Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has ordered a review of the circumstances surrounding the recent suicide of a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) principal who sued the school board after a confrontation which occurred during a “Diverity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) training session.
Lecce also ordered his staff to review school trainings and to provide “options to reform professional training and strengthen accountability on school boards so this never happens again.”
60-year-old Richard Bilkszto was dealing with plaguing stress stemming from the incident at the time of his suicide.
In a statement to the Toronto Sun’s Brian Lilley, Lecce called the matter “serious” and “disturbing,” and said “no staff member should ever be subject to harassment while in their place of work.”
The incidents took place during “anti-racism” sessions held by the TDSB with Kike Ojo Thompson of the KOJO Institute on April 26 and May 3, 2021. Bilkszto was allegedly publicly berated, humiliated and harassed after he challenged claims made by the contractor.
As previously reported by True North’s Sue-Ann Levy, Bilkszto had filed a $750,000 lawsuit against the TDSB alleging breach of contract, defamation of character and reprisal by the board’s senior administrators after he was allegedly repeatedly labelled a “white supremacist,” shamed and humiliated. The lawsuit has however yet to be served to the board.
According to the statement of claim, Bilkszto politely challenged Ojo Thompson after she claimed Canada was more racist than the United States and a bastion of white supremacy.
“To sit here and talk about facts and figures and then walk into the classroom tomorrow and say ‘Canada is just as bad as the United States,’ I think we are doing an incredible disservice to our learners,” Bilkszto said according to the lawsuit.
Bilkszto had previously taught at an inner-city school in Buffalo, NY.
The lawsuit claims Ojo Thompson responded by telling Bilkszto, “we are here to talk about anti-black racism but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for black people?”
The lawsuit claims Ojo Thompson ended that session by contending she got out the “weed whacker” to cut down a weed (Bilkszto). “I was hot today,” she is quoted. “It was good. It was really good.”
Ojo-Thompson allegedly continued to harass Bilkszto, repeatedly calling his response “resistance in support of white supremacy.” She subsequently suggested that the TDSB take action against Bilkszto for allegedly choosing not to “unlearn” his white supremacism.
Bilkszto ended up taking a stress leave. He then sought a ruling from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) – which ruled in his favour.
“This conduct took place for over an hour, and noting that the speaker had sufficient opportunity to address you privately between April 26, 2021 and May 3, 2021, it would suggest that the speaker did so with the intent to cause reputational damage and to ‘make an example’ of you,” reads the August 2021 WSIB ruling.
The KOJO Institute said it had no involvement in the WSIB hearing.
The lawsuit claims that despite the ruling, the TDSB reneged on the contract to hire Bilkszto at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate when he returned from sick leave. He had other contracts revoked and failed to get other internal positions as well.
With files from True North’s Sue-Ann Levy