A school board in London, Ont., has removed a high school principal from his position after video surfaced on social media of him wearing the hair of a Black student as if it were a wig.
A student who spoke to CBC News said the principal also wore the hair a second time six months after the first incident as part of a Halloween costume.
The Conseil scolaire catholique Providence (CSC), the board that oversees francophone Catholic schools in southwestern Ontario, announced on Saturday that Luc Chartrand has been “immediately removed … from his current position.”
Chartrand was principal at Monseigneur-Bruyère, a French-language Catholic high school in north London.
In an emailed statement that came in response to calls for comment from CBC News, CSC director general Joseph Picard said: “We strongly condemn this type of behaviour and maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward any racism, discrimination or the appearance thereof.”
Chartrand did not respond to a request for comment from CBC News.
The move comes in response to two incidents that occurred in 2019, but they only came to light Friday evening when the London branch of Black Lives Matter posted a video on its Instagram account.
The four-second video shows Chartrand during a school assembly that was being held as a fundraiser for a student who was battling cancer. Students were shaving their heads to support the student and to raise money for her.
CBC News has spoken with two students who were in the gym that day and who verified the contents of the video. CBC News has agreed not to name the students for privacy reasons.
One of the students whose hair was shorn that day is Black and had long dreadlocks. In the video, Chartrand is seen putting a clump of the shaved student’s hair on his own head, and he then begins to flaunt for the crowd.
A former student said Chartrand wore the hair at school a second time six months later, at Halloween, as part of a costume that included a basketball jersey in an apparent attempt to dress up like the student who had his hair shorn. The student plays basketball.
A former student whom CBC News has agreed not to name for privacy reasons said the two incidents left many students at the school disgusted and offended.
“It bothers me racially, because dreadlocks are so important to my culture,” said the student, who is Black. The student said it was inappropriate for Chartrand to keep the hair, only to wear it again at Halloween. The student who had cancer died in August of that year.
Alexandra Kane, a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter London, said the video raises all kinds of red flags.
“There are levels of cultural appropriation here,” Kane said. “You can see he puts the hair on and he starts being ‘Black’ with his body movements and his actions. It is absolutely wrong. Our clothes, our hair, our skin, is not a costume for you to wear and parade around.”
Kane said the student may have felt compelled to let Chartrand use the hair in this way, given that he was an authority figure.
“Even if the student gave permission for this to happen, it’s not OK to put that kind of pressure on a student,” she said. “It’s not OK to say, ‘I’m going to be you for Halloween’ as a white man. It’s like you’re mocking him.”
Since posting the video, Kane said she’s been contacted by current and former Monseigneur-Bruyère students. She said many are questioning why Chartrand’s actions are only surfacing and being addressed by the board now, two years after the first incident in the gym.
The student who confirmed the contents of the video also shared with CBC News a letter sent to the school board in June 2020 demanding changes at the school to create a better climate for Black students. The student said the letter was partly in response to Chartrand’s actions the previous Halloween but also in response to other incidents at the school and the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer a month earlier. The student said she received no response from the board.
Kane said she’s heard similar stories from students who’ve spoken out since the photo of Chartrand was posted Friday.
“The school board was aware of the situation when it happened,” she said. “The students sent a petition to the school board and they did nothing. I hope they do more to eradicate racism in their own board. They need to find out where the problems are.”
‘I left for the same reasons’
News of the principal’s behaviour hit a nerve with Arielle Kayabaga, a London city councillor. She attended Monseigneur-Bruyère when she was in high school but transferred to another school before graduation over what she said was a climate of racism at the school.
“I left for the same reasons. I just felt there was discriminations happening towards people of colour,” she said. “The racism I experienced at that school made me want to switch schools, and that was 10 years ago.
“The students there now are experiencing the same thing. It’s not just about the principal.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.