Ecole secondaire catholique Algonquin students and staff are observing International Holocaust Remembrance and Crimes Against Humanity Prevention Day, Thursday, as representatives for the school maintain its community is an "inclusive, welcoming and safe environment for all."
According to an announcement from the school, students and staff are demonstrating their solidarity with the North Bay and global Jewish communities through a virtual celebration to commemorate and honour the memory of victims.
"This day of remembrance is very significant," says Algonquin's student council president. "On behalf of all of us, I offer my sincere apologies to the Jewish community for the unacceptable behaviour of some. The Barons remain committed to promoting the values of diversity and inclusion to ensure that we are all responsible citizens who uphold the dignity of all human beings."
Ever since the events of last September, when an antisemitic video involving students shot on school property elicited strong reactions from the Jewish community and prominent national anti-hate organizations, the announcement states students and staff have been attending awareness sessions in a collaboration with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Canada Centre (FSWC).
"We appreciate that the school is committing to ensuring students and staff learn from the antisemitic incident that recently took place and is commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day," says FSWC President Michael Levitt. "Education and learning the lessons of the past are critical when it comes to combatting antisemitism and other forms of hate."
Algonquin says it "continues its mission to engage every student to learn, to reach their potential, to pursue their dreams and to build the French Catholic community."
In late September 2021, Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord announced the video showing 14 grade 7 and 8 students marching on the school's athletic field while giving the Nazi salute and chanting, "F*ck the Jews!" and "Heil Hitler" was the result of the group of students accepting "a challenge that was circulating on TikTok. The challenge was to promote hate and then make a public display of it on school grounds."
The board announced, "We are heartbroken by what has happened and will not tolerate such behaviour in school. We are committed to increasing dialogue and knowledge in our classrooms and to supporting our students on their journey."
The school board stated last September, "This type of behaviour is not tolerated in our schools," and the actions of the students have resulted in consequences for those involved. The board said lessons on the subject were to begin imminently and would continue with visitors who "will provide the entire school community with dialogue and knowledge that can contribute to the social growth of youth and staff."
And, "This group of students will also be asked to make a restorative gesture just as public as their previous actions. They must acknowledge their lack of discernment, digital citizenship, and the extent to which they have harmed the well-being of community members in the region and even the country."
Local police responded to the school following complaints from parents who had viewed the video and as part of the school's internal investigation. Witnesses stated at least one staff member looked on as the students marched on the field but, to date, the school board has still not responded to BayToday's request for information on the status of any investigation into the inaction of staff, nor its repercussions.
The video of the incident circulated on social media and once BayToday broke the story, several national groups focused on combating antisemitism and racism — and specializing in matters related to hate — weighed in.
On whether the video depicted hate speech, Martin Sampson, the Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) stated unequivocally "marching through a schoolyard with arms raised in Nazi salute shouting 'F*ck the Jews!' is hate speech."
The textbook definition of hate speech is "abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation."
Evan Balgord, Executive Director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network told BayToday, in his experience, this situation in North Bay was "one of the most shocking examples of this kind of thing happening in a school. It is to that level of severity."
Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord tells BayToday it is "proud of the work accomplished by École secondaire catholique Algonquin in pursuing its mandate of educating and supporting students in their academic and personal development.
" As the student council president aptly stated, we remain committed to promoting the values of diversity and inclusion to ensure that we are all responsible citizens. Franco-Nord schools continue to provide inclusive, welcoming and safe learning and work environments by promoting forgiveness, sharing, peace, justice and respect."