The education minister of Ontario has called for an investigation into bullying allegations that led to the suicide of a former principal who served with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for 24 years.
Minister Stephen Lecce has ordered a review of “serious and disturbing” allegations that Richard Bilkszto was driven to suicide in July after being accused of harboring white supremacy sympathies by a diversity trainer the district had hired in 2021, CBC News reported.
“This tragic incident only underscores the need for greater accountability of school boards and the necessity to ensure professional training is free from harassment and intimidation,” Lecce said in a statement, according to the outlet.
The suicide of Richard Bilkszto should be a sign that things are wrong in our education system.
It’s not the only problem in the system. We need a full overhaul @Sflecce and @fordnation
Read & RT #onpoli #onted https://t.co/jpYtscwIGt
— Brian Lilley (@brianlilley) July 26, 2023
The bullying allegedly began after Bilkszto defended Canada against statements made by diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) trainer Kike Ojo-Thompson’s claim that Canada was a “more racist place than the U.S.” and that the country was a “bastion of white supremacy and colonialism,” the National Post reported. (RELATED: Man Who Worked At School Board For 24 Years Committed Suicide After Being ‘Bullied’ At ‘Equity Sessions’, Family Says)
“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 stated, according to the National Post.
That defense left him facing allegations of white supremacy, with Ojo-Thompson and other diversity training facilitators allegedly berating Bilkszto during the training session, the outlet reported. Instead of coming to Bilkszto’s defense, the TDSB reportedly thanked Ojo-Thompson’s KOJO Institute for the training and for confronting Bilkszto, stating that the exchange modeled “the discomfort administrators may need to experience in order to disrupt [anti-Black racism],” the National Post reported.
Even though Bilkszto won a small victory when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) found that he had been a victim of “abusive, egregious and vexatious” workplace bullying, he ultimately took his own life on July 13, 2023 after suffering more than a year of mental distress from the alleged incident.
The TDSB issued a statement after Lecce’s announcement, indicating that it was open to learning more about what happened in Bilkszto’s case. “While we are in the early stages of the information gathering process, we share the Ministry of Education’s desire to learn what happened and will work together with them as part of any review and make any necessary changes,” the statement read, according to CBC News.
The board announced on July 27 that it will be launching its own investigation into the tragic circumstances that led to Bilkszto’s death via “an experienced and well-respected investigative firm with multi-disciplinary expertise in conducting thorough investigations.”
“Regular equity training sessions for all staff support student achievement and well-being and are an important aspect of the Board’s approved multi-year strategic priorities. Effective learning takes place in a supportive environment that fosters honest dialogue and is based on respect and learning,” the TDSB continued in a statement obtained by the Daily Caller.
Ojo-Thompson has welcomed the news of the review, maintaining the allegations that she bullied Bilkszto are false. While she offered her condolences to Bilkszto’s family, Ojo-Thompson has argued that the incident has been “weaponized to discredit and suppress the work of people committed diversity, equity and inclusion,” and have noted that she and her team have suffered threats and online vitriol in its aftermath.
Lecce added that he hopes his review of the incident will provide “options to reform professional training and strengthen accountability on school boards so this never happens again,” CBC reported.