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Montreal, April 23, 2010 --- In a decision made public this week, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal held the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board, a principal and a teacher responsible for violating the civil rights of Ms. Maria Gallardo and her son Luc, and awarded them $17,000 in moral and punitive damages.

For the family and Montreal's Filipino community, the decision is a victory for Filipinos in Canada and the rest of the world. For CRARR, the decision reaffirms educational institutions' legal responsibility in matters of discrimination.

“Words cannot describe the sense of dignity and pride that we feel today,” said Ms. Gallardo said. “As a mother, a member of the Filipino community and citizen of this country, this decision restores my confidence in our justice system. Quebec has just confirmed to the Filipino community around the world that the protection of minorities is a fundamental value of our society.”

In May 2006, CRARR filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission on behalf of Ms. Gallardo, who complained that her son suffered discriminatory remarks and treatment at Lalande school, part of the Marguerite Bourgeoys School Board, by his educator Martine Bertrand because he ate with a fork and a spoon. According to Ms. Bertrand, Luc's eating habit was “disgusting" and “dirty”. In another incident, she asked in a “sarcastic” tone whether “in your country people wash their hands.” Luc, who was born in the Philippines, came to Canada at the age of 8 months.

When Ms. Gallardo brought the situation to the attention of school principal, Norman Bergeron, he told her over the phone that “You are in Canada and you should eat the way Canadians eat.” In a local newspaper article, he repeated that “Here, this is not the manner in which we eat …I don't necessarily want students to eat with one hand or with only one instrument, I want them to eat intelligently at the table.”

In its September 2008 decision, the Commission found that, although Ms. Bertrand's comments on hand washing in “your country" were discriminatory, they were an isolated incident. The Commission concluded that Luc had been reprimanded for his “inappropriate behavior” and for acting like a clown, rather than for his cultural way of eating. Finally, the Commission determined that it was not in the “public interest” to take the case to court and recommended mediation instead.

The Commission failed to consider several relevant facts, however, such as Mr. Bertrand's statements in the newspaper article and allegations of other unfair treatment against Luc. Undaunted, Ms. Gallardo decided to take her case to the Tribunal, at her own expense, with the help of CRARR and the Filipino community.

In its decision, the Human Rights Tribunal recognized that Luc had been singled out on at least two occasions because of how he eats. It also found that the 7 year-old child at the time saw the treatment as being connected to his ethnic origin. Furthermore, this perception had never been corrected by Ms. Bertrand, “still less by Mr. Bergeron.”

“The words used by Ms. Bertrand … confirmed Luc's feelings of shame toward his ethnic origin and reinforced the idea that he had been isolated because of his culturally specific way of eating," wrote the President of the Tribunal, the Hon. Michèle Rivet.

The Tribunal also criticized Mr. Bergeron and Ms. Bertrand for not bothering to offer Luc an explanation or to take his mother's criticisms seriously. According to the Court, “in an increasingly multicultural society, school staff play an increasingly vital role as they are involved in childrens' socialization from its very beginnings... These same people are in turn responsible for instilling tolerance and respect for others.”

The Court also recognized that the school board had failed in its duty to implement its policy of integration and intercultural education (which dates from 1999). In particular, the Court noted that the Multani case (concerning a Sikh boy carrying the kirpan) should have motivated the school board “to be more sensitive to intercultural relations and (that this sensitivity) should have defused cultural tensions.”

Moreover, the Tribunal added that, during the hearing, the Principal not only “expressed no regret over his behavior toward (Luc) and his mother,” but that he himself admits he never learned about the school board's intercultural policy-even though he is required to “know, implement and enforce (the policy) at his school.”

The Court concluded that Luc's and Ms. Gallardo's rights to equality and dignity had been violated. It ordered the school board, the principal and the educator to pay Ms. Gallardo $5,000 each. It also imposed $2,000 in punitive damages on the Principal for his “attitude ... during and after the conflict and at the hearing.”

"Although the Human Rights Commission did a poor job in this case and it has cost us dearly to enforce our rights, we urge parents and young people who are discriminated against to denounce any such rights violations,” said Ms. Gallardo.

Mr. René St. Léger, Ms. Gallardo's lawyer, is pleased that the Tribunal clearly states that school boards and their staff have concrete obligations towards students of diverse backgrounds. “It is not enough to have a written policy on cultural diversity and equity. It must be implemented to prevent discrimination and promote the full integration of all students,” he said. “All school boards in Quebec should take note.”

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