OPEN LETTER FROM ETFO PRESIDENT KAREN BROWN

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The Honourable Doug Ford

Premier of Ontario

Premier’s Office, Room 281

Legislative Building, Queen’s Park

Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Dear Premier:

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) calls on the Government of Ontario to protect the safety and well-being of Ontarians by intervening in the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Ottawa. This protest has occupied the nation’s capital since January 28, 2022, and has been harmful to families, educators, and the students they serve.

Downtown Ottawa, where ETFO members and families live and work, has become unsafe. We are deeply concerned about the exposure of children to racist and violent images over this last week. Residents have shared that they fear leaving their homes and are scared to travel to work and school. This sentiment is particularly felt by students and residents who identify as Indigenous, Black, racialized, Jewish, Muslim, and 2SLGBTQ+.

Reports of individuals and families being verbally abused for wearing masks, being ridiculed by protesters, and having racial slurs hurled at them while passing by have deepened educators’ concerns about student and staff mental health in the face of the pandemic. Further, the trauma experienced, particularly by Black, racialized and Jewish students subjected to displays of Confederate flags and swastikas, will have lasting negative effects.

What we are witnessing is white supremacist violence. Federal and provincial governments, and other authorities must take immediate action to alleviate and end this situation peacefully.

Peaceful protest is a hallmark of a democracy and ETFO believes in freedom of speech, but words and symbols that promote hate and instil fear require a clear and unequivocal response from the government.

The complacency of government has emboldened white supremacist and white nationalist demonstrators. It is unacceptable to allow racist slurs, violent threats, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism and white supremacy to be used to intimidate and traumatize Ottawa families while only encouraging protesters to “move on.” Allowing this protest to continue is to be complicit in the spread of violence.

Our elected representatives must speak out against this deplorable display of hate and bigotry. It has gone on long enough, and has now inspired additional protests across the province, some planned near hospitals. To say this is deeply troubling is an understatement.

ETFO urges the Ontario and federal governments to take immediate and concerted action to end the threats and intimidation that have gripped the residents of Ottawa for seven consecutive days. Action may also be needed in the days ahead as these protests expand across the country. These events are a reminder of the urgency of our work to promote equity, social justice, and human rights.

In a global pandemic, when members and students have already endured multiple interruptions to their learning, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board was forced to close one of the schools downtown to ensure student and staff safety.

Our already cash-strapped school boards should not have to hire and pay for security. Students and staff deserve safe places to learn and work. This right has been taken from them by the actions of some protestors whose hateful agenda has no place in this province or anywhere. These acts have forced students to witness forms of racism and white supremacy and created trauma in a year when children’s and educators’ mental health is already so fragile.

As labour union leaders and educators, ETFO has always supported peaceful protest as a democratic right. However, the ‘Freedom Convoy’ has not been a peaceful expression in a democracy.

It is critical that the government act now to mitigate detrimental impacts on students, their educators, and all residents living and learning in Ottawa. We must protect their safety and provide the stability and consistency desperately needed to foster their well-being.

Ontarians are watching. We’ve waited long enough.

Sincerely,

[original signed]

 

Karen Brown

President