School Board disciplines trustee Blackburn

Trustee Donna Blackburn banned from committee meetings, asked to resign

Ryan Patrick Jones ·

 CBC News ·

Jun 30, 2020

An investigator found OCDSB trustee Donna Blackburn acted in a ‘racially insensitive’ manner when she suggested to a 17-year-old boy playing basketball during the COVID-19 pandemic that people who don’t follow the rules could end up in jail. (CBC)

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) formally disciplined Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale trustee Donna Blackburn Monday for making “racially insensitive” remarks to a Black teenager while confronting him for not abiding by physical distancing rules earlier this year.

Nine of its 12 trustees determined she violated the board’s code of conduct March 27 when she admonished Styles Lepage, 17, for playing basketball at a Barrhaven park against the city’s COVID-19 rules and posted a photo of the encounter on Facebook.

“With this particular incident she really has lost the authority to be a trustee,” said Kanata North/Kanata South trustee Christine Boothby, who brought forward the initial complaint that led to a third-party investigation.

“This has been a terrible stain on [the] OCDSB.”

As punishment, trustees voted to ban Blackburn from sitting on multiple OCDSB committees for a six-month period and recommended she resign.

The representative for a western Ottawa zone, first elected in 2010, also won’t be allowed to attend the board’s next budget meeting.

Trustees said Blackburn’s behaviour had severely damaged trust with the OCDSB community, especially with those from the Black community.

Blackburn sat through the entire meeting but could not participate in the debate because of board rules. 

Happened same day courts were closed

In her post, Blackburn wrote she had confronted the teen at Neill Nesbitt Park because sport courts were closed because of COVID-19.

“This kid has been playing for over an hour and won’t leave,” Blackburn wrote in the post, which included a photo of the teen.

“I have called by-law and will stand here until they come … I will follow him home if I have to.”

Blackburn claimed she was acting as a concerned citizen but Lepage alleged she singled him out while he played basketball alone because others were playing soccer and baseball in the park.

OCDSB trustee Donna Blackburn posted this message on social media on March 27, 2020. (Facebook)

Lawyer and investigator Zaheer Lakhani concluded Blackburn did not target Lepage because he was Black, as the teen’s father alleged, but that she acted inappropriately when she told Lepage that if he didn’t follow the rules he would end up at Innes Road — a reference to the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.

“I don’t believe, based on the evidence, that he was targeted or singled out based on his race but I believe the comments and the actions that were directed to him meet the definition of racial insensitivity,” Lakhani told the board.

Lakhani said it was reasonable that Lepage did not know that public parks were closed, as the city had only made the announcement closing them that day.

The father of Styles Lepage, 17, previously told CBC that the teenager sought out an empty basketball court to get some exercise by himself. (Matthew Kedroe)

Board wants more powers

This is the second time in three years that Blackburn has been sanctioned by her colleagues. The board previously censured Blackburn in 2018 over a “disrespectful” email she sent to a fellow trustee.

Several trustees wanted to take further action but were advised by a board lawyer that they were considering the harshest sanctions allowed under the provincial Education Act.

Board chair Lynn Scott said existing legislation was insufficient for dealing with board members accused of inappropriate behaviour because their options for punishment are limited in scope and don’t include alternatives that are remedial or restorative.

She presented a motion calling on the Ontario Public School Board Association, which represents public school boards, to advocate for expanded authority to address inappropriate behaviour by trustees.

The motion, which passed, says a review of the effectiveness of school boards’ code of conduct policies could produce useful suggestions for improvements to provincial law.

Lepage’s family lawyer said in a statement they appreciate that the board imposed the most serious sanctions possible.

Source: CBC News

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Black community groups applaud OCDSB decision to impose harshest possible sanctions on Donna Blackburn for racist behaviour

June 30, 2020 – Ottawa – At a special board meeting on Monday, June 29, Ottawa Carleton District School Board trustees voted unanimously to impose the harshest penalties possible on Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale trustee, Donna Blackburn in response to her actions on Friday, March 27, 2020. On that day, Blackburn confronted a young man of African descent playing basketball by himself in a Barrhaven park, accused him of violating COVID-19 social distancing protocol, interrogated and threatened him, then took, and posted, his picture online without his consent. 

Blackburn’s actions that day were the latest in a long list of transgressions of Board policy. As neither the Board, the Province nor the City have the power to fire Blackburn, a coalition of Black community groups launched a campaign calling for Blackburn’s immediate resignation. The groups worked with Black community groups fighting racist trustees and boards in York Region and Peel, Ontario.

OCDSB trustees voted to impose the strongest sanctions legally allowed, including:

  • Censuring Blackburn, “for behavior which was disrespectful to the individuals directly involved, disrespectful to the Black community as a whole, and which used language which is known to be offensive and, more specifically, engaged in an act of anti-Black racism.”;
  • standing with the community in strongly recommending that Blackburn immediately offer her resignation;
  • barring Blackburn from attending the 2020-2021 annual budget Board meeting;
  • barring Blackburn from sitting on almost all Board committees for six months; and
  • encouraging Blackburn to immediately undertake and complete an anti-racism program recommended by the Board’s Human Rights and Equity Advisor.

During the emotional 4-hour meeting, several trustees held back tears as they expressed anger at the impact Blackburn’s action had had on the young man involved, his family, themselves and the Board. Several also critiqued the weak sanctions currently permitted under Ontario’s Education Act. Board Chair, Lynn Scott, tabled a motion calling for the Ontario Public Schools Board Association to advocate for improvements to the Education Act to enhance school boards’ ability and authority to address unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour by board members.

“What Blackburn did to my son was unacceptable and I’m happy that her fellow trustees saw it for what it was and imposed the harshest sanctions”, said Matt Kedroe, the father of the young man Blackburn confronted in the park. 

“We congratulate the trustees for coming right out and naming it what it was: anti-Black racism. We also thank trustee Scott for her motion as the Education Act must be changed to allow for harsher penalties because that’s the only way to stop this kind of behaviour that is a symptom of systemic discriminatoin”, said Robin Browne, co-lead of the 613-819 Black Hub.

The coalition will continue to push for Blackburn’s resignation.

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Contact:

Richard Sharpe, 613-819 Black Hub, 613-889-8140  Website: 613/819 Black Hub

613-819 Black Hub

African Canadian Association of Ottawa

African Diaspora Action Team

Black Agenda Noir

Black Ottawa Business Network

Justice for Abdirahman Abdi Coalition

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