CAEF brings concerns re antisemitism in the classroom and board offices to the attention of OCDSB
July 14, 2022
Lynn Scott, Chair
Camille Williams-Taylor, Director of Education
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
133 Greenbank Road
Ottawa, ON K2H 6L3
Dear Ms. Scott and Ms. Williams-Taylor;
There continues to be a pervasive antisemitism problem at the OCDSB, ranging from the classroom level through the Board offices.
Ronnie Frenkel, a 2021 OCDSB graduate, details her experiences with antisemitism in the July 8, 2022 edition of the Ottawa Citizen. Ronnie writes: “Because it is cloaked as activism by anti-Israel student groups, antisemitism and attacks on Jewish students appear to be allowed in Ottawa’s schools.”
At the June 2022 graduation ceremony at AY Jackson SS, the student commencement speaker engaging in the Land Acknowledgement portion of the opening exercises, stated that her ancestors “were slowly and violently forced off their land by Zionists”, and this comment was met with no intervention by school officials. On the contrary, the school officials were seen congratulating the student afterwards while the statement is patently false, propagandistic, and antisemitic. When several Jewish and Israeli families complained, the principal issued only perfunctory apologies.
Anti-Israel demonstrations at Earl of March Secondary School and several other OCDSB schools have created a hostile and intimidating environment for many Jewish families, several of which chose to keep their students home for the day.
The third session of the OCDSB’s professional development sessions on antisemitism conducted with the cooperation of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (“CHES”), entitled Unpacking Complexity in the Classroom, was originally slated to include a presentation by The Hon. Irwin Cotler, who is Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.
Mr. Cotler is a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and an Officer of the National Order of Quebec.
This session was scheduled for May 18, 2022. On May 16, 2022, OCDSB Diversity and Equity Coordinator Jacqueline Lawrence postponed the meeting and cancelled Mr. Cotler’s invitation. The rationale for the cancellation of Mr. Cotler’s invitation was that participants wished to consolidate their knowledge rather than receive an additional external speaker.
Based on the results of a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request made by Michael Teper, one of our board members, (copy attached), we discovered that two senior Board officials, including Ms. Lawrence, had already decided as of April 13, 2022, to exclude Mr. Cotler! Apparently they don’t like his support of the Canadian government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, and because they thought use of the IHRA definition would cause some participants to feel “silenced” and that they would be “labeled as having ‘antisemitic views’”.
These events, of course, form a backdrop to numerous other testimonies we have received from OCDSB parents about antisemitic bullying incidents experienced by OCDSB students. Earlier this year, the OCDSB already achieved national-level notoriety, and legal liability, for tolerating antisemitism in its schools: Armitage v. Ottawa Carleton District School Board, 2022 HRTO 252 (CanLII).
Perhaps we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know about your school board’s systemic antisemitism problem, given that the OCDSB issued a statement on September 10, 2021:
“Recently, we have witnessed an alarming increase in the number of reported incidents of antisemitism around the globe. Unfortunately, this has included incidents of antisemitism within working, learning and online spaces at the OCDSB. These incidents are harmful to the safety and belonging of Jewish students, families and staff.
Antisemitism has no place in the OCDSB community.”
Declarations like these are great. For the OCDSB to act on them, would be even better!
It is imperative that we meet with you to ensure that OCDSB lives up to its promise to eradicate antisemitism from the classroom and through the Board office. Here’s what we propose, at a minimum:
The OCDSB formally adhere to the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (“IHRA WD”). You can’t fight antisemitism if you can’t even define it properly. The Government of Canada adopted the IHRA WD on June 27, 2019. So have over 30 other countries around the world. So has the Government of Ontario (Order-in-Council 1450/2020, copy attached). The IHRA WD, being endorsed by both the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario government, therefore means it applies to all Ontario school boards. We also note that the OCDSB’s Indigenous, Equity and Human Rights Roadmap 2020-2023 continues to use an obsolete definition of antisemitism (based on Order-in-Council 897/2018) that pre-dates Canada’s adoption of the IHRA WD. This is not appropriate.
The OCDSB re-issue its September 10, 2021 statement on antisemitism to clarify that it adheres to the IHRA WD, will not tolerate any incidents of antisemitism based on the application of IHRA, and that it will pro-actively respond to incidents of staff or students engaging in antisemitic actions.
The OCDSB include the IHRA WD definition of antisemitism in its Human Rights Policy of January 25, 2022, and include antisemitic incidents in its definitions of “Harassment” and “Discrimination”.
The OCDSB issue an apology to Mr. Cotler for revoking his invitation to address Unpacking Complexity in the Classroom, and immediately re-invite him to a senior level board-wide professional development workshop on antisemitism.
The OCDSB apply its Human Rights Policy systematically and impartially, so that incidents such as the handling of the May 2022 anti-Israel demonstrations at Earl of March SS and other schools, and the handling of the Land Acknowledgement at the AY Jackson SS graduation ceremony, are not repeated.
The OCDSB appoint a Jewish Equity Coach, and include Jewish teachers in its senior staff team.
We propose a Zoom meeting on July 25, 2022. Please confirm whether this would be convenient.
Executive Director Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation
cc. Mina Cohn, Chair, Center for Holocaust Education and Scholarship
Michael Levitt, President and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center
Andrea Freedman, President, Jewish Federation of Ottawa
Michael Mostyn, President and CEO, B’nai Brith Canada
Shimon Fogel, President and CEO, Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs
Anita Bromberg, President, Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation
 One school superintendent wrote that Mr. Cotler “..will dive deep and unapologetically into the IHRA definition and examples. It will not be a safe space for some.”