Vancouver school trustee urged to resign after racial comments at board meeting

The Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association is calling on a trustee to resign after comments he made at a meeting about suspending the school liaison officer program.

The teachers’ group has said the program should be suspended because of the systemic racism present in police forces, including the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP.

At a Tuesday night meeting, Fraser Ballantyne had defended the liaison officers as the board debated whether to pause the program while its broader implications are reviewed. The motion to suspend was ultimately defeated, but the motion to review it passed unanimously.

Ballantyne had the discussion should focus on how they help students, rather than the relationships that police have with marginalized communities.

“To take that support away for any amount of time is extremely disturbing to me,” Ballantyne had. “We’re not talking about the Indigenous women — we’re focusing on our students.”

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He said liaison officers have a “connectedness” to certain student groups, and trustees should listen to those groups before making decisions.

“Caucasian kids are actually the visible minority, so when we get the sense from the population of our secondary schools and elementary schools, I think it’s really important to hear what they have to say about it,” he said.

Ballantyne’s comments fixated on positive experiences some kids may have had with police officers, said Jody Polukoshko, vice-president of the elementary school teachers’ group.

“That came at the expense of acknowledging the concerns and the impacts on Black, Indigenous and (people of colour) students and staff,” Polukoshko said.

“In our opinion, trustee Ballantyne’s comments reinforced the messaging that racism isn’t a problem or that the structures in question don’t require examination.”

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Ballantyne had also said liaison officers are instrumental in keeping schools safe, referencing an incident he said he witnessed where “a Vietnamese” had a machete in their locker.

He didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday, but had issued an apology on Twitter the day before.

“I’m sorry I misspoke at last night’s . My comments were in NO way intended to detract from the importance of hearing from the Black, Indigenous & other racialized students & communities,” he said.

 

Fellow trustee Jennifer Reddy said some people who attended the meeting told her they felt that their experiences were ignored, and that trustees have received huge amounts of correspondence asking that the program be suspended.

“Up to thousands of inquiries … asking at least for the consideration,” Reddy said. “So yeah, I think there’s a lot of hurt folks who don’t feel represented and heard in the decision-making process that took place.”

The school board did pass several other motions dealing with anti-racism initiatives, including a proposal to develop a B.C.-wide curriculum on Black history in Canada.

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Global News has reached out to the Vancouver School Board for information on the racial demographics of its student population.

The board’s website has a section on diversity that claims 48 per cent of students speak a language other than English at home, and that 2,000 out of approximately 50,000 students are Indigenous.

The 2016 census shows that 49.3 per cent of people in the Vancouver metropolitan area has European ethnic heritage.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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