Published May 11, 2022

Ontario Tory candidate Stephen Lecce apologizes after 'slave auction' report

PressProgress published a story Tuesday night alleging Lecce participated in a 2006 event at Sigma Chi dubbed a 'slave auction'
Stephen Lecce - CP

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Progressive Conservative candidate Stephen Lecce apologized Wednesday in the wake of a published report about a so-called slave auction during his time as a fraternity leader in university.

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 at Sigma Chi dubbed a "slave auction."

Western University doesn't formally recognize fraternities and has no formal affiliation with them.

Lecce, who served as education minister, apologized in a statement Wednesday morning.

"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. 

"I will continue to passionately advance the interests of all Ontarians — irrespective of faith, heritage, orientation or race."

Three NDP candidates, who were members of the party's Black caucus during the previous government, said in a joint statement that slavery is not a joke.

"The trans-Atlantic slave trade is one of the most horrific chapters of human history," wrote Jill Andrew, Faisal Hassan and Laura Mae Lindo.

"The legacy of slavery, colonialism and white supremacy still lives on in our institutions and in the generational trauma people of African-descent continue to face every day."

They called on Lecce to apologize, attempt to make amends to Black communities, and withdraw as a candidate in the June election. They also urged Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford to remove Lecce as a candidate if he doesn't withdraw and to condemn Lecce's actions.

A spokeswoman for Ford said he had nothing to add to Lecce's statement.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario 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.

"Minister Lecce willingly participated in an event that minimized slavery and trivialized its brutality and harmful impacts," the union wrote in a statement. 

"It calls his judgement into question, as well as his commitment to dismantling anti-Black racism in the education sector. How can someone who does not have a clear understanding of and commitment to this work be responsible for implementing education policies that are intended to disrupt anti-Black racism and other forms of oppression?"

The teachers said that true equity can only be achieved with "an authentic, non-performative commitment to dismantling anti-Black racism."

The Progressive Conservatives' recent budget, which was not passed and is serving as their platform, does not contain the word racism. The Tory government ended streaming of Grade 9 math, in which students were put into either academic or applied streams. Officials said low-income and Black, Indigenous and racialized students were more likely to be placed in the applied stream, which limited their options.

The Tories also announced that all Grade 9 subjects would be destreamed starting in September.

The Liberals have promised to expand destreaming to Grade 10, as well as better fund anti-racism programs, refresh Ontario's anti-Black racism strategy, provide $5 million to Black historical sites and community centres and offer $10 million in grants to Black entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Both the NDP and Liberals also promise to appoint a standalone minister responsible for anti-racism.

The New Democrats also pledge to support destreaming, amend the Education Act to address racism and discrimination, implement a provincial anti-racism strategy, as well as an anti-racism strategy in schools, introduce mandatory anti-oppression and anti-bias training for all public employees and legislators, and establish an Anti-Racism Advisory and Advocacy Council.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the circumstances that have come to light regarding Lecce are deeply troubling, but it is not for him, as someone who has never experienced racism, to say whether Lecce's apology suffices.

"I think it's important not so much for someone like me, but for the people in the communities that he is, in essence, apologizing to, I think it's best for them to be able to tell you publicly how they're feeling about the apology," he said Wednesday.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he was "disgusted" to read the revelations about Lecce's actions.

"It is blatantly racist and wrong," he wrote in a statement. "Lecce owes a sincere apology to the Black community in Ontario. Slavery is not something to be mocked or laughed at."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2022.

Feature image - file photo - Barrie 360

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