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Rights + Justice

What Vancouver’s School Board and Police Have Promised to Do about Racism

A human rights complaint after a racist video by a student brought pledges of change. Black advocates are waiting to see if they’re real.

Katie Hyslop 9 Feb

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

Create a resource guide for police in schools. Ensure students know their school’s anti-racism resource teacher. Consult Vancouver’s people of colour on an anti-racism strategy.

These are just some of the tasks the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Police Department must do as part of a recent human rights settlement.

Ever since Changich Baboth reported a racist and threatening video made by a fellow Grade 10 student at Lord Byng Secondary in November 2018, she and her mother Rita Baboth have fought for the school district and police department to be held accountable for their response.

While the student who made the video was initially suspended for three days, which later turned into five weeks followed by the student changing schools, the Baboths say their request for anti-racism work at the school went unheeded.

After Changich faced subsequent racist bullying at school and indifference from police and school administration, she left Lord Byng in February 2019. Another Black student would leave Lord Byng that summer over concerns that the video-making student would return.

A complaint was eventually filed with the BC Human Rights Tribunal over the school board’s handling of the incident.

Last month the Baboths finally signed a settlement agreement with the school board and police after months of mediated negotiations between the three parties and the tribunal.

The settlement documents are confidential, and in particular the financial aspect of the settlement remains undisclosed as part of the agreement.

However, the Baboths received permission from their lawyer to share some of the non-financial aspects of the agreement with The Tyee, because the family argues this is a case that tackles issues meaningful to the public: systemic racism in the school system and police.

The Vancouver School Board has pledged to consult broadly with people of colour on its anti-racism strategy starting in late May; ensure that students are familiar with their school’s anti-racism resource teacher; and provide Rita Baboth with bi-monthly written updates on anti-racism work, strategies and initiatives by the district.

The other anti-racism work that the district has completed or undertaken since early 2019 includes:

As part of the settlement, the Vancouver Police Department has pledged over the next year to train all school liaison officers and members of its hate crime unit on addressing and countering anti-Black racism, as well as on how to provide “holistic and trauma-informed services” to people subjected to racism and hate, especially young people.

The department has also promised to create an information and resource guide for those officers to hand out to people who have been subjected to racism, highlighting available support and information resources.

Both the police and the school district have promised to work “collaboratively and in good faith” on a policy for responding to racist incidents in schools.

The Tyee asked the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Police Department to verify and comment on the settlement details. Both declined, citing the inappropriateness of commenting on the tribunal’s work and breaking confidentiality.

“As the conversation with our partners is ongoing, I may be able to share more in the future,” Const. Tania Visintin, the department’s media relations officer, said in an email to The Tyee.

Rita Baboth said the settlement brings “little changes,” like anti-racism training for some police officers. But many of the promised changes from the school district were already underway.

Her ongoing concern remains the lack of accountability, saying there is nothing to stop the school board or the police department from responding to future racist acts in the same way they did to Changich’s experience.

“There’s no accountability on the people who handled the situation,” Baboth said, referring to former administrators at Lord Byng, Geoff Taylor and Mike Vulgaris, and then-school liaison officer Trevor Letourneau who investigated the video.

“We cannot have unity without accountability.”

The Tyee reached out to former Lord Byng principal Taylor and vice-principal Vulgaris in 2019 for our investigation on the fallout from the racist video, but they did not respond to requests. Vancouver police did not make Letourneau available for an interview about his investigation of the video when requested last week.

Baboth said anyone who has experienced or is experiencing racism in schools shouldn’t give up their fight just because her family reached a settlement agreement.

She suggests families and young people reach out to Speak Up Youth Forums, a website run by Marie Tate, which was the first outlet to feature an interview with Changich about the fallout from reporting the bomb threat.

“That is where they can actually get help,” said Baboth. “If they had somewhere for themselves to speak, I think that is really helpful, and that is what’s helping us, too.”

Tate presented Rita and Changich with awards for their bravery after the settlement signing on Jan. 29.

Tate shares Rita’s concerns over the lack of accountability for the school administration.

"It just shows all the kids who know about this that it’s not really a big deal, that nobody needs to be accountable,” said Tate, a former member and co-founder of the BC Community Alliance, an umbrella group for Black organizations and individuals in Vancouver who did advocacy work around the Byng incident. “What Rita and Changich got from this case, they had to fight for.”

The Baboths weren’t just fighting for themselves, Tate noted. They were fighting in hope that other students subjected to racism wouldn’t have to fight like they did, and that those in charge would take care of victims of hate.

Tate isn’t sure that it worked.

“But when it comes down to it, will they?” she asked of school administrators and police. “If it happened tomorrow, would they keep the perp away and the victim safe?”  [Tyee]

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