “A WRMF email just went out this morning. This one you won't want to miss, especially if you have a slightly mischievous side,” Petrovic wrote on Telegram.
In a copy of the email obtained by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Petrovic asks “every member of WRMF and your networks” to apply for the seat “whether or not you want the position.”
“You can use Chat GTP [sic] to write up an application, and you can make it as ‘woke’ or conservative as you want,” the email, signed by Petrovic, reads. “The more applicants there are, the more it gums up the process and exposes the WRDSB as the incompetent bumbling idiots that they are. There is also a chance that one or two good applicants make it through this process if we all rush the fence.”
Petrovic and the Waterloo Region Medical Freedom group have shifted their activism from these conspiracy theories to 2SLGBTQ+ and sex-ed issues at the WRDSB.
Petrovic runs the WRMF chatroom in which he has promoted trustee candidates who share his politics, namely his belief in anti-2SLGBTQ+ so-called groomer narratives, which allege that transgender and queer people are pedophiles. The WRMF Instagram account has posted cartoons depicting predatory foxes, saying “I was born a fox but feel like a chicken. This is my new identity. Let me go to the henhouse.”
One post shared to Instagram depicts an altered image of a drag queen chasing after a toddler which reads, “Hey kid, wanna hear a story!” Posts denigrating transgender women as “mentally ill” are posted alongside climate-based conspiracy theories.
Tim Petrovic did not respond to a request for comment.
Last August, Petrovic promoted a loose slate of 11 candidates for the WRDSB trustee election with the message, "I have personally met most of these candidates, and am truly impressed. They all bring a little something different to the table, but all share the same core values."
Among Petrovic’s endorsements were current trustees Mike Ramsay, Cindy Watson, and Bill Cody, as well as local activists Martin Mirt and Cristina Bairos Fernandes, who would eventually lose their campaigns.
In October 2022, Mirt’s campaign website stated, “instead of focusing on getting all our students competent in the basics, our Director of Education has said he wants to focus on “identity” issues… like race and sexual identity.” He also included support for Carolyn Burjoski’s challenge of “highly sexualized materials now available to our elementary students.”
On public Facebook and Instagram pages, Waterloo Region for Medical Freedom shares political memes and calls to action. They suggested that followers attend the May 29 board meeting. Trustee Ramsay thanked Petrovic for “continued lawful and respectful conversations” on Twitter the next day.
Ramsay is not the only trustee who has been accused of having sympathies toward anti-transgender voices.
At the May 29th meeting, Martin Mirt had his speech cut short after repeated warnings for speaking off topic — specifically, his opinion that vaccines were “COVID experimental injections” — during presentations from the public that were supposed to be about the board’s vacancies.
Long-time WRDSB trustee Cindy Watson was told she was out of order after she got up to speak off-microphone after a visibly agitated Mirt had been approached by security.
Chairperson Joanne Weston called Watson’s behaviour “inappropriate,” while trustee Watson replied that she has a right to speak with delegates. The Chairperson specified that they had a right to ask clarifying questions only.
Watson explained to CAHN that she reached out to Mirt because he “appeared to experience distress while delegating,” and said, “Quite often delegations are under a great deal of pressure and I encouraged the delegation to continue.”
Martin Mirt did not respond to a request for comment.
Cristina Bairos Fernandes is a parent activist, a frequent delegate at school board meetings, and a failed trustee candidate who ran on an anti-mask platform.
A letter written by her appears among those written by the members of the Waterloo Region Chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR).
FAIR is an organization advocating against critical race theory, DEI (largely understood to mean diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and programs), and gender-inclusive policies in schools. When a U.S. school board discussed whether or not to treat outing students’ gender identity against their wishes as a form of discriminatory harassment, FAIR opposed the policy change, arguing that it infringed on free speech.
Bairos Fernandes told CAHN that she has attended FAIR meetings, however, she added, “I wouldn't be able to vouch for all that FAIR is currently doing simply because I'm not as involved as I'd like to be.”
Bairos Fernandes frequently appears with David Todor, an activist with a podcast who has branded himself “Father David Todor.” Episodes feature anti-transgender media personalities as guests, including Ottawa anti-trans activists Chanel Pfahl and Shannon Boschy, and Sue-Ann Levy, who writes for True North.
Levy has written that chanicka invited “all who follow him to join what I’d describe as the quickly evolving Oppression Cult” on TNC’s website. In April, Levy responded to David Todor’s tweet “Jeewan Chanicka is whack job,” with, “has he admitted he's gay yet?”
Todor’s account replied that chanicka identified as “Indigiqueer,” Levy replied, “He’s Muslim wtf [what the fuck].”
David Todor has repeatedly accused or inferred that the 2SLGBTQ+ community and its allies — including the Waterloo Region District School Board — are pedophiles.
“The safe spaces reserved for these people are called jail cells. That’s exactly where they belong if they plan to exploit children, have sexual conversations, groom them, and sexualize them from an early age and have these relationships with them,” Todor says in one of his videos.
In another video, Todor takes aim at an email shared with the families of students of a WRDSB elementary school.
A video linked in the email shows children of different backgrounds and abilities embracing each other as friends, romantic relationships between adults of different genders and backgrounds, and friendships between people of different faiths. The email says that the video “reminded us that Love has No Race, Nor Religion, No Gender, No Disability, and No Age.”
“Wow. Love has no age, eh? As you can see, this behaviour with love being minors a little bit too much [sic], if you know what I mean. It’s starting to creep in right in our elementary schools,” Todor says.
Todor did not show his audience the video in question.
“These people are loving kids a little bit too much, and I can’t say the word because I’m going to get censored, but this is right in Waterloo District School Board at elementary schools.”
When reached for comment, Todor told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) that his title is “Child Rights and Protection Advocate." He added that he is “encouraged to see parents unite, protect and stand against sexualization/abuse [sic] of children.”
The activist networks that engage with WRDSB sometimes look toward other school boards. Waterloo parent Julia Malott, who launched the “Transparently Project” with Bairos Fernandes, mentioned in her June 12 WRDSB delegation that she had also recently delegated at the Halton District School Board. Malott attended a protest against “indoctrination” at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board by anti-trans activist Chris Elston and the Christian Nationalist anti-2SLGBTQ+ group Save Canada on June 9.
“What I'm seeing from where I sit is a coordinated network of hate. And they're not actually working on behalf of kids, they have another agenda,” chanicka warned.
“Schools don’t tell kids to transition. It’s as straightforward as that. Schools support children who are in transition."
Though anecdotes about schools’ reading materials that discuss gender and sexuality can be misinformed, chanicka says that parents with children attending WRDSB schools may still be affected by them.
“Do I think that there might be parents who have legitimate concerns? Absolutely. And to those parents, I would say, please speak to your school principal. Because it's not what is being created in this fictitious argument that has emerged and unfortunately, in the ways that they're doing it, they are putting staff in danger.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Fred Meissner was a long-time trustee with the WRDSB. In fact, he was elected to the board in October 2022 and was a long-time educator with the board.