Education minister demands answers after former Toronto principal, reportedly smeared as a white supremacist, commits suicide

The minister of education for the Canadian province of Ontario has called for an investigation after a veteran Toronto principal committed suicide earlier this month.

On July 13, Richard Bilkszto, a 60-year-old former principal with the Toronto District School Board, took his own life after years of emotional “distress.” According to his lawyer, Lisa Bildy, Bilkszto’s troubles began two years ago when he attended a diversity, equity, and inclusion training for district administrators. During the multi-day training led by the KOJO Institute, anti-racism instructor Kike Ojo-Thompson reportedly insisted that Canada is a “more racist place than the U.S.” and a “bastion of white supremacy and colonialism.”

Bilkszto then piped up in defense of Canada, but rather than engage in dialogue with Bilkszto about his concerns, Ojo-Thompson reportedly smeared him as a white supremacist. “We are here to talk about anti-Black racism, but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for Black people,” she said, according to a lawsuit filed against the TDSB by the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, a group to which Bilkszto belonged.

During and after the training, Bilkszto apparently did not find many allies among his fellow administrators. One administrator even reportedly thanked the KOJO Institute for targeting Bilkszto and thereby “modelling the discomfort administrators may need to experience in order to disrupt” white supremacy.

In the immediate aftermath of the training, the alleged bullying became so severe that Bilkszto, who spent 24 years in the district, took a temporary leave of absence from his role as a contract principal. Though he eventually returned to work, he was never restored to his former position.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board later determined that Bilkszto had been the victim of workplace bullying and had endured “abusive, egregious and vexatious” treatment from Ojo-Thompson. Bilkszto also filed a lawsuit against the district this spring in connection to the DEI training. Despite those encouraging moments, the harassment became too much for Bilkszto, Bildy suggested, and he committed suicide.

Now, in light of Bilkszto’s unfortunate death, Minister Stephen Lecce has launched an investigation into Bilkszto’s “serious and disturbing” allegations regarding the DEI training and to find ways to improve professional development in the district. “This tragic incident only underscores the need for greater accountability of school boards and the necessity to ensure professional training is free from harassment and intimidation,” Lecce said in a statement.

“I offer my heartfelt condolences to Richard’s family and friends, as we remember an educator that truly went above and beyond for his students,” Lecce added. “No staff member should ever be subject to harassment while in their place of work.”

In its own statement, the school district seemed to support Lecce’s investigation. “While we are in the early stages of the information gathering process, we share the Ministry of Education’s desire to learn what happened and will work together with them as part of any review and make any necessary changes,” the TDSB said.

Ojo-Thompson, however, claimed that she and the KOJO Institute have been unfairly targeted by “right-wing media.” “This incident is being weaponized to discredit and suppress the work of everyone committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” a statement from the company said.

“KOJO Institute welcomes Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s review of this matter and will cooperate fully with Ministry officials,” KOJO Insitute’s statement continued. “We believe the Ministry of Education is best positioned to investigate this matter to get to the bottom of what transpired at the Toronto District School Board after our workshop concluded over two years ago.”

The company’s statement also expressed condolences for Bilkszto’s death, calling it “a tragedy.” Because of his death, the status of Bilkszto’s lawsuit against the district is now uncertain.

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