A report investigating homophobic comments made during a Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting one year ago has determined that a trustee violated the Code of Conduct.
While the report has not yet been made public, CityNews has seen a copy of it sent by an anonymous source.
While some parts of it that identify names of delegates and complainants have been redacted, CityNews has not confirmed its authenticity with the TCDSB but with other recipients who received a copy.
The board had previously determined back in August that the trustee’s comments did not violate the Code of Conduct, three months after the third-party report was completed.
“The TCDSB is committed to creating inclusive learning environments and school communities that are safe and welcoming places for all, founded on Catholic principles of respect, inclusion, fairness, and social justice, in which every person is valued as a child of God,” TCDSB chair Joseph Martino says in a statement to CityNews.
“As such, a Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees will be convened to reconsider the August 20, 2020 decision of the Board of Trustees in this matter.”
Multiple sources have confirmed to CityNews that the special meeting will take place next week, Wednesday November 11.
During a November 2019 discussion on adding terms that respected LGBTQ+ members to the code of conduct, Michael Del Grande introduced an amendment to also include a list of criminal acts to the motion, such as rape, bestiality, cannibalism, and pedophilia.
“All these poor people are children of God and need to be recognized,” Del Grande can be heard saying in the recorded November meeting. “The report notes that Del Grande said he ‘used hyperbole to talk about the outrageous.'”
The Board’s Director of Education interrupted the amendment, which was then ruled out of order.
The report, dated May 24, 2020, states that Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP was retained by the Toronto Catholic District School Board back in February to investigate complaints made about the Trustee at last year’s meeting. The investigator, Michelle Bird, was tasked with determining whether or not Del Grande violated the Trustees’ Code of Conduct.
The board of trustees voted in an August 2020 public session that Del Grande had not breached their Code of Conduct, even though the report prepared by Bird concluded that he had.
“I find that the inflammatory language that Mr. Del Grande included in his motion, and the flippant (to use his own word) manner in which he addressed concerns about that language, is what crossed the line,” Bird said in the report.
“While Mr. Del Grande’s choice of words alone would be sufficient to find that he violated the Trustees’ Code of Conduct, I note that Mr. Del Grande’s actions are exacerbated by the fact that he chose to suggest that including criminals – such as cannibals and rapists – in the Code of Conduct was somehow similar to including members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The comments were made during a discussion at the TCDSB’s committee meeting on November 7th, regarding standards of behaviour released by the province as guidelines to assist in developing codes of conduct for individual school boards.
The province’s guidelines stated all members of a school community must “respect and treat others fairly regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, or disability.”
TCDSB trustees had been instructed to vote on the motion that would add the terms sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status, as “prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Board’s Code of Conduct.”
A DOZEN COMPLAINTS
The Board received over a dozen complaints from individuals who found the trustee’s comments offensive to the LGBTQ+ communities. A number of complainants were interviewed by Bird, who were quoted as saying that the comments were hurtful.
“In general, the complaints outlined the vulnerability of members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the harm that could be done by comments such as Mr. Del Grande’s – which were perceived by many of the complainants as being intended to cause shame amongst vulnerable students,” the report said. “Several complainants stated that it was inappropriate for Mr. Del Grande to raise his amendment in a light-hearted, joking manner during discussion of a serious issue.”
One of the complainants was Paolo De Buono, a teacher with the TCDSB, who has called on Education Minister Stephen Lecce to intervene and for the school board to release the report publicly. De Buono tells CityNews that the TCDSB had provided him with a copy of the report, but he has not read it or shared it with anyone, including CityNews.
De Buono adds that he will not read the report, until the board tells him he can share it publicly.
“I do not accept it if it is not a public document. I will continue not to read it until I receive such clarity,” De Buono told CityNews in an email statement. “Nevertheless, I am able to conclude confidently, as I did previously, as a teacher with the TCDSB and former human rights policy investigator with the TDSB, based on 1) the wording of the Trustees Code of Conduct and 2) the trustee’s relevant words and motion amendment all of which he made in public, that any competent investigation would conclude that the trustee’s words were unacceptable.”
Bird wrote that in his interview, Trustee Del Grande said he had the right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights code to debate the policy amendments from a “Catholic perspective.” She added that the trustee did not view his comments as being disrespectful.
“Mr. Del Grande explained that he believed that adding the four proposed terms to the Code of Conduct could be seen as a ‘slippery slope,’ and to demonstrate that, he raised the possibility of adding additional terms,” the report said. “Mr. Del Grande said that he found the terms by entering ‘philias’ into Google. He said that he wanted to convey, ‘We’re adding more terms – why stop there?’”
Earlier in the meeting, he had also proposed adding the terms “polygamy, ménage a trois and group marriage” to amend the inclusion of marital status, a move that aimed to include same-sex marriage.
Bird adds that Del Grande’s choice of words were uncalled for, and they were sufficient to find that he violated the code of conduct, adding that he could have argued his ‘disagreement’ with the motion without crossing the line and using ‘disrespectful’ rhetoric.
“In choosing the words that he did, he created an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community.”
She goes on to add that it contradicted the trustee’s responsibility to treat the students he represents with respect, especially as he doubled down during a presentation by a delegate who referenced suicide by members of the Catholic school due to bullying.
“The Trustees’ Code of Conduct also states that trustees represent all members of the Catholic community. It speaks to the importance of creating an inclusive, respectful and positive environment, and to conduct the affairs of the Board with “openness, justice and compassion,” the report says.
There have been calls to make the report public, including from former premier Kathleen Wynne, who urged Lecce to release the findings.
In a statement to CityNews, the Education Minister said he was disturbed by the language used by the trustee, adding: “Our government expects that all schools – English and French and Public and Catholic – are safe, inclusive and welcoming places for all students of all experiences.
“In Ontario’s publicly funded education system, every child must be supported and will be defended. I will stand up for LGBTQ+ students to ensure those who propagate hate are held to account.”
Lecce says he has told TCDSB leadership that he expects the board to make this report public and deliver accountability for this trustee’s offensive and irresponsible actions.
“I will hold them to account and ensure action is taken for our students and for the value of inclusion and respect that our country must uphold.”