Confronting and Preventing Hate in Canada’s School Boards

The far-right is trying to stack school boards. We've put together the background and tools you need to confront and prevent hate during the upcoming elections.

Canadian Anti-Hate Network


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Confronting and preventing hate in Canadian schools involves more than just intervening when we see it being spread by youth and staff members. We need to pay attention to the people being elected to positions of power as trustees in our local school boards. 

Far-right organizations like Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) have long encouraged their followers to be heavily involve​​d in school board trustee elections – from running as candidates, to acting as “Citizen Journalists'' to “force the … candidates to divulge their position.” 

CLC is a reactionary far-right lobbying group. Since 1987, it has been involved in the creation and/or incubation of three media outlets, one political party, and numerous other anti-abortion, anti-2SLGBTQ+ not-for-profit corporations.

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This year, other groups, such as Blueprint for Canada and Take Back Catholic Education, have joined CLC’s efforts to remake school boards in their ideological image.

Reporting by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has already uncovered anti-trans candidates running for the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.

Caring adults can get involved in their local school boards to prevent far-right entryism, protect anti-racist education, and protect kids. At the end of this piece are some concrete steps you can take to keep schools safe.

 

School Board Elections: Fast Facts

 

  • What do school boards do?

School boards oversee the activities of the schools under their purview and liaise between the public and the provincial government on matters of education. They also “act as navigators for families and the public when they have questions or concerns about their schools.”

School board trustees are members of the community elected to guide some of the policies and procedures of school boards. 

Sometimes, school board trustees are parents or caregivers of students in the schools their board oversees, but not always. 
 

  • Where are school board elections happening this fall?

Elections for representatives on school boards are happening all over the country: October 15 in British Columbia; October 17 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; October 24 in Ontario; October 26 in Manitoba; and November 7 in Prince Edward Island and Yukon
 

  • Who elects school board trustees?

Many of the same rules apply to eligibility for electing school board trustees, as in other elections. Check your province and region’s specific eligibility criteria by visiting the links to each province in the previous question. Pay specific attention to the rules around who is able to vote for Catholic (Separate) school board trustees, and French school board trustees.
 

  • How do I vote for a school board trustee?

In some jurisdictions, you vote for school board trustees at the same time you vote for city councillors, but that's not true in other places. Call a trusted city councillor, current or previous trustee, MPP/MLA, or MP - or the school board or city hall - and ask how it works where you live.
 

  • What are Catholic school boards? What are French school boards?

You may hear Catholic school boards be referred to as “Separate” school boards in contrast to “Public” school boards. In Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Yukon, faith-based schools are permitted to receive public funding. Outside of Quebec, French school boards, also known as des conseils scolaires francophones, are found in every province and territory. 

In most provinces, by default, you will be registered to vote for an English public school board trustee. The requirements to vote for a Catholic or French (or French Catholic) trustee, vary according to province, and are usually related to where you have directed your taxes.

  

The Far-Right Is Stacking School Boards

 

Campaign Life Coalition has been producing voter guides for federal elections since the 1980s and for school board trustee elections since at least 2006. 

Josie Luetke, youth coordinator for CLC, told CAHN they are not advocating for the exclusion of anyone but confirmed that CLC supports candidates that oppose gender-affirming healthcare.

“We are supporting candidates who share this position and will stand for truth despite political pressure," she said. 

In 2022, they have comprehensive voting guides for every election, including school board trustees, which include links to volunteer for, or otherwise help, candidates they endorse.

Screenshot of a Campaign Life Coalition voter guide page for the Toronto Catholic district School Board - Ward 11, 2022. The candidates responses to 7 survey questions are displayed. The first candidate is Celine di Novo, who is labeled as \Source: Campaign Life Coalition

 

Candidates are ranked on a red/green/yellow traffic light-style system, with a green rating indicating that “the person supports CLC principles” and is “supportable;” and red indicating that the person is not supportable. Green candidates are described as “Pro-Life, Pro-Family” and “red” candidates are described as “Pro-Abortion, Pro-LGBT Ideology.”

CLC has been attempting to influence the policy and practices of not only Catholic school boards, but public school boards as well.

 


Source: Campaign Life Coalition

  

In 2019, Campaign Life Coalition launched a petition calling for the repeal of a then-recently passed motion for all elementary schools in the Greater Essex County District School Board to fly the rainbow flag for at least one week in June. Their petition was signed by nearly 10,000 people, but the motion was not repealed.

Jeff Gunnarson, president of CLC, described the motion as “a totalitarian, Marxist, power grab by leftist elites for the hearts and minds of the next generation, with no regard for the trauma and conflict they will cause.” 

Parents as First Educators (PAFE) is another reactionary far-right lobbying group that has attempted to influence school board activities. Last year, along with CLC, they sought to intervene in the Halton Catholic School Board’s consideration on whether to fly the rainbow flag outside its schools for Pride Month.

