Vancouver school board (VSB) trustee Fraser Ballantyne made a series of comments at a virtual public board meeting this week that have led to a growing chorus of calls for his resignation, including one from the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association (VESTA).
During debate on an amendment to a motion Monday night (June 22) regarding whether to suspend the Vancouver Police Department’s school liaison officer (SLO) program pending a review of the almost 50-year-old program, Ballantyne defended the program and argued that “Caucasian kids are actually a visible minority” in schools and that it important to hear what they have to say about the SLO program.
He also referenced his days as a high-school administrator and described young teens being recruited into prostitution, saying the most vulnerable students are “the Indigenous and Vietnamese”, but later added, bizarrely, that “we’re not talking about Indigenous women; we’re focusing on our students.”
Board chair Janet Fraser allowed Ballantyne to ramble on, unchecked, until Trustee Jennifer Reddy finally intervened with a point of order to remind Ballantyne to stay on topic, as the board was supposed to be debating a minor amendment to the motion, not the motion itself. Why Fraser, as chair, didn’t stop Ballantyne earlier is mind-boggling, although chairing meetings doesn’t seem to be Fraser’s strength.
Calls to get police out of schools growing across North America
I wrote about the issue of SLO programs two weeks ago, after protestors and groups began demanding defunding of police departments in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and multiple incidents of police violence against Black and Indigenous people and people of colour, including several recent Canadian cases where police either killed or beat Indigenous people.
School boards in many North American cities are suspending or reviewing their school police programs, and thousands of people signed a petition calling for the immediate end to the VSB’s SLO program and the “redirection of investments into community-led programs in schools”.
The petition notes that “many Black, Indigenous, and racialized students and their families do not feel safe at schools where police are present”.
A motion from three VSB trustees—board chair Janet Fraser (Vancouver Green Party) and trustees Barb Parrott (COPE) and Lois Chan-Pedley (Vancouver Green Party) —called for the SLO program to be suspended pending a review. The motion was severed, however, to separate the decision about the review from the decision to suspend the program in the meantime. The trustees voted unanimously to proceed with the review but voted to keep the program going while its being reviewed.
Although Fraser was one of the three trustees who submitted the motion, she had a change of heart about the program suspension and voted with Ballantyne, Carmen Cho (NPA), Oliver Hanson (NPA), Allan Wong (Vision), and Estrellita Gonzalez (Vancouver Green Party) to keep the program running during the review, while trustees Parrott, Reddy (OneCity) and Chan-Pedley voted to suspend the program.
The review will be conducted by an outside contractor and will include consultation with multiple groups, including students, parents, and the Vancouver police.
I followed the meeting online and heard Ballantyne’s comments, which VESTA called racist in its tweet. The comments struck me as ignorant, asinine, and, yes, racist. They didn’t surprise me, however, as I sat around a board table with Ballantyne for several painful years. One of the things I like best about not being a trustee any more is not having to be around someone I found offensive, boorish, and an insult to the role of school trustee and those they represent and serve.
The irony is that Ballantyne is an example of a mediocre white man who would never have gotten where he is if he’d been anything but that. He’s serving his fourth term on the VSB, and I am hard-pressed to recall a valuable contribution during those years. I also can’t recall causes he championed or times he stood up for students (except, of course, the “Caucasian” kids he wants consulted about how much they like having police in their schools).
VESTA’s statement, which calls on Ballantyne to resign, says: “Trustees have a responsibility to Vancouver students, families, teachers and citizens. Part of this responsibility is to educate yourself about racism and colonialism and about the differential ways that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour [BIPOC] experience the school system.”
It goes on to say to Ballantyne: “Your comments indicate a significant lack of awareness of the systemic nature of racism in the school system, and demonstrate your own conscious or unconscious biases in a way that will serve only to exacerbate the fears and lack of safety of BIPOC students, families and teachers already experience.”
The VESTA statement also says Ballantyne’s comments “have contributed to the creation and maintenance of unsafe schools and communities for BIPOC students, staff and families”.
Ballantyne, who ran on the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) slate, posted a couple of tweets in response to the immediate backlash after the meeting, sort of apologizing by claiming he “misspoke” and apologizing “to those who were offended” by his comments, rather than issuing a blanket, unqualified apology.
He needs to resign.
I called him Thursday (June 25) morning to ask him if he’s planning to step down, but he didn’t pick up and didn’t return my voicemail or respond to the email I sent—asking the same question—in time for my deadline.
Ballantyne shouldn’t have been a trustee in the first place, in my opinion, but voters make those decisions. Making Black and Indigenous students who already feel unsafe in their schools because of a police presence feel even worse, and to make them feel unheard and unseen, is exactly what a school trustee should not be doing. It’s a massive failure and a betrayal.
When two other NPA trustees, Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, suggested to reporters in 2014 that updates to the VSB’s policy regarding protections and support for trans students could affect international-student enrollment and lower property values, the party expelled the duo from its caucus and didn’t let them run again under the NPA banner.
If the NPA doesn’t act swiftly and decisively to do the same if Ballantyne refuses to heed the calls to resign, and to denounce his comments, this is something they’ll all have to wear.
If Ballantyne had any integrity he’d recognize the harm his statements caused to students, staff, and families and to the reputation of the party he represents. But that’s a big “if”.
Janet Fraser needs to take responsibility as well, for not using her position as chair to intervene and put a stop to Ballantyne’s hateful diatribe.
We’ll see if Ballantyne does the right thing. I doubt he will, but I hope he proves me wrong.
In the meantime, I wish everyone a restful and happy summer. I’ll be taking some time off and will be back on the education beat when school resumes in September.