A number of students at Northern Secondary School were this week involved in the use of racist and misogynistic language on Snapchat, according to principal Adam Marshall.
In a letter to parents and guardians, Marshall said the comments were made or discovered on the social media app on Wednesday.
“A group of students were involved in a Snapchat where racist (anti-Black), homophobic, and misogynistic language was used,” Marshall wrote in the letter. “This chat was shared with many students.”
Marshall said the incident was “traumatic and triggered emotions ranging from anger, to fear and sadness.”
This is the latest incident involving the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) students and allegations of racist behaviour. In February there were three antisemitic incidents at Toronto public schools. On Feb. 1, two students at Charles H. Best Middle School gave a Hitler salute in front of classmates. On Feb. 17, three Grade 8 students at Valley Park Middle School surrounded a Jewish teacher, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and gave her the Hitler salute. And on Feb. 24, two students at Pleasant Public School gave the Hitler salute to a Jewish teacher in a Grade 6 classroom.
Also last month, anti-Black graffiti was found at the Etobicoke School of the Arts by Black students rehearsing for a Black History Month assembly.
There is a lot of tension and conflicts. That community feeling that people used to have seems not to exist anymore.– Carl James, York University professor
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a non-profit human rights organization committed to countering racism, said there is an unprecedented “wave of antisemitism” currently happening in Toronto schools.
Northern Secondary School called Toronto police after the Snapchat messages were discovered. The force is looking into the incident, and a spokesperson said it is an active investigation.
COVID-19 restrictions and stress
York University professor Carl James, who specializes in multiculturalism and race relations, believes that the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions and stress could be a factor in many racist incidents in schools.
He said the pandemic has created divisions in society and teenagers have been forced to live more isolated lives.
“There is a lot of tension and conflicts. That community feeling that people used to have seems not to exist anymore,” James said in an interview.
“People probably need to start rebuilding relationships with each other, to have communication with each other, to have face-to-face communication.”
George Dei, a professor at the University of Toronto’s department of social justice, said it’s possible that more incidents of racism are being noticed and called out because institutions are taking them more seriously.
“There’s a long history here. This isn’t all of a sudden,” Dei said in an interview.
Either way, he said racism among young people needs to be addressed and fixed through education.
“The [education] ministry needs to prioritize a very robust anti-racism and equity agenda that includes reform and the intention of hiring diverse teaching staff,” Dei said.
Dei said school boards need to ask “difficult questions” and develop a serious plan for addressing racism.
TDSB taking action
The TDSB recently launched its Combating Hate and Racism Student Learning Strategy.
The strategy is a “student-centred approach to creating respectful and culturally safe learning environments for all students,” according to the board’s website.
As part of the comprehensive plan, classroom instruction will include subject matter on colonization, genocide, slavery the Holocaust and the internment of Asian Canadians.