Human rights complaint seeks Ontario school ban on clothing depicting Indigenous stereotypes - APTN NewsAPTN News

Human rights complaint seeks Ontario school ban on clothing depicting Indigenous stereotypes

(Lynne Courchene and Jean-Paul Allard are behind an Ontario human rights complaint. Photo courtesy of the family)

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Ontario’s Ministry of Education is battling an Ottawa family before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal who filed a complaint aimed at banning the use of clothing depicting Indigenous stereotypes in schools across the province.

The complaint was filed this past December by Jean-Paul Allard on behalf of his eight year-old daughter Isabela Courchene. The case is headed for mediation on September 7. The complaint alleges the Ministry of Education is discriminating against Indigenous students by allowing the use of clothing that stereotypes their culture or displays racial slurs.

Allard, an educational assistant with the Catholic School Board in Ottawa whose wife Lynne Courchene is from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, said allowing the use of clothing depicting Indigenous stereotypes or slurs contravenes the province’s Safe Schools Act, which guarantees a safe learning environment for all students.

“What is there to mediate? There is Bill 81, the Safe Schools Act, which clearly states that all members of the school community are supposed to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Allard. “I don’t see how allowing students to wear clothing that has the stereotypical images of First Nations or a slur on it like ‘Redmen’ or ‘Redskins’ is in line with that policy…. Either you are offering First Nations students equal protection under these laws or you’re not.”

Ontario has asked the tribunal to dismiss the complaint arguing it is up to individual school boards to set policies around clothing.

“The ministry is not liable for the operational decisions of individual school boards or schools. School boards, not the ministry, are responsible for ensuring their own compliance with the (Human Rights Code),” said Ontario’s submission before the tribunal. “Including imposing any limits on wearing clothing displaying Indigenous themed team mascots, logos or names in their schools that are required to comply with the Code.”

Ontario’s submission also stated Education Minister Mitzie Hunter wrote the chairs of Ontario’s school boards on Jan. 18 requesting they review potentially offensive team logos and mascots with local Indigenous “partners.” That same day, the ministry’s deputy minister wrote the province’s directors of education to do the same, according to the submission filed in March.

Courchene said it is up to the provincial ministry to set the standard and the issue is one of fundamental human rights.

“We want to be treated equally as any other minority group. Our kids deserve that and they deserve to go to a school where there is no disrespect and they’ll feel welcomed going in,” said Courchene. “We want a ruling that…says we are going to ban all the clothing accessories and the names of teams that are offensive to people…. The only way that actual reconciliation can truly happen is through children and teaching them from a young age that it is not acceptable.”


(Isabela Courchene, 8. Photo courtesy of the family.)

Courchene said she decided to act on the issue in November 2015 when she was out shopping with three of her four children in an Ottawa suburb and crossed paths with a children’s hockey team from Sudbury, Ont. The players were all wearing their red team tracksuits with a TD Bank trademark, a logo resembling the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks along with their team name: Copper Cliff Redmen.

“It was so normal, so ingrained in people that no one took a second glance at what was said on their shirts. It is so ingrained in society that there is nothing wrong with this,” said Courchene. “There is no problem with Aboriginal people being used a mascot or a stereotype and that sort of proves it right there.”

Courchene said she has written support from several First Nations in Ontario, but is waiting for permission to release their names.

The band council from the Iroquois community of Six Nations, which has the largest population of any reserve in Canada, passed a motion last September supporting the human rights complaint.

Courchene said she is still working on building more support.

“We want to raise enough awareness so (Ontario) can’t turn around at mediation and say it’s only us,” she said. “We are trying to overwhelmingly show them that this is not the case. If we are armed with other First Nations saying that they don’t agree with this and they don’t think that it is okay and they want this to be changed, then we are hoping when (Ontario gets) there they will see that and they won’t be able to wiggle out of it.”


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5 Responses to “Human rights complaint seeks Ontario school ban on clothing depicting Indigenous stereotypes”

    Gregg Young May 23, 2017 at 11:39 pm #

    The only insult here is these parents insulting the intelligence of their child by telling her she should be offended by a team logo/name used as a compliment, I garantee this little girl has no problems with the teams name/logo. It’s people like this that create race problems where there aren’t any, they are the real racists, the ones that race bait at every opportunity, they turn people against them by creating problems (and expenses) for others, this issue alone will give them a reputation as being overly easily offended, it could even open them up to ridicule(from other teams especially, since kids love to insult opponents mid-game) for being so sensitive/feminine that they couldn’t handle the masculinity their team logo/name implied.

    Kevin May 22, 2017 at 8:39 pm #

    Considering that these logo’s are meant to make a team look good, even heroic, there will be serious difficulty demonstrating that the logo’s are insulting or racist.

    Sports teams do not routinely insult themselves, after all. Like most corperations, they try to say “we are good / heroic people, see our cool logo ? “

    Brighid May 21, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

    People find names for teams that illustrate traits they want to emulate or portray. Clearly there is something about the archetype of aboriginal warrior that resounds with some of these traits. How invested in victim hood are you that you take a compliment and turn it into a ‘racial slur’ and human rights issue. There are REAL human rights issues going on in this country and around the world. When these non issues are raised as a priority over real abuses it makes me sad that we are bypassing equality and freedom for a dystopian future that sits closer to fascism than freedom.

      Jettrod May 23, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

      You couldn’t be more right.
      So much time and energy wasted on an issue like this, where they claim to be concerned for their daughter feeling insulted for something she doesn’t feel offended by without them telling her she needs to be (I bet she still doesn’t understand the fuss they’re making from nothing).
      How is this little girl going to mentally handle life’s struggles if her parents go to such lengths to shield her from everything that she could possibly (but only if she tries really hard) be offended by?
      Life is offensive, they better start to harden this little girl against it at least a little before she has a complete breakdown when she discovers life gets very offensive at times, and people can be extremely good at causing real offense and hatred instead of complimentary such as this teams logo actually is.

    Jan May 19, 2017 at 2:01 am #

    I do not understand why the Toronto Dominion Bank would sponsor such a team in Copper Cliff. To me, the team name seems offensive on the basis of race. A complaint may be made under the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the T D Bank.