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Vancouver Family Reaches Settlement Over Racist Video Fallout

In 2018, a student reported a threat at school, and what followed drove her away for good. Today, she says, ‘I’m happy it’s over.’

Katie Hyslop 30 Jan 2021TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach her here.

A Vancouver student and her mother are feeling relief after signing a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal agreement that brings closure to their long journey to force the Vancouver school district and police to reckon with how racist threats are addressed in schools.

“I’m happy it’s over. Happy to move on with my life,” the student, Changich Baboth, told reporters outside Britannia Secondary School on Friday. “I would not want anyone to go through what I went through.”

The settlement is the result of five months of mediation through the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after Changich and her mom, Rita Baboth, brought forward a complaint against the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Police Department over how they handled a racist death threat made by Changich’s classmate.

The ordeal began in Nov. 19, 2018 when Changich, then a Grade 10 student at Lord Byng Secondary, showed the school’s administrators a video of a classmate making a threat against Black people.

Two months later, both Changich and the classmate had left Lord Byng due to the administration’s response. The Tyee is not naming the classmate as they were underage at the time.

The Baboths would not disclose the details of the tribunal settlement but told media they were relieved the ordeal has come to an end.

“We did it together,” Rita Baboth said, referring to the group of parents, students, and former school trustees who came out to support the Baboths at the settlement signing.

“I can see more people to come up and support, because there’s a lot of families who go through all this and they don’t get to speak up and they don’t get the support we get.

“It’s not the end, I’m still helping.”

After the agreement signing on Friday, Marie Tate, co-founder and former member of the BC Community Alliance, an umbrella group of Black organizations in Vancouver, presented the Baboths with awards for their bravery.

“We all know that it wasn’t being taken very seriously, and Changich was amazingly courageous in trying to bring that forward, trying to create awareness as to the problem with trying to sweep things under the rug and pretending racism doesn’t exist in schools,” said Tate.

“She’s been amazing to try to get her school, the school board, and the city — Vancouver Police Department — to really do something about their policies, or lack thereof.”

While the student who made the video in 2018 was initially suspended for three days, which later became five weeks, Changich faced racist bullying in the aftermath of reporting the video.

She and her mother say they were told by the school administration and the Vancouver police’s school liaison officer that the video was not directed at Changich, who is Black, because the student did not mention names.

“We’ve been told that it’s not supposed to be bothering us because it’s not really directed to her,” Rita Baboth said in a spring 2019 interview. “Who are the Black people that he talked about? How are you going to tell us that is not including us?”

The Baboths’ concerns over Changich attending school with the student who made the threats were also dismissed by the administration and police, they said.

“I said, I don’t feel safe being in the hallways with him,” Changich told The Tyee in 2019. “They said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to deal with it.’”

The police declined to press charges after the Baboths reported the incident in November 2018.

By February 2019, Changich had left Lord Byng. She has since transitioned to full-time online learning in the district. In summer 2019, another Black student left the school after rumours spread that the video-making student would return.

Led by the BC Community Alliance starting in summer 2019, supporters of the Baboths wrote letters to school board officials; organized a closed-door meeting between the parents, school board, city, police and province; and attended countless school board and committee meetings to push for change.

The alliance went on to file its own B.C. human rights complaint against the board for its historic and ongoing treatment of Black students. That case is still ongoing.

In April 2020, the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner had the Vancouver Police Board review the police department’s decision after the office was pressed for answers about why no charges were laid against the video-making student. The police board ultimately upheld the decision not to press charges.

In an email to The Tyee, Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin declined to comment on the settlement, citing confidentiality built into the agreement.

“However, in terms of the investigation, the VPD stands by the thorough investigative steps that were taken. In line with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, extrajudicial measures were used and were appropriate to hold the student accountable who produced the video,” Visintin wrote.

“The content of the video was racist, hateful and hurtful. Although the impact of the video cannot be reversed, we’re hoping the agreement brings closure to everyone involved.”

The Vancouver School Board also declined an interview request regarding the settlement, with a spokesperson saying via email that it would be “inappropriate for us to comment on the Human Rights Tribunal process or any decisions that are taken.”

However, the spokesperson did elaborate on the anti-racism work the district has engaged in since December 2019, including:

More details on the school board’s anti-racism initiatives can be found here.

“They’re trying,” Changich Baboth said of the changes the district has made since she reported the racist video in 2018.

“There are more anti-racist initiatives than there was when this all started — they didn’t have anything. They were clueless. I hope it changes for the better, and I hope they continue to at least try and do something.”

851px version of SadieKuehSpeechDecision.jpg
Former Vancouver school trustee Sadie Kuehn, left, said that there’s still work to be done in holding institutions accountable for racism. Photo by Katie Hyslop.

Several supporters who spoke to the media on Friday mentioned the need to continue holding the school district, police and other public institutions accountable for responding to racism.

“If you’re not accepted and know that you’re not accepted, you don’t feel safe,” said Sadie Kuehn, a former Vancouver school trustee.

“It destroys you. You take that home, and it destroys your families. It destroys your friends. And we don’t have mechanisms in place that provide the kind of support for individuals that experience racism that is needed, and we need to demand that that change. We spend more resources on the people that perpetuate racism and hate than we ever spend on the people who are the victims of racism.”

Asked what was next for her, Changich, who is set to graduate from high school in June, said she wasn’t exactly sure. But there was one thing she was certain of.

“I’m gonna live my life,” she said with a smile. “I’m going to do my thing.”  [Tyee]

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