MONTREAL — A private high school west of Montreal is promising to make changes, following allegations that administrators for years ignored complaints about racist bullying targeting two Black students.
Joel DeBellefeuille, founder of Montreal-based anti-racism group Red Coalition, said the family of the two girls approached his organization after administrators brushed off their complaints.
"They've been trying to tell them that they've been spat on, their hair pulled and they've been called the N-word on numerous occasions by other students at the school," DeBellefeuille told reporters Wednesday. He said the family's older daughter started receiving abuse six years ago when she was enrolled at Collège Bourget in Rigaud, Que.
DeBellefeuille said the family doesn't want to be identified because they fear their children will be mistreated by other students or staff at the school.
The two sisters, he said, have been targeted by students through text messages with racist memes, slurs and stereotypes. As well, DeBellefeuille said that when one of the students attempted to organize a Black History Month event at the school, all her ideas were shot down.
"She proposed to bring in some food and was told that African food smells too much." In a recorded statement played at a news conference by DeBellefeuille, the girl said she feels like teachers treat her differently than other students.
“It's become hard to go to school, acting like you're happy when you're truly not and you feel like you're hated by everyone," she said in the recording.
"I have faked being sick or faked an injury just so that my parent can let me stay home because I wasn't up for a day of school, because I didn't know if I was going to get bullied, if someone was going to come up to me and say the N-word or if I was going to get in trouble just for acting as a normal student."
Philippe Bertrand, Collège Bourget's executive director, said in an emailed statement that the school takes the situation seriously and is acting to fix it. He said that despite the fact staff at the college have received training on the "different realities" of students, more needs to be done.
“The college will be accompanied by an expert in order to take stock of the situation and ensure that the best practices in terms of prevention and intervention are adopted to ensure that every student feels safe and accepted, despite their differences,” he wrote, adding that this process will take a few months.
In the meantime, he said the school — which has preschool, primary and secondary programs — will try to rebuild bridges with the girls' family.
A complaint about the girls' treatment is being filed with Quebec's human rights commission, DeBellefeuille said, adding that the family also wants Quebec's minister responsible for the fight against racism, and the Education Department, to investigate.
"What's going on is a classic example — and a clear example — of how systemic racism continues," DeBellefeuille said. "Here you have authoritative members of the school that should be doing the right thing by educating the students, reprimanding those that are continuing the hatred; however, for six years, it's just been kind of brushed under the rug."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press