Two separate national organizations that deal in matters of antisemitism, racism, and incidents motivated by hate are reaching out to École secondaire catholique Algonquin and the Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord to offer not only education but intervention resources.
This, in the wake of the circulation of a video showing a group of Algonquin students marching on the school's athletic field while giving the Nazi salute and chanting, "F*ck the Jews!" and "Heil Hitler."
A spokesperson for the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies based in North York, Ont., shares the group is "extremely disturbed," after viewing North Bay students "performing the Nazi salute and yelling antisemitic slurs."
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Meanwhile, Evan Balgord, Executive Director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network tells BayToday this situation in North Bay "is the worst we've run into in a school in Canada in the past five years. That's not hyperbole. This is one of the most egregious examples of hate we've seen."
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network is a non-profit with the mandate to counter, monitor, and expose hate-promoting movements, groups, and individuals in Canada. The organization's Chair is Bernie Farber, the son of a Holocaust survivor and it is supported, in part, by the government's Anti-Racism Action Program.
Balgord says, in his experience with the organization, this situation in North Bay is "one of the most shocking examples of this kind of thing happening in a school," the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has investigated. "It is to that level of severity."
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has experience combating the radicalization of children, infiltrating and exposing neo-Nazi groups, and has developed a toolkit to help prevent these kinds of incidents — and intervene when they do happen.
"First and foremost," Balgord advises, "We want to investigate whether these kids are being groomed by hate propaganda and/or recruiters because any intervention will fail that doesn't address that. We are also offering our help and support and we hope they accept it."
Balgord believes there is a place for both organizations to help out. He agrees the lessons from the Wiesenthal Center are an important part of the education component but maintains that should only follow an intervention with the students, school, and board led by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
The most common question raised about this situation is, "What were they thinking?"
Balgord advises it's not so cut and dried in these cases, especially when it involves young people.
"We need to get to the bottom of it. Were they copying something they saw on TikTok? What chat rooms have those students been in that they think that's acceptable? Where these kids are interacting online is always the starting point. If the school is going to hold an investigation, that's how it has to be built. Maybe the schools can't access those students' phones but the parents can."
According to the Wiesenthal group, the school has responded to its offer to host a "school-wide workshop that teaches young people about the Holocaust, provides Holocaust survivor testimony — as well as a specialized program for the student offenders that addresses the incident that occurred and allows learning from the experience to move forward."
Algonquin indicates, aside from internal student suspensions, it has reached out to a Holocaust survivor but is interested in setting up a day and time to discuss the matter further with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. An update from Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord spokesperson Jacqueline Levesque states, "In addition to individual steps that were taken, the school has organized workshops and is also receiving much assistance from local and provincial groups and partners."
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center also "commend North Bay police, including Chief Tod, and the school board for reacting quickly and sensitively to such an appalling incident."
"It’s very sad to see such a hate incident occur in a Canadian school, especially as schools today work to promote inclusion and diversity," says Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. "In addition to disciplinary action, this is an opportunity for the school to address any gaps in Holocaust and tolerance education and to ensure all of its students gain better awareness of the dangers of hate and why it’s unacceptable."