Members accuse teachers’ union of silencing Black and racialized people, union claims rule breaking during meeting

Deborah Buchanan-Walford, a teacher and member of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said she was removed from the union’s annual meeting when she tried to bring up starting a standing committee for dismantling anti-black racism.

Four members were removed from the meeting on Sunday for “speaking out against suppressing racialized voices,” Buchanan-Walford said.

The annual meeting is held to bring forward motions and vote on issues that affect the members, such as the budget and the union’s constitution.

The Star reported on a public petition put out in April calling for the dismantling of anti-Black racism within the union, which has impacted contract negotiations and resulted in a lack of diversity in union leadership.

One demand by the petition was a “provincial committee for the purpose of dismantling anti-Black racism and intersectional oppression,” a conversation that Buchanan-Walford said continued to be postponed.

Buchanan-Walford said on Saturday that the executive team decided to discuss the committee with an in-house equity teamed called the Black Persons and Persons and Persons of Colour Work Group, composed of people appointed by the executives from the membership.

“We worked very hard to get those motions together to bring it, so it could be voted upon and put in our constitution.”

Buchanan-Walford said she was removed for addressing this motion, and the meeting moved on to voting for the budget.

“People were speaking up. They literally ignored everybody and passed the budget.”

When asked about members being kicked out for addressing motions about anti-Black racism in the union, OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said that “characterization would be inaccurate.”

Bischof said red cards are used by members to halt business so the House can address an issue, such as technical problems.

“We had four members who were removed from a virtual meeting because they repeatedly violated rules that had been established by the almost 600 delegates, or rules that prevented attribution of motive to individual speakers.”

Simmi Jaswal, another member of the union, said she was kicked out after continuing to question the incoming President Karen Littlewood about whether the union had relationships with community groups.

“My strategy is always to use red cards to call them out on anything and everything that I want. I made several comments throughout the day, including after seeing the way, for example, Deborah was treated and another racialized member who was kicked out before me.”

Jaswal said she doesn’t think the standing committee is enough and she wants to see a separate union for Black and racialized members.

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“I think the structural changes that are required, there are too many roadblocks to have any substantive change,” she said.

“That’s what I feel right now and have been feeling for months.”

With files from Angelyn Francis