Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the land of the nipper-tipper [final update]

In a southern Ontario backwater called Keswick, racism more associated with that other South flourishes--with the tacit approval of at least some small-town officials.

This is the area in which local residents have been wont to throw any Asian-origin people they encounter into Lake Simcoe for the crime of angling.The practice has a name--"nipper-tipping"--the word "nipper," like that other n-word, being a racial slur.

It's trouble-makers--that's the official version. Not even necessarily racist. Just some local lads out on a tear.

But Keswick has had other problems, too. Residents woke up two years ago to find homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on houses and cars. A swastika was scrawled on the Sutton District High School: school board spokesperson Ross Virgo said at the time, "It's seen as an isolated, singular act of mischief."

Now Keswick in the news again. A bright 15-year-old Asian-Canadian boy was confronted by a racist bully on the school grounds, who proceeded to call him a "fucking Chinese" and punch him in the mouth. His victim, who had had some martial arts training, struck one blow with his left hand and put the bully out of the fight with a broken nose. Quite literally, it seems, this kid can take his opponent with one hand tied behind his back, as the old challenge has it.

This is the point, however, at which the official connection to racism in the area became apparent. The police were called: they arrested the bullying victim and have criminally charged him with assault. The school initially suspended him for twenty days, and the principal, one Catherine McGinley, has recommended to the York Region District School Board that he be expelled, not only from Keswick High School, but from all schools in the region. Meanwhile the bully has had not even a word of reproof from the authorities.*

This classic get-out-of-town message, however, has met with resistance, it being 2009 and all. Three hundred students walked out of McGinley's school to protest, and the aforementioned Ross Virgo now claims that McGinley's letter was a mistake, that after further investigation no expulsion was being contemplated--although no one thought to inform the family, who had been thoughtfully copied on it.

Meanwhile the police have re-opened the case and are investigating the attack on the 15-year-old as a possible hate crime. And the local mayor has visited the family to assure them that they are welcome in his town.

Amazing what a little national publicity can do. The frantic backpedalling of various officials, all of whom had leaped to punish an Asian-Canadian kid without bothering to investigate the circumstances, is a heartwarming sight to see. But the story isn't over by a long shot. The boy has begun serving his 20-day suspension, and he still faces criminal charges. The bully continues to go to class, and at this point faces no charges at all.

This cannot stand. Why not be heard? Send politely-worded comments to the school principal here; to the local she'iff York Regional Chief of Police Armand P. La Barge here; and to the Crown Attorney's office by fax at (905)853-4849.

UPDATE: Blogger leftdog brings us Keswick High's anti-bullying policy:

Bullying can take the form of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse directly or over communication networks (cyber bullying). At Keswick High School, there is a zero-tolerance policy on bullying which is supported by the York Region District School Board, and the Ministry of Education of Ontario.

UPPERDATE: (May 5) Nothing like a little sunshine to put things right. The school board has reversed itself, and the kid is back in class with no mark on his academic record. Now we wait for the Crown Attorney to withdraw the one-sided charges laid by the York Regional Police.

Spokesperson Ross Virgo stated that in the future the board would ensure that “school leaders have the benefit of all the information that's available to them from the outset.” Noting the obvious, he continued: “The school recognizes that this whole situation could have benefited from a more thorough investigation from the outset and it deeply regrets the premature sending of that expulsion letter.”

[H/t The Galloping Beaver.]

UPPESTDATE: (May 7) And now the Chief of York Regional Police has admitted that the initial police investigation had been "flawed from the outset," and called yesterday for the Crown to drop the charges. Chief La Barge praised the students who walked out of Keswick High for initiated his review: "Without hesitation, it was the student protest," he said.

[H/t reader "sassy"]

FINALE: (May 13) And at last--closure.

*Correction: Reports confirm that the bully, too, was suspended, for the same length of time as his intended victim.

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