OCDSB calls Blackburn's comments to Black teen an act of anti-Black racism

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is calling trustee Donna Blackburn's actions toward a Black teen earlier this year "an act of anti-Black racism." On Monday, the board formally disciplined Blackburn for remarks she made to 17-year-old Styles Lepage for not abiding by physical distancing rules and playing basketball at Neill Nesbitt Park in Barrhaven. 

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The Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale trustee posted a photo of the encounter on Facebook after reprimanding the teen. She also admitted to telling Lepage that "people who do not care about the rules end up in Innes Road" meaning the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. "That is clearly racism in action," said Somerset-Kitchissippi trustee Justine Bell. "You can see from the outcome that [the trustees] all agreed that her actions were racist," she said.  A third-party investigation found Blackburn's comments to be "racially insensitive" but Bell said she pushed for Blackburn's behaviour to be characterized as anti-Black in the preamble to Blackburn's sanctions because it more accurately describes her conduct. "I've not seen any training for racially insensitive people," she said. "I have seen anti-racist training. But the term racially insensitive, it's not even a term that's coined within the dictionary right now."

As a result of her actions, trustees voted to ban Blackburn from sitting on multiple OCDSB committees for a six-month period and she won't be allowed to attend the board's next budget meeting.

Blackburn previously apologized for her comments and said she regrets her Facebook post admonishing the teen.

'I think it was totally accurate'

Richard Sharpe, a member of the 613-819 Black Hub advocacy group, said the board's decision to call what Blackburn posted anti-Black and racist, was right.

"I think it was totally accurate," he said.

"I think it was very brave of the trustees to state it in that way because ... even though Blackburn did not intend to be racist, through her actions and her statements, the impact of her actions were."

Sharpe said he's encouraged by the board's stance on the issue and feels their choice of words demonstrate true allyship.

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"I actually think it was a great moment for the school board," he said. "They came together and they made the right decision for the community — the community that cried out against this act."

While both community members and trustees have called on Blackburn to resign, she cannot be removed from office.

"The fact that we do not have the tools in our toolbox to mandate someone to step down, who has who has committed a serious act of racism, is systemic racism in action," said Bell.

"We have to do better and especially as leaders in our community."

Meanwhile, Blackburn's lawyer said a notice of libel was sent to Lepage's father Matthew Kedroe for posts he made on social media including the claim that Blackburn is racist.

"We served notice that those comments were libelous," said Brenda Hollingsworth. 

Lawrence Greenspon, who represents Styles and his family, said, "in light of the decision of the school board characterizing and sanctioning the conduct of trustee Blackburn, and the damage done to this young person and his family, I trust that the legal action will be discontinued."