The Bullying of Late Toronto Principal a Feature of DEI Training, Not a Bug
The untimely death by suicide of school principal Richard Bilkszto, 60 years of age, came as a shock even to observers closely engaged with his workplace difficulties and their multi-faceted fallout over the last two years.
Once retired in 2019, Bilkszto did freelance work for the Toronto District School Board. In April 2021, TDSB administrators contracted with the KOJO Institute to educate about 200 high-echelon employees on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles. KOJO CEO Kike Ojo-Thompson led several training sessions. In her first presentation, she assserted that our nation is infected by systemic racism, describing Canada as a “bastion of white supremacy and colonialism.” She went on in this denunciatory vein, even claiming Canada was more racist than the United States.
Having had experience teaching in disadvantaged American schools, Bilkszto politely disagreed with some of her assertions. Ojo-Thompson responded with (recorded) hostility, alluding to Bilkszto’s “whiteness” with contempt. She concluded by telling her audience that “your job in this work as white is [not to argue but] to believe.”
At no time did any of the administrators defend Bilkszto’s right to express his opinion, or caution Ojo-Thompson for overstepping the boundaries of common civility. On the contrary, after the class, Bilkszto was reprimanded for his “white male privilege.” In a subsequent session, Ojo-Thompson reportedly encouraged everyone to push back when they see others being “accosted by white supremacy.”
Anyone with even a passing interest in the scourge of DEI ideology recognizes the pattern here. Ojo-Thompson’s viewpoint and aggressive tactics are lifted chapter and verse from such famous anti-racism gurus as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. According to these thought leaders, denial of systemic racism is proof of the denier’s racism. Moreover, a reprimand by the anti-racist trainer is an invitation to those present to take up cudgels against the miscreant. For, as a now-outed “racist,” he is unworthy to share social space with his right-minded colleagues, who are silently performing acceptance of their guilt, as prescribed in the anti-racism playbook.
And so it was for Richard Bilkszto. After a stainless professional career, he was made to feel cast out, shunned. Bilkszto didn’t go quietly. He launched a suit against the TDSB for harassment. He also urged a TDSB investigation of Ojo-Thompson’s actions, which the school board declined to pursue. But Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board determined that Bilkszto was owed seven weeks of lost pay due to the mental stress he’d endured. According to a National Post report, a worker’s compensation decision stated, “Based on the information on file, I am satisfied that the conduct of the speaker … was abusive, egregious and vexatious, and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying.” Their view was that the DEI instructor intended to “cause reputational damage and to ‘make an example’” of the principal.
The legal aspect of Bilkszto’s case was still in progress when he took his life. We will never know what the final straw was. Only that it was related to the stress of his long ordeal.
And now the question is, how best can we honour Richard Bilkszto’s memory?
For starters, not this way: On July 21, the Ontario Principals’ Council issued a statement of condolence to Bilkszto’s family and friends that concluded with a political pronouncement indicating they have learned nothing from this incident. They write that “ongoing equity, diversity and inclusion training for administrators and all school staff is important. Training sessions need to take an approach that is grounded in humility, empathy and honours the humanity of participants. This includes opportunities for participation and open discussion, without fear of reprisal.”
The council appears to misunderstand the very nature of the DEI belief system. It precludes training that is grounded in “humility” and “empathy.” These feelings are only possible in a forum where people are considered individuals, and not as featureless hivelings—powerful or powerless, according to their race. The KOJO Institute trainer’s overt disdain for Bilkszto was not a bug in the training program; it was a feature. DEI is based in Critical Race Theory, which holds that whiteness is a form of original sin. Its inherent racism is ineradicable. Why should the oppressed feel “humility” or “empathy” toward their oppressors?”
Moreover, in such a belief system—Marxist, let’s say its name—one will never see the “humanity” of participants treated with “honour.” In such binary systems, the oppressed deserve honour, and the oppressors deserve shame. “Open discussion”? “No fear of reprisals”? Suppression of discussion and the threat of reprisals is baked into the DEI cake, with influential fellow travellers spreading the frosting of public humiliation.
For an example of the latter assertion, after Bilkszto was denounced in the closed session, Sheryl Robinson Petrazzini, then the TDSB’s executive superintendent, thanked Ojo-Thompson and her KOJO colleague on Twitter for “modelling the discomfort [that] administrators”—i.e., Bilkszto—“may need to experience in order to disrupt ABR [anti-Black racism].” The gratuitous impulse by this highly placed professional to throw Bilkszto to the Twitter jackals—the tweet only removed after many months in spite of multiple requests from Bilkszto’s lawyer—may seem, superficially, to be one individual’s poor judgment, but to seasoned observers of the anti-racism movement, it looks more like enthusiastic common practice.
In contrast to the Principals’ Council, a dignified and moving tribute to Bilkszto’s life can be found in a statement on his passing issued by Save Our Schools, a coalition of stakeholders working to save specialized programs in the TDSB (which, in the name of equity, decreed access to the programs based on a lottery rather than merit or special interest), a cause Bilkszto supported.
It reads in part: “Richard worked with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for 24 years. He dedicated his life to education. He didn’t have his own kids, but touched the lives of thousands who came through the schools where he was a beloved principal. He was an anti-racism advocate who led the non-profit FAIR Toronto (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism). He visited his elderly mother every weekend to take care of her. Richard was well-known and respected by his peers, and a person who was extremely passionate about and dedicated to his job.”
The statement also calls on Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, “to investigate and ensure this never happens again. Our schools must champion equality, but in a manner that is respectful. We must let all voices be heard, and not shut them down.” A webpage to that effect, called Justice for Richard Bilkszto, has been set up for public participation in this request.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.