By Noushin Ziafati in Kitchener
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford expressed his unwavering support for his candidate Stephen Lecce on Thursday, a day after the former education minister apologized for participating in a so-called slave auction during his time as a fraternity leader at university.
Ford, who has faced calls to remove Lecce as a candidate, said he was standing by his colleague.
“Stephen, he knows that it was inappropriate. And he’s apologized for attending this event as a teenager,” Ford said at an unrelated campaign stop in Kitchener, Ont.
“And, you know, Mr. Lecce, has been a strong advocate of combating racism in schools and he has my full support.”
Ford also said that the incident that came to light was inappropriate.
PressProgress, an outlet founded and funded by the Broadbent Institute, published a story Tuesday night alleging that while Lecce was a Western University student he participated in a 2006 event dubbed a “slave auction” at Sigma Chi, which has no formal affiliation with Western.
Lecce apologized in a statement Wednesday and said he will advance the interests of all Ontarians, regardless of faith, heritage, orientation or race.
“The event from 2006 was inappropriate and in no way reflects who I am as a person, which is why I unreservedly apologize,” he wrote.
Three NDP candidates, who were members of the party’s Black caucus during the previous government, had said in a joint statement that slavery is not a joke and called on Ford to remove Lecce as a candidate.
Mitzie Hunter, a Black Liberal candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood, noted Thursday that during Lecce’s time as education minister, the Ford government removed a preamble to the math curriculum that acknowledged the impacts of colonialism.
“And just through one criticism that came through, from what was a PC supporter at the Toronto Sun, that curriculum preamble was scrubbed of the word ‘colonialism.’ And that was Mr. Lecce presiding over that decision,” Hunter said.
Hunter said she’s heard from educators and people in the Black community who are questioning the leadership of Lecce. She added that the education system has to be “inclusive” and ensure that every student “feels safe and that they belong.”
“Trivializing, mocking, joking about the Trans-Atlantic slave (trade) is not OK,” she said.
“It was a horrific experience for Black Canadians and Black people in North America. And it still is today. And so this has come to light and I believe that it has to be addressed.”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has said Lecce’s actions raise serious concerns about his understanding of anti-Black racism and his ability to serve students, families and staff who are Black.
– with files from Nicole Thompson.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2022.