Race Card Does Not Play Well in School

By: Rachel Marsden

The Ontario Human Rights watchdog has launched a complaint against the provincial government and the Toronto School Board for what it claims to be a discipline policy that unfairly discriminates against racial minorities and students with mental and emotional disabilities.

Sorry, but that dog doesn’t hunt. While the Safe Schools Act might affect people in disproportionate ways, there’s nothing discriminatory about it. Unless “drug dealing”, “rape” and “gun toting” are prohibited grounds for discrimination.

Under the province’s Safe Schools Act, a mandatory expulsion hearing would take place if a student engages in any of the following activities: “possession of a weapon, including, but not limited to firearms; trafficking in drugs or weapons; robbery; use of a weapon to cause bodily harm, or to threaten serious harm; physical assault causing bodily harm requiring professional medical treatment; sexual assault; or providing alcohol to minors.”

Mandatory suspensions may be imposed under the Act for offenses such as “uttering a threat to inflict serious bodily harm; possession of illegal drugs; or acts of vandalism causing extensive damage to school property.”

But even the Human Rights Commission’s July 2004 report acknowledges that suspensions aren’t mandatory in instances where “the pupil does not have the ability to control his or her behaviour; the pupil does not have the ability to understand the foreseeable consequences of his or her behaviour; or the pupil's continuing presence in the school does not create an unacceptable risk to the safety of any person”.

Seems like a lot of leeway for legislation that’s getting a bad rap for being too strict. If a kid commits crimes like this at school, then he should be in prison, not the principal’s office.

Nowhere in the report is there any specific evidence that the Act is disproportionately or unfairly applied to minorities or disabled students. It only features broad statements like, “[b]ased on interviews with members of the Black community and others in the GTA, there appears to be a strong perception that the Safe Schools Act and the new school board policies on discipline are having a disproportionate impact on Black students.”

Right—and I once knew someone who had a “strong perception” that people were conspiring to wage biological warfare directly above his apartment. Didn’t mean it was real.

Here’s a thought: Don’t break the law, and then maybe you won’t be ballooning the statistics for your ethnic group!

Saying minorities are targeted by this law is like arguing that white guys are unfairly treated when it comes to white collar crimes. It’s not that the Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom types are being unjustly persecuted—only that they’re the schmucks committing the crimes.

Playing the race card with a crime and school safety issue like this only ensures that the ultimate goal of the Act—keeping kids and teachers safe—becomes clouded.

Case in point: This week, I asked Ontario PC Party leader, John Tory—who is now calling for Premier Dalton McGuinty to strike a totally unnecessary tri-partisan panel to examine ways of improving the Act--“If it comes down to a question of (a) safety or (b) getting rid of any hint of bias against minorities on this issue, which one takes precedence?”

His response: “Safety in our schools must be a paramount consideration but I would take
issue with any suggestion that it must be achieved at the cost of having any group of kids fall between the cracks and end up counted out at [age] 16.”

An honorable goal, but I’d rather see a few young gun-toters, rapists, or drug dealers “slip through the cracks” rather than risk a Columbine-like event. If a “disabled” kid with Tourette’s Syndrome is going to behave in a way that somehow manages to override even the mitigating “I can’t control myself!” loophole described above, then he really doesn’t belong in a classroom with other people’s kids.

Some things—like violent crime and access to children—you just can’t safely reconcile. Common sense should dictate that—not a study, commission or panel.

For the Commission to hint at “racial profiling” in schools is nothing but shadow boxing. Even the study they cite in their report can’t back up the claim, saying only that “[a]lthough there is little quantitative evidence to assess whether the perceptions of the students [perceiving discriminatory treatment] in this study accurately represents reality, the authors point out that the very fact that racial minority students have these beliefs needs to be addressed because it is “a psychological reality for students which undoubtedly impacts on their schooling experience.””

The reality is that ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the justice system when it comes to violent and drug-related crime like those the Act targets. Rather than focusing on unfounded “discrimination” related arguments, how about looking at the underlying socioeconomic factors—like poverty and a lack of support for youth within these cultural communities?

In crying wolf and playing that race card like they’re Johnnie Cochran, the Human Rights Commission only dilutes the real plights of minority groups in instances where they face real, serious discrimination through no fault of their own.