The “woke” Toronto District School Board (TDSB) brass and its new director would like the Desmond Cole disaster to simply go away.

But it seems principals, outraged with the way it was mishandled two weeks ago, aren’t prepared to let it go.

One elementary school principal who spoke to True North on condition of anonymity says TDSB principals and vice-principals were left “shocked, angry and hurt” at the accusations of racism and oppression levelled at those who attended a mandatory series of seminars given by “anti-racism” activist Desmond Cole.

The principal said they are calling for the person who organized the event to be fired, or at least disciplined, and to be forced to “take responsibility” for a gross error in judgement, noting the content was contrary to TDSB’s own guidelines.

Principals and vice-principals felt Cole attacked them personally and professionally and If they had carried out such discussions in their own schools, they’d be disciplined and the subject of a human rights complaint, the source noted.

Cole was paid $16,000 for four sessions on Sept. 20 and 23.

True North learned that he was permitted to continue with the second set of talks on Sept. 23 even though there were several complaints to the board brass about the hateful rhetoric expressed during the first two talks.

Many attendees were taken aback at the Sept. 20 sessions when Cole addressed the “illegal occupation of Palestine territories” by the Jewish state — repeating “Free Palestine” several times. 

Jewish groups have called “Free Palestine” a dog whistle which promotes the eradication of the Jewish state.

“I can say Free Palestine … as many times as I want to because I am not an educator … there’s not much the people who invited me here can do,” Cole said defiantly.

He continued to use typical misinformed anti-Semitic tropes about Israel’s “theft of land” and “settler colonialism” — berating those who attended for “taking the side of the oppressor.”

The source told me it’s not just the rants about “Free Palestine” or Cole’s curious examples of “oppression” in TDSB schools, it’s that no one — from director Colleen Russell-Rawlins on down — has taken any responsibility for the debacle.

Russell-Rawlins, who returned to the TDSB in August after a year at the troubled Peel District School Board (PDSB), issued a milquetoast apology in a Sept. 24 e-mail to staff.

In fact, she only apologized to those who endeavoured to question Cole and were rudely interrupted and berated for doing so.

“It is clear that we should have done a better job providing space for staff to unpack these complex conversations and I want to apologize for the harm that may have caused,” she wrote.

A follow-up e-mail on Sept. 27 conceded that the format of the sessions “did not result in the kind of experience” they wanted all participants to have.

Russell-Rawlins’ second email, another word salad, takes no responsibility for the hateful rhetoric spewed by Cole.

Instead, she claimed that if they stay focussed on their commitments, “the dialogue in the classrooms will result in less hate, exclusion and discrimination.” She didn’t elaborate.

Little wonder there has been no apology. It appears Russell-Rawlins has focussed her work on “anti-black racism” and oppression to the exclusion of other equity issues. In fact she was part of a panel while at the PDSB supported by Black Lives Matter and featuring leftist columnist Shree Paradkar.

In response to questions about who organized the events and Cole as speaker, board spokesperson Ryan Bird said the learning sessions were a locally-planned event that “grew in interest.” (completely ignoring my questions about who hired Cole.)

Asked whether the director will apologize to Jewish students, teachers and principals for Cole’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, Bird said she’s already apologized directly to staff who attended the sessions (not characterizing which staff he meant or admitting the Cole’s rant was anti-Semitic.)

The board source feels the TDSB is in disarray with a new director who “does not care” about her leaders. 

“She is creating division and a polarization that has never been seen before,” the source said. “This is not a good start for her and many feel it could be her demise.”

Another board insider said the trend as of late has been only to appoint people to the role of superintendent who are either black activists or incredibly “woke” and that anti-Semitism is “running rampant” within the board.

Both sources say teachers and principals are too terrified to speak out for fear of reprisal.


  • Sue-Ann Levy

    A two-time investigative reporting award winner and nine-time winner of the Toronto Sun’s Readers Choice award for news writer, Sue-Ann Levy made her name for advocating the poor, the homeless, the elderly in long-term care and others without a voice and for fighting against the striking rise in anti-Semitism and the BDS movement across Canada.