 

They’re Learning Tactics From The United States

     

This year, CLC and PAFE are joined by Blueprint for Canada, which claims to be “a group of parents and citizens running for school board trustee positions across Ontario to remove extreme political ideology (CRT and Gender Ideology) from our public schools.” 

When reached for comment, Blueprint for Canada denied that they support candidates who deny trans identity.

While racism, queer and trans antagonism, and other forms of hate have always been homegrown in Canada, the particular talking points we are seeing today in Canadian school board elections – for example, targeting “critical race theory” (a complex legal framework of analysis taught in universities, not to school children) – and tactics, appear to draw from moral panics raging in the United States. 

American school boards have been described as “the fiercest battlefront for the culture wars.” The number of candidates running for school board has risen 17% over 2020. CNET attributes this to parents’ increasing frustration with, and engagement in, school board politics throughout the pandemic. At open floor meetings (which we do not have in Canadian school boards) angry activists initially aire​​d their grievances about mask mandates and school closures, which “quickly morphed into debates around banning books and dismantling equity initiatives around gender identity and antiracism efforts.”

These highly hostile meetings have also been attended by members of violent white supremacist groups like NSC-131 and the Proud Boys, with at least one member of the latter currently running as a school board candidate in California.

Likewise, many of the anti-trans, anti-CRT candidates running for trustee positions in Canada have associations with the covid-19 conspiracy theory movement. 


Read More: A Children's Rights Framework for Asking School Board Trustee Candidates Important Questions


Action4Canada (A4C) is a prime example of the crossover between COVID-19 conspiracism and hate. Last December, parents in Barrie, Ontario, expressed their concerns after members of A4C were seen handing out anti-vaccination literature during morning drop-offs at the school. A4C have accused “LGBT forces” of teaming up with “Islam to undermine Christian civilization.” They declined to comment for this article.

Far-right engagement with school board politics is strongly connected today with broader anti-trans and anti-queer organizing against drag queen story hours and gender affirming healthcare for minors. 

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network also contacted Take Back Catholic Education for comment, and will update this story if a response is received.  

 

Pushing Back

   

Groups like Halton Parents for Change, Hamilton Students for Justice, Rainbow Ottawa Student Experience, and many more, have all advocated in favour of justice, equity, and inclusion in the face of both overt hate and systemic oppression. In many cases they have won.

The Halton Catholic District School Board ultimately voted to pass the aforementioned motion to raise the rainbow flag for Pride month, an outcome Halton Parents for Change attributed to more community members “becoming aware of groups like the CLC and PAFE and… realizing there is a huge need to openly fight against them in order to preserve the loving and inclusive community that the rest of us so value.”

In 2020, Hamilton Students for Justice (HS4J) successfully campaigned to remove police from Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board schools, with then-student trustee Ahona Mehdi submitting a report to the board containing over 250 firsthand accounts of the negative effects of policing in local schools. Mehdi and fellow HS4J organizer Sabreina Dahab are currently running for HWDSB school board trustee positions. 

Christian Wright with Rainbow Ottawa Student Experience previously emphasized the importance of public engagement in municipal and trustee elections: “People need to connect with candidates in their zones and ask tough questions, they need to support and organize with 2SLGBTQ+ community groups on the ground in challenging these candidates, and they need to vote. Too often we ignore these important but smaller races but transgender youth cannot afford our ignorance anymore.” 

 

What You Can Do 

 

Engage!

  • First, find out who is running to represent your region (often called a “Ward”) at your local school board. This information will be available on your municipality’s website, which you can find by searching the internet for the name of your municipality, with “municipal election.” You can only vote for one trustee, and the race you vote in will depend on where you live. Ad​​ditionally, in Ontario, unless you qualify otherwise, you will automatically be registered to vote for a trustee in your local English Public board.
  • Then, find out who else is running for a trustee position in your municipality. 
     

Investigate!

  • Look at the social media presence of your local trustee candidates. Some candidates may be vague or evasive about questions relating to social justice, while their social media presence may be more revealing. Screenshot or archive things that concern you. 
  • Ask them questions about what you find. Try to strike a balance between holding people accountable, and allowing space for growth and learning. 
  • Ask us questions about what you find. You can send us both questions and tips about potential far-right candidates — if you see something on a candidate’s social media page that concerns you, send it to [email protected]
     

Advocate!

  • Ask your local candidates if they will support diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and 2SLGBTQ+ kids. Keep an eye on antihate.school in the coming weeks for a list of suggested questions.
  • Prioritize stopping anti-2SLGBTQ+, racist, and/or bigoted candidates. Get the word out to your friends, and go volunteer together for candidates who are running against bigots.
  • While you can usually only vote for a trustee candidate running in your Ward, you can volunteer for, and donate to, other candidates - just double check with the candidate that your donation follows campaign finance rules.

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