Frank D'Amico has apologized for

Toronto trustee apologizes for "insensitive" remarks about undocumented immigrants

  • June 24, 2011

TORONTO - Toronto Catholic school trustee Frank D'Amico has apologized for "insensitive" remarks he made concerning a family of undocumented immigrants trying to enroll a child in a Catholic school, and assured people that the Toronto Catholic District School Board does not turn away students because of their parents' immigration status.

The embattled trustee made the remark in response to calls from immigrant advocacy groups to make him an "example" of a "zero-tolerance policy (against) racism'" at the TCDSB during a June 23 special board meeting.

"I sincerely regret the recent statements that have been reported in the media. They were insensitive and the comments reported do not reflect the Toronto Catholic District School Board policies on the admission of students," D'Amico told the audience in a prepared statement.

Social Planning Toronto raised its concerns at the meeting regarding an e-mail D'Amico wrote about undocumented students. Social Planning Toronto is a non-profit advocacy and research group of 150 community organizations and includes Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto,

In late May, D'Amico said in an e-mail to a university student seeking help for an aunt trying to enrol a teen without immigration papers at one of TCDSB's schools that "She's lucky I didn't answer the phone because my first call would be to Immigration Canada."

"If you want to live in Canada, take our Canadian jobs, use our social programs and health care ... I strongly suggest becoming a citizen," he wrote. "I am forwarding your concern to the RCMP and to Immigration Canada."

Another statement that activists objected to was D'Amico's reference to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"Unless you've been on another planet for the last decade, I will remind you, 9/11. Sept. 11, the day that changed the world," he wrote.

The immigrant activist group No One is Illegal joined Social Planning Toronto in condemning D'Amico's remarks. The group's Farrah Miranda called D'Amico's comments "hateful," "anti-immigrant" and said they "serve to promote a culture of racism."

Miranda asked the board to "show zero tolerance for racism in your schools."

"It's on you to hold him accountable and to use the provisions granted to you in the (Ontario Education) Act," she said, citing actions like censure, barring the trustee from board meetings or sitting on committees for a period of time.

Trustees heard the delegations but did not vote on a recommendation for disciplinary action.

In his statement, an apologetic D'Amico backtracked on his earlier comments.

"It is unfortunate that this has brought undeserved negative attention to the TCDSB community. I understand that the comments reported may have caused some distress to families who wish to register to the TCDSB and to our school community, and to that I apologize," he said.

D'Amico added that he "continues to seek the advice from the (board) chair" as well as senior board staff and trustees "for clear guidance on this matter."

"This is a very awkward situation," trustee Maria Rizzo told the audience. "We are accepting of all students, no matter what."

Rizzo explained that the difference at the TCDSB is that as a Catholic institution, it provides "an education, one of which we learn by our mistakes and we are forgiven, and if you believe that, I will give Mr. D'Amico the benefit of the doubt and I feel for him."

Last year, Social Planning Toronto released a report alleging that the board is shutting out children of non-status immigrant families. The TCDSB denied the charge, saying it enrolled at least 500 students without status over the past five years.

In other board news, the vote on the amendments to the equity policy was deferred to a late August board meeting.

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