Ontario to audit 'Diversity, Equity and Inclusion' materials after Toronto principal’s suicide

Ontario's education minister says this matter is 'serious' and 'disturbing,' as 'no staff member should ever be subject to harassment while in their place of work.'

Ontario to audit 'Diversity, Equity and Inclusion' materials after Toronto principal’s suicide
Twitter/ Save Our Schools TDSB
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The life of a former Toronto school principal has ended in tragedy. Sixty-year-old Richard Bilkszto committed suicide following accusations of 'white supremacy' at his workplace.

"With sorrow, it is announced that Richard Bilkszto passed away suddenly last Thursday, July 13, 2023, at his home in Toronto," said his lawyer, Lisa Bildy. "He leaves his distraught mother, brother, nephews, niece and many other dear family and friends whose lives he touched over the years."

Bilkszto, who recently retired, served the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for 24 years but continued to work on a contract basis for the board.

On April 26 and May 3, 2021, Bilkszto attended several Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training sessions organized by the school board, where he advocated bringing people together through "a more equality-focused, pro-human approach." 

Bildy said he experienced "an affront to that stellar reputation" after being the victim of workplace bullying, causing "severe mental stress."

This spring, Bilkszto launched a civil lawsuit against the TDSB over the alleged bullying and condemned their lottery system for specialized programs that "removed any consideration of merit."

"Ultimately, he was concerned with fairness and respect for all learners — a mission from which he thought public education was straying," wrote his lawyer.

According to his court filing with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, he alleged that DEI trainer, Kike Ojo-Thompson, demonstrated hostilities towards him.

During the session, Ojo-Thompson, CEO of the KOJO Institute, argued Canada is a "bastion of white supremacy and colonialism." She added that capitalism and 'the patriarchy' are killing people.

According to a National Post column, Bilkszto said that claim "[does] an incredible disservice to our learners," citing public health care and an equal funding system for education as examples.

Ojo-Thompson replied: "We are here to talk about anti-black racism, but you, in your whiteness, think that you can tell me what's going on for black people?"

During the next session, she reportedly said Bilkszto's comments uphold white supremacy in an attempt to derail the conversation and discredit her. 

Bilkszto subsequently went on sick leave for workplace harassment. No investigation into the alleged incident has taken place as of writing.

On Sunday, a Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) trustee urged the province to pause all diversity, equity, and inclusion training (DEI) workshops until an investigation into Bilkszto's suicide is complete.

"We need to learn from these tragic events and ensure…qualified presenters enrich our staff [because] that's not what happened," said Trustee Markus de Domenico.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce obliged the request and ordered a review of the incident Tuesday, with a comprehensive review of all DEI school training "so this never happens again." 

Lecce told the Toronto Sun this matter is "serious" and "disturbing," as "no staff member should ever be subject to harassment while in their place of work."

Bildy concurred, saying TDSB needs to learn from this situation. "Part of Richard's legacy should be that we stop walking on eggshells and seriously examine the purpose, process, and value of this type of DEI training."

"We should be demanding proof that this training improves race relations or benefits anyone other than the well-paid trainer," Bildy told Epoch.

"His family and friends have been left reeling and wishing they could have had the chance to convince him that he was loved, respected and needed here."

The Ontario Principals Council (OPC) said the board failed to protect staff from workplace bullying and harassment, expressing sadness over the loss of Bilkszto.

A Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) ruling in 2021 found Ojo-Thompson's conduct "abusive, egregious and vexatious and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying" in her treatment of the former principal.

Bewilderingly, the KOJO Institute had no involvement in the WSIB hearing.

The TDSB also ruled that she intended to "cause reputational damage and to 'make an example'" of Bilkszto but has yet to receive his lawsuit.

However, at that point, the damage to his reputation had been swift and severe. When he returned to work after six weeks of sick leave, Bilkszto lost his contract for a term as principal. The pending lawsuit alleged the defamation breached his contract, resulting in $785,000 in damages.

KOJO and TDSB did not return a request for comment by Epoch at the time of writing

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