A former Toronto principal has died by suicide after facing harassment for calling out an anti-racism instructor who allegedly claimed that Canada was more racist than the US.
Richard Bilkszto, 60, had served as a fill-in principal for the Toronto District School Board until his reputation was “systematically demolished” after he was labeled a supporter of white supremacy for calling out a black instructor during anti-racism training in 2021, according to a lawsuit filed against the district earlier this year.
Bilkszto’s attorney, Lisa Bildy, said in a statement that despite a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board probe ruling that Bilkszto was in fact the subject of workplace bullying, the effects led him to take his own life on July 13.
“Unfortunately, the stress and effects of these incidents continued to plague Richard. Last week, he succumbed to this distress,” Bildy wrote. “His family and friends have been left reeling and wishing they could have had the chance to convince him that he was loved, respected and needed here.”
Bilkszto’s nightmare began on April 26, 2021, when Toronto District School Board educators attended an anti-racism training focused on the struggles of black people.
The sessions were led by Kike Ojo-Thompson, founder of the KOJO Institute, a consulting firm that provides anti-racist training, the Toronto Star reports.
During the training, Bilkszto alleged that Ojo-Thompson told educators that Canada could be considered more racist than the US because the northern nation has “never reckoned with its anti-Black history,” unlike America, the lawsuit, which has not been tested in court, states.
Bilkszto, who had previously taught at a high school in Buffalo, New York, completely disagreed with the suggestion and called out Ojo-Thompson, who allegedly lashed out at him for appearing to undermine a black woman.
“We are here to talk about anti-Black racism, but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for Black people” she said, according to Bilkszto’s lawsuit.
During a follow-up session the next week, Ojo-Thompson allegedly brought up the argument again, describing it to Bilkszto and his co-workers as a “real-life” example of someone supporting white supremacy.
Bilkszto claimed that after he reported Ojo-Thompson’s alleged misconduct, the school board failed to look into it, appearing to side with the instructor as one member of the board praised her for handling the principal’s “discomfort.”
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) eventually looked into the matter and found that Ojo-Thompson’s conduct “was abusive, egregious and vexatious, and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying.”
Despite the win and even being a member of the Toronto chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Bilkszto said his reputation was ruined by the instructor’s characterization of him and the school board’s actions.
Then, following a six-week medical leave later that year, the district refused to reinstate his contract, which Bilkszto claimed was a result of either his fallen reputation or as retribution for having the WSIB investigate the incident.
During his last months, Bilkszto remained active in the community, often advocating against the district’s various programs aimed at tackling inequity, the Star reports.
The school board acknowledged Bilkszto’s death without mentioning his lawsuit, thanking him for his 24 years of service and for returning to the district as a fill-in principal after retiring in 2019.
SOURCE: New york post