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Montreal North teacher suspended after allegations of racist remarks

Oct 30, 2020

Current and former students at Henri-Bourassa High School say Vincent Ouellette has a long history of making inappropriate remarks. Photo by John Kenney /Montreal Gazette files Article Sidebar Article content The Pointe-de-l’Île school service centre (CSSPI) announced Wednesday evening it has suspended a teacher at Henri-Bourassa High School pending an investigation into allegations he repeatedly used racist language in front of students. In a statement, the CSSPI wrote it was informed last week of “different allegations concerning inappropriate comments and conduct on the part of a teacher at École Secondaire Henri-Bourassa. The CSSPI and the school administration are taking this situation very seriously and actions have been taken immediately to shed light on these allegations.” We apologize, but this video has failed to load. Try refreshing your browser, or Montreal North teacher suspended after allegations of racist remarks Back to video “The teacher who is the subject (of the allegations) is now suspended during the investigation. The inquiry will take place according to the procedures and delays contained in the collective agreement.” The announcement of the suspension comes after history teacher Vincent Ouellette was placed under investigation last week when videos emerged of him using the N-word in both French and English repeatedly while teaching online. Advertisement Article content continued In videos captured by students and shared widely on Instagram, Ouellette, who is white, defends the use of the word when referring to two Quebec literary works: a book by Pierre Vallières and a monologue by Yvon Deschamps. In an email he sent to Le Devoir on Tuesday, Ouellette apologized , saying his remarks lacked sensitivity. He said the controversy has given ammunition to those who want to limit the freedom of expression in academia. He said his goal in using the word was to shed light on how current events relate to the past. “People who know me understand that I have the utmost respect and affection for the black community,” he wrote. “I hope to one day continue this conversation with my students, but until then, I will step back and I hope that this explanation will help calm the situation.” Advertisement Article content continued He said he would make no further statements about the controversy. In announcing Ouellette’s suspension, CSSPI director-general Antoine El-Khoury said that “inclusion, equity and benevolence are at the heart of our educational mission and no form of discrimination will be tolerated in our establishments … we are taking charge of this situation and appropriate measures will be taken following the administrative investigation now taking place.” However, an association representing groups serving Montreal North’s Haitian community on Thursday called for the CSSPI not only to take action against Ouellette but also the principal of Henri-Bourassa High School, who they allege knew about the teacher’s conduct. Advertisement Article content continued “He must be given a stern warning in order that he take responsibility when such acts are committed by those under his authority,” said the Regroupement des intervenants et intervenantes d’origine haïtienne in a statement. News of the suspension Wednesday came after a 10-minute video had been posted to the Facebook group Béliers solidaires . In it, current and former students recounted alleged incidents of intolerance perpetrated by a teacher understood to be Ouellete, “He used the N-word often to target the black community,” said a student who graduated in 2016, but whose image was blurred in the video. “Even though it was a very multicultural school, there was no respect for us as students.” Others allege that Ouellette used the word ‘savage’ in reference to First Nations people, used denigrating language toward people with mental disabilities, and once did the Sieg Heil Nazi salute. Advertisement Article content continued “It was a joke, but some students took offence to this gesture,” a female student said. Another account on the video says Ouellette asked students in class to raise their hands if they were ‘Québécois’. When all the students raised their hands, the teacher clarified and said, ‘no, Québécois de souche’. The only people who kept their hands up were the white students. A student in the video said Ouellette often used that term to differentiate between students with deep roots in the province and those from ethnic and cultural minorities. She said students also began to use that term among themselves outside the class and that made her feel unsafe in the school. “I love Quebec culture, but this made me feel horrible,” the student said in the video. “This made me feel like I would never be a Québécois, so I changed schools to start studying in English.” Advertisement Article content continued Students also say Ouellette taped cartoons that denigrated Muslims onto his classroom door. They allege that a lesson about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris devolved into Ouellette asking Muslim students to repeatedly apologize for the act of terrorism. “He told us it was our fault, and said we are the ones who cause all the problems in the world,” a student in the video said. The students said they lodged numerous complaints with the administration over the years, but nothing changed. The Montreal Gazette reached out to Henri-Bourassa High School on Wednesday and Thursday in an attempt to contact Ouellette, but was unable to do so. A call to the Centre de services scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île was not returned. Advertisement Article content continued Will Prosper, a community activist who helped the students put the video together, grew up in Montreal North and attended nearby Calixa Lavallée High School. He said he was saddened to hear that students describe such experiences. “They made complaints and nothing has changed,” Prosper said. He said it’s clear teachers and the administration at the school were aware of a problem but ignored it for years. Prosper likened the video to the ‘me too’ movement, as the students expressed to him they are tired of inaction after using official channels to file formal complaints about racism and intolerance. Gio Olmos, 25, who is part of the group of students behind the video and graduated in 2012, said Ouellette is not alone at the school. Students who are part of minority groups have experienced what Olmos said was dehumanizing language for many years. “We’re trying to paint a picture that tells of a situation that’s present in the school and the system as a whole,” Olmos said. Share this Story: Montreal North teacher suspended after allegations of racist remarks

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