Investigation concludes OCDSB trustee was 'racially insensitive' in comments to Black teen

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An independent investigation has concluded an Ottawa Carleton District School Board Trustee was "racially insensitive" in her comments to a Black teenager in a closed park during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board will meet Monday evening to discuss a report into Trustee Donna Blackburn's interaction with a teenager in March, and possible punishment.

In April, the board hired a third-party law firm to conduct an investigation into Blackburn's interaction with the teenager in March, who she claimed was not abiding by the City of Ottawa's order to close parks during the pandemic.

Trustee Christine Boothby filed a formal complaint in April, alleging that Blackburn's behaviour related to the alleged incident was inconsistent with the civil behaviour expectations in the Board Member Code of Conduct policy.

The 40-page report submitted by Zaheer Lakhani of Lakhani Campea LLP outlined the investigation into the incident, but did not make any recommendations on whether the trustee broke the Code of Conduct.

The report says the teenager told Lakhani in a statement that on March 27, Blackburn approached him as he was playing basketball by himself in Neill Nesbitt Park on Foxfield Drive and informed him the park was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic measures.

Lakhani's report said at one point, the teen was told by Blackburn that she would contact his school principal to have him kicked off the basketball team, and informed him that "people like him end up at Innes (Innes Road Detention Centre)."

In a statement to Lakhani, Blackburn said she had earlier told five basketball players that the park was closed and they left. She said when the teen arrived a few minutes later, she told him the same thing that the park was closed but he didn't leave.

Blackburn posted a picture of the youth on her Facebook page.

The report says Blackburn confirmed she told the teen that people "who do not care about the rules end up in Innes Road."

In her statement to Lakhani, Blackburn said, "My point in the moment was simply that choosing to ignore the rules is a slippery slope. However, with the benefit of reflection, I do sincerely regret delivering this message in this way. Of course, I do understand that young Black men are disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system. I apologize for using that turn of phrase with (the teen)."

Blackburn also said she regretted posting on her private Facebook page about the encounter.

Lakhani's report says, "I conclude that Trustee Blackburn's conduct in posting an image of a young Black man, a 'kid' as she referred to him repeatedly in the post, and referring to him as someone who needs to learn to follow the rules and whose apparent lack of caring about rules could result in him ending up incarcerated, was racially insensitive given that Black persons are routinely over represented in the criminal justice system and face harsher penalties than non-Black citizens for trivial or minor infractions."

"The racial insensitivity of this comment has since been acknowledged by Trustee Blackburn and she confirmed that she has, as a result, faced severe and increasing media and personal backlash."

The report says Blackburn confirmed she has engaged in training related to racial sensitivity since the incident.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board will decide whether Blackburn broke the Code of Conduct. Staff say there are several sanctions available to the board:

  • Censure of the Board member
  • Bar the Board member from attending all or part of a meeting of the Board or a meeting of a committee of the Board
  • Bar the Board member from sitting on one or more committees of the Board, for the period of time specified by the Board, not to exceed six months.