Italian Canadians as Second-Class Citizens in York

TORONTO – Much may be riding on trustee Theresa McNicol’s proverbial “day in court”, on April 23. Her story, is, as the saying goes, “a tangled web”. On the face of it, McNicol will be asking the Divisional Court to quash a York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) decision to sanction her behaviour towards several (five) of her colleagues. 

Her lawyer, Raj Anand, a partner in the law firm Weir Foulds until January 1, 2024, claimed on her behalf that the YCDSB lacked jurisdiction. (see letter dated October 13, pages 3-16, here: Revised-November-7-2023-Spec-Board-Pkg) However, he/they did not contest the findings of JMJ, an independent, third-party expert investigator, hired by the YCDSB, to investigate events and actions of her allegedly unacceptable behaviour, in the year leading up to the election of 2022. (read her report – pages 145-160  – here: September-26-2023-Regular-Board-Agenda-Pkg-)

After interviewing everyone involved, on both sides, JMJ concluded that McNicol had indeed discriminated against her colleagues because of their ethnicity – they were/are Italian.

The Chair of the YCDSB, Frank Alexander, a non-Italian, upon receiving the Investigator’s Report, proposed certain actions to distance the Board from McNicol’s conduct. These included, 1. no membership on, or attendance at, Committees, 2. no briefing notes for said Committees or Board meetings, and 3. no right to vote on deliberations of the Committees or the Board. The Board voted in favour.

It is not difficult to understand why.  Acts of Discrimination are inconsistent with the Catholic values of the Board, civil rights espoused by the Ministry of Education, the Human Rights Code, along with simple, common decency. On a practical note,  in this instance, neither McNicol nor her lawyers seemed to be aware that, as per the 2021 census, numerically, Italians form the single biggest clientele for the Catholic Board of Education in York Region – c. 145,000 residents who send their children almost exclusively to catholic schools.

In the letter to Chair Alexander referenced above, Weir Foulds threatened legal action on behalf of McNicol to obtain relief for damages real or imagined, unless her rights and privileges were re-instated forthwith. Again, no apologies for the discriminatory conduct, and no contest in respect of the findings by JMJ.

The YCDSB relented, somewhat, and approximately two weeks later allowed that McNicol could attend and vote at the next Board meeting. Weir Foulds nonetheless filed for Judicial Review on her behalf. Win or lose, the YCDSB may be facing a “massive legal invoice”.

Persistent voices unauthorized to speak on behalf of the Catholic Teachers’ Union (OECTA) claim that Union will be/ may be funding McNicol’s legal costs. OECTA neither confirms nor denies; it refuses to answer any questions.

On November 17, 2023, lawyers T. Boggs and B. Hanson at Cavalluzzo LLB filed, on behalf of OECTA and a member of its Executive, complainant Jamal Warda, an Application under Section 34(5) of the Human Rights Code against Frank Alexander and the YCDSB. The former Chair stands accused, as do other unnamed trustees, of discrimination on gender issues. The claim was “served on  Alexander” on the 18th of January, 2024. (see file here: OECTA)

The Human Rights Code does not have jurisdiction over the Rights of Catholic parents to an education that respects their religious rights (denominational rights). Still, Warda seeks monetary compensation and “other remedies” (ten of them), because Alexander proposed pro Catholic motions and made pro Catholic statements – orally and in writing – in a Catholic board, that he Warda and others found stressful.

Any reasonable individual might conclude that these “remedies” have the effect of turning administration of the school board over to the OECTA executive. The Italian Canadian, Catholic, population of York made no such demand.

Minister Lecce, an Italian Canadian, authorized $611,744, 260 in Grants for Student Needs for 2023-2024. Archbishop Leo, the senior authority of the magisterium which determines what is Catholic within the Canadian Constitution, may be following closely. Their silence so far is as deafening as that of the many leading Italian Canadian entrepreneurs in York.