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Police called to OCDSB meeting for second time in four months

A man who had signed up to speak was quickly cut off when he raised questions over the use of washrooms by transgender students, which angered a small group in the gallery.
2018-03-03 Ottawa-Carelton District School Board2 MV
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board logo, March 3, 2018. (Photo/ Mike Vlasveld)

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) responded to a disturbance at a meeting of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) this week, for the second time in less than four months. 

During the meeting on Tuesday, March 7, a man who had signed up to speak for four minutes raised questions to the board regarding the use of washrooms by transgender students, but he was quickly cut off. 

"On the grounds that this creates an unsafe environment for people who identify as gender diverse, I'm going to have to ask you to end your delegation," said trustee Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth.

That comment angered a small group of supporters and board staff decided to call in the police. 

OPS confirms they received a call just after 8 p.m. for assistance with a group of people who had been asked to leave the property, but that the situation was resolved before officers arrived.

Speaking with CityNews Ottawa, trustee Donna Blackburn said, while she wasn't at the meeting due to illness, she has seen clips of the exchange and didn't feel it was entirely democratic. 

"I didn't see anything in what that gentleman was saying to be hateful or offensive," she said. "I think he was just trying to share his concern. I think, at the end of the day, if he would have just been allowed to finish what he had to say, any of my colleagues could have asked him questions for clarification -- it probably would have been over and it wouldn't have been a big hoopla. But, when you cut somebody off -- I did hear some people from the gallery shouting. I think people were legitimately upset."

Blackburn goes on to say that in her 12 years serving on the board, she has sat patiently and quietly listening to people that she didn't necessary agree with, and vice versa. 

"That's part of democracy," she said. "We have human right policies and our board follows those policies and that's the answer. At the end of the day, whatever those gentleman's concerns were, the answer is, the board follows human right legislation and regulations."

However, in responding to the idea it could set a bad precedent for the board not to allow someone their right to freedom of speech, Kaplan-Myrth wholeheartedly disagreed. 

"Actually, the bad precedent is that people think they can intimidate, bully, harass and bring their hate into our space -- that they think they can use boards of education as a locus for their racism and discrimination, she said to CityNews Ottawa. "That's the bad precedent." 

In a statement, the OCDSB said it reaffirms its commitment to upholding human rights and maintaining spaces that are safe and welcoming to trans and gender diverse people.

Alex Black

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