A Peel District School Board (PDSB) teacher says he and other educators were forced to attend a “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) session containing Critical Race Theory (CRT), attacks on white people and claims that merit and objectivity are linked to “whiteness.”

DEI sessions for educators have recently been under scrutiny following the suicide of Toronto principal Richard Bilkszto – who was allegedly bullied at a diversity seminar. Ontario’s Ministry of Education has since ordered a review into training for teaching staff.

The PDSB teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, told True North he found his board’s “anti-racism” session toxic and not contributing to the greater good of education.

He said the panel took place in September 2020 as part of mandatory professional development. The session came following a summer of Black Lives Matter protests and riots triggered by the murder of George Floyd in the United States. 

The panel featured four black PDSB employees, including vice-principal Melissa Wilson. In her introduction, Wilson said her academic practice “is informed by Critical Race Theory, anti-colonial education and black feminist methodologies.”

In an audio recording of the session provided to True North by the teacher, Wilson is heard making several controversial remarks about race.

“We were all born into a racist society,” claimed Wilson. 

She also claimed race is a social construct rather than a biological concept. “So myself as a Critical Race Theorist, even though I know there’s no biological substance to this identity as black, I do identify as a black female.” 

Wilson then said that “if you identify as white, or people identify you as white in our society, then you are more likely to be seen as normal, pleasant, acceptable and really not pretentious at all.” Black people meanwhile are “often seen as not belonging, as suspicious, as more criminal, and needing to be controlled more.”

She went on to discuss “whiteness,” claiming that white people “generally do not want to speak about race and racism” and are defensive and argumentative. She said the latter is “white fragility.”

Wilson also said that “if we are avoiding talking about things such as racism… and if we are also not talking about other structures of power, such as colonialism, patriarchy, heteronormativity and so forth, then (what) we’re left with in whiteness is this idea of individualism.”

She then went on to link objectivity and merit to “whiteness.” 

“All that matters is the individual or objectivity or meritocracy, meaning that when we look at meritocracy, this idea that those who are successful, by capitalism’s definition of successful, have somehow earned that. And those who have not attained that level of success, need to just simply work harder because there’s no such thing as these structures of power that are shaping their lives.”

Wilson also claimed that the PDSB has “a culture of whiteness,” amid 80% of teachers at the board being white – something she said was problematic. “The expected behaviour for us as professionals is all really based on the perspectives and expectations of white people, who are the overwhelming majority.”

She also challenged white teachers to discuss race with their students and study their “whiteness” to understand how they’ve been socialized into it and how it affects their profession.

For the PDSB teacher, the session’s net effect was “to splinter everybody.” He added that CRT “divides everyone it touches.”

In an interview with True North, the PDSB teacher said, “there’s nothing wrong if what it is is about combating racism, and wanting all of us to have equality of opportunity and even to lift disadvantaged groups.” However, he takes issue with assumptions “that people are disadvantaged solely on the basis of skin colour,” and assuming “that people based on the color of their skin are oppressors.”

He also finds claims that being punctual or objective are signs of “whiteness” or having a difference of opinion is a sign of “white fragility” to be crazy.

The teacher doesn’t see how DEI ideology “make things better for kids or teachers.”

“In fact, I see it as being the most divisive thing that you could possibly do to people… It weakens the standard of education, it weakens any sort of behavioural expectations, and I think we’re actually seeing the effect of it playing out, across public education in Ontario.”

The teacher also told True North he believes only a minority of educators support CRT – but that the minority is vocal and intimidating. “The vocal minority speaks and everybody else just sits silently hoping to get through it, hoping to not say something that’s gonna get them in trouble.” 

He believes it’s time to stop imposing CRT and DEI ideology and instead focus on students. “We need to refocus on lifting all students up and making sure that what we are doing is in the best interests of all kids in our care.”

In the past, Ontario teachers have faced investigations for opposing CRT.

In March 2022, Ottawa high school teacher Chanel Pfahl was placed under investigation by the Ontario College of Teachers after she made remarks and postings opposing CRT in schools on Facebook. 

In February 2023, the College decided that it would not be moving Phafl’s case to a disciplinary hearing, opting instead to administer a brief “oral caution.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by deceased TDSB principal Richard Bilkszto makes disturbing allegations about what took place after he challenged a DEI instructor.

The lawsuit alleges Bilkszto was bullied, shamed, humiliated and repeatedly labelled a “white supremacist” after he politely challenged a claim that Canada is far more racist than the United States. The DEI instructor subsequently suggested that the TDSB take action against Bilkszto for allegedly choosing not to “unlearn” his white supremacism.

The lawsuit has yet to be served and the allegations have not been proven in court.

The lawsuit also claims that the TDSB reneged on the contract to hire Bilkszto at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate when he returned from a sick leave he took following the incident. He also had other contracts revoked and failed to get other internal positions as well.

Bilkszto committed suicide in July. His family claims he dealt with plaguing stress stemming from the incident.

True North reached out to Wilson and the PDSB for comment but neither responded in time for publication.

With files from True North’s Sue-Ann Levy.