Members of the École secondaire catholique Algonquin school community are searching for answers in the wake of the circulation of a video showing a group of grade 8 students marching together on school property while holding up their arms in the Nazi salute.
Submitted video footage shows students wearing Algonquin uniforms walking across the school's athletic field while some in the group can be heard yelling epithets such as "F*ck the Jews," and "Heil Hitler." Witness accounts say one of the participants played the Nazi anthem from an audio device.
After some parents saw the cellphone video footage of the incident last Thursday, the school's administration was pressured to investigate the incident and the North Bay Police Service paid a visit to the school, Friday.
"At the request of the school, an officer attended and spoke with students about racism and respect," advises David Woolley, Corporate Communications Officer for NBPS. Woolley says no charges were laid at the time but "this investigation is still ongoing. We take allegations like these very seriously and are undertaking a thorough investigation into the incident.
"Since this relates to youth, we won’t be releasing any further information."
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."
Several members of the school community agreed to speak to BayToday about the situation, the culture at the school, and the response from the school's administration and the Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord. Due to fear of retribution, all of the witnesses from the school community preferred that their names be withheld.
Monday, the school board responded to BayToday's request for comment:
"We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of a group of teenagers who of course needed consequences for their actions," responded Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord spokesperson Jacqueline Levesque. "We also recognize that education is key in changing the fabric of society and that these students require education as well. School and board administration are collaborating to ensure student growth and understanding, as any form of oppression, discrimination or anti-Semitism is not tolerated in our schools."
There were no specifics given by the board on the repercussions for those involved but sources say arrangements have been made for a university history professor to intervene and mentor the students involved in the incident but, as one parent points out, the grade 7 curriculum taught last year to this same group of students included lessons on the Holocaust.
"This is why this act seems so vile. They knew exactly what it meant to do this and did it anyway," the parent observes. "Stories like these get buried in North Bay, especially in the Catholic school board. People in North Bay don’t think this behaviour exists here but those same people are raising these kids."
After arriving home Thursday with what the parent classifies as the "disturbing video showing extremely racist content," their child told them staff members watched while the boys marched and did not intercede.
Levesque adds, "Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord takes such allegations very seriously. We are committed to investigating reported incidents promptly and to addressing these situations adequately with all those involved."
Multiple members of the school community also confirm students were told on Friday by the school's administration to delete any videos they had of the previous day's incident.
The school board expanded on its response, Tuesday, with "the North Bay Police Service, an important community partner, was called immediately to guide us in our investigation of the matter. We remain focused on cultivating social responsibility and providing a safe and inclusive learning and working environment for all."