Stephen Lecce's 'slave auction' involvement pre-politics puts London, Ont., frat culture on display again

·4 min read
Tamia Chicas, a former student at Western University who says she experienced anti-Black racism on campus, says Ontario election candidate Stephen Lecce's role in the 'slave auction' downplays the seriousness of slavery. (Colin Butler/CBC - image credit)
Tamia Chicas, a former student at Western University who says she experienced anti-Black racism on campus, says Ontario election candidate Stephen Lecce's role in the 'slave auction' downplays the seriousness of slavery. (Colin Butler/CBC - image credit)

People who know the fraternity scene in London, Ont., are expressing disappointment Stephen Lecce participated in a "slave auction" while attending Western University, and are questioning the sincerity of the incumbent Progressive Conservative candidate's apology.

Lecce issued a statement Tuesday night saying his involvement in the 2006 charity event by Sigma Chi was inappropriate and does not reflect the person he is today. Lecce was a member of the fraternity and later its local chapter president.

The Ontario NDP has called for Lecce, who served as education minister under Doug Ford, to withdraw as a provincial election candidate.

"An apology is honestly only as good as what you're doing to rectify the situation, so he can apologize, but what is he going to do to make the situation better?" said former Western student Tamia Chicas, who said she experienced anti-Black racism when she attended the university.

Chicas said that as an important figure in Ontario's education system, Lecce needs to be held accountable by showing his apology is actually meaningful, and not just for show.

"If we're not making a big example of these individuals, it kind of gives people the go-ahead that "so-and-so participated in this so it's OK for us to behave the way that we are.' It's definitely not something that should be OK.

"Slavery is a very heavy topic and to be making different types of scenarios where students are having slave auctions, it's totally inappropriate and it completely takes away the seriousness that was slavery."

Lecce's apology questioned

Lecce was also former president of Western's University Student Council (USC) in the 2008-2009 academic term, a role Zamir Fakirani currently holds.

"I'm so deeply ashamed in knowing that Lecce occupied this presidency, let alone a provincial cabinet position," said Fakirani.

He doesn't believe Lecce's apology statement goes far enough, noting that racialized students already struggle to see themselves in politics.

"If a two-line apology is enough for him, then I think that's a true reflection of his character," he said. "Being an elected official requires thinking critically about your own power and privilege, and I can't say that Lecce has been doing that."

Fakirani and others on Western's campus have been vocal this past year about the role fraternities and sororities play in creating a safe school culture after several allegations of sexual assault emerged.

Western University doesn't officially recognize the organizations, and this year, the USC removed special on-campus privileges, such as the ability to recruit on campus.

Submitted by Zamir Fakrani
Submitted by Zamir Fakrani

"I think students now and students in 2006 knew that slavery is no joke, we deserve so much better from our elected officials than a mockery of very painful part of so many students identities," Fakirani said.

Western University declined to comment, saying it was not affiliated with any fraternity or sorority.

CBC News also reached out to the Western University chapter and the Illinois headquarters of Sigma Chi.

In a statement, Sigma Chi's Illinois office said, "We are disappointed to learn that an activity which carried harmful connotations took place as the fraternity is committed to creating a welcoming environment conducive to the fulfilment of our stated goals and objectives.

"Sigma Chi teaches and is committed to the principle that dignity, self-esteem and respect are the inalienable rights of every individual," the emailed statement says. "Each brother shares the responsibility of preserving the rights of all brothers, pledges and guests at all times. The fraternity does not condone any activity that is destructive, demeaning or abusive to anyone or any group nor does it condone any form of personal degradation."


Other politicians weigh in

Lecce is seeking re-election in the Toronto-area riding of King-Vaughan.

Teresa Armstrong, NDP incumbent for London-Fanshawe, said it's disturbing this issue only came to light now, despite Lecce being in charge of education for three years. Her party is calling for his resignation.

"When we talk about Black slavery, it's very traumatizing, that dark history is still relevant today and people are feeling those effects," said Armstrong.

Vanessa Lalonde, the Liberal candidate for London West and an Indigenous woman from Oneida Nation of the Thames, said there's a culture of toxicity that can exist on university campuses, and not enough is being done to address the negative outcomes it can have.

"With Mr.Lecce's involvement, only he knows how he truly feels about it and if he has grown as a person. The communities he has impacted will be the ones to decide whether his apology is enough."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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