Clarification tweet – June 4, 2020 பீல் பிராந்தியத்திய பாடசாலைக்கு சபைக்கு அனுப்பப்பட்ட கடிதம். May 18th, Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day

Tamil Canadian Centre for Civic Action facebook இருந்து எடுக்கப்பட்டது

June 5, 2020

Dear Trustees and Director of Education at Peel District School Board:

We, as Tamil Canadians, are writing this letter to firstly register our strong disappointment, absolute disgust and deep sadness, resulting from your recent tweet that effectively diminished our pain and sufferings as individuals and as a community. It instantly bothered us as a community within our own school system. Your action has caused irreparable harm to Tamil students, families and community in general.

On May 18th, Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day, we were very appreciative when Peel District School Board put out a tweet extending your empathy for the students and families impacted by the Tamil Genocide. However, your clarification tweet that has followed this original tweet was problematic and shameful. It has left many of us deeply concerned about your board’s inability to once again understand the very basic principles related to equity, inclusion, anti-racism and anti-oppression. You have once again failed to stand by your racialized students, this time Tamil students who are victims of a genocide. Anti-discrimination work is difficult, but not addressing/acknowledging inequities and oppression leads to greater oppression of already marginalized communities. To acknowledge and then to explicitly go back on that commitment is even worse. Your actions continue to support and nurture an environment that promotes anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. From past decades of history, we know that this tweet is not an isolated incident, it seems to be consistent with your board’s repeated failures to understand your own students and their lived experiences.

While some members of the community may have expressed their opposition to the school board’s recognition of the Genocide, as a school board, you must be committed to anti-oppressive pedagogy. Anytime you take a position to support students who are facing oppression, you will no doubt make a few people upset. Privilege is hard to give up and sometimes the truth is hard for some people to face. I am sure you know that as an education system.

Your original tweet, “Today is Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day. We honour the innocent lives that were lost, those who were displaced, and those who suffer trauma to this day,” demonstrated a level of relevance and empathy that we expect from a school board. Toronto and York Region public boards did the same as well. So did many leaders including the Mayors of Brampton and Mississauga. However, your clarification of the tweet was a harmful move and discredited the lived experiences of hundreds of thousands of Tamils who faced the Tamil Genocide. Your “clarification” tweet is wrong on so many levels and it will take us pages to explain this to you. But we will attempt to highlight a few issues here.

Genocide is not a perspective. What “balanced views” are needed here? Are you able to describe what the “language that best represents and balances perspectives” of a genocide is? When you use such rhetoric, you undermine and devalue what had actually occurred. Political correctness does not and should not ever mean erasing the past. Let me assure you, how ever you word your empathy towards Tamils, you will always hear from a few of those who want us to continue to be oppressed wherever we go.

What relevance does this statement, “not critical of the peaceful and beloved local Sinhalese community, many of whom were victims themselves of a brutal war” have when you are commemorating the Tamil genocide? And then finally, you take “the white saviour approach” to “wish both communities continued peace and healing”? We will be more than happy to do a two-hour, anti-racism and anti-oppression training for you and your staff, just deconstructing this tweet alone.

In the Peel Region District School Board’s Policies and Regulations, Policy 54 of the Equity and Inclusive Education has a section on Accountability and Transparency. Contrary to your own policy, you did not once facilitate active discussion nor exhibit transparency with the Tamil community or any Tamil organization regarding a genocide that was related to the Tamil population. You needed to have done that before your clarification. With basic research it would have been known that the perpetrators of and crimes resulting in the Tamil Genocide were in fact approved, encouraged, and carried through with the help of the Sri Lankan Government, the same government you consulted with on the issue of the Tamil Genocide. This is the same government that has denied all records of any war crime, had removed all international humanitarian groups out of the country before executing a massacre, has refused to have an International Investigation, and still continues to show discrimination to this day. The fact you seem to have engaged in conversation with representative(s) of a foreign government to take an action that negatively impacts, and harms Canadian students of Tamil origin, is highly problematic. This out of all the concerns is our primary concern. We need you to answer our questions and explain your actions directly and explicitly.

Incidents of all different forms of racism and exclusion in your board make us believe either the board has incompetent leadership that fails to understand equity, or it is deliberately being indifferent to and complicit in racism.

Anti-Black racism is highly prevalent in your administration and board for many years. Our concerns aside, your lack of leadership and commitment to meaningfully address anti-Black racism within the board as well as your treatment of parent and community advocates distinctly concerns us. In the investigation called for by Education Minister Stephen Lecce, it was noted that Black Students in the Peel Region are at a much higher risk of being suspended or facing active discrimination in comparison to the rates of their White counterparts. Your inaction in directly dealing with multiple incidents of anti-Black racism within the board is shameful.

As well, Islamophobia has also been running deep throughout your system. Your system made up of predominantly white staff is failing the student population, the vast majority of whom are racialized. Meanwhile, your own policy states, “The principle of anti-oppressive and inclusive curriculum and assessment practices recognizes the importance of intentionally building culturally responsive classroom environments where students regularly and authentically have opportunities to share narratives, perspectives, curiosities, interests, and insights about their experiences of the world.”

We also want to inform you that many staff of Tamil origin who are educators in your board are also hurt and impacted by your decision. We are also exploring ways to address this from a human resources point of view. At this time, we also want to extend our sincere appreciation to thousands of PDSB educators, students, parents/guardians and community partners who, despite the limited support, have been doing anti-racism and anti-oppression work on the frontline to support all students in the system.

Our expectation is that Peel District School Board will examine power dynamics when approaching sensitive topics such as a genocide. We expect you will withdraw your clarification of the original tweet as it takes us off the path of justice and reconciliation. As well, we demand a public retraction of your clarification tweet for lacking transparency with the Tamil community, displaying an act of ignorance, and overlooking the intergenerational trauma endured by the Tamil community as a result of the Sri Lankan government. For a board that is willing to “[engage] families in conversations in an environment of trust, openness, learning, and dignity,” we must say you have lost our trust. You have effectively withdrawn the safe, inclusive and welcoming space you promised to create for our children, or at least whatever existed prior. In retracting your original statement, our children’s stories and emotions have been downgraded. It is equivalent to looking every Tamil child in the eye and saying, “I don’t believe you.”

Therefore, we demand your immediate action by taking the following steps:

  1. We request an immediate meeting with the highest leadership of the board within two weeks of receiving this letter to discuss ways in which you can try to undo the harm done to Tamil students and their families.
  2. We request that the board officially and publicly acknowledge the pain that you have caused Tamil students and their families and confirm that you stand by your original tweet on May 18th.
  3. We request that you disclose your dealings with the Sri Lankan Government during the past month and inform all the Tamil students and their families about your relationship with the representatives of a Foreign government.
  4. We request that you immediately communicate your plans to train your staff (especially all those involved in this matter) on anti-racism and anti-oppression, including a session on the experiences of the Tamil students in your board.
  5. Most importantly, we request that you take immediate and concrete action to end Anti-Black Racism and Islamophobia within your board by implementing all the recommendations put forward by the impacted communities themselves.

We hope that you will take this request seriously and act on them soon with goodwill. We would like to arrive at a meaningful resolution to this matter. We believe in a transparent process and therefore we are releasing this letter as an open letter that is accessible to the public and will be sharing it with some key stakeholders, allies and decision makers both in the Peel region, and beyond. If we see no or little progress in two weeks, we will follow up with details on our next set of actions.

Sincerely,
Human Rights Team
Tamil Canadian Centre for Civic Action
info@tamilcivicaction.com

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