Saskatoon school board vandalized in Pride protest

  • June 7, 2023

The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools’ (GSCS) downtown office was vandalized May 29 following the leaking of an internal email asking principals to avoid the “Rainbow Tent” at a children’s festival.

The front windows were plastered with fluorescent paint and butterfly, unicorn and flower stickers and paper hearts. Rainbow-covered wrapping paper covered the outside railings. The sidewalk in front of the building bore the image of a rainbow and scribbled chalk messages reading “we all belong” and “it’s queer here.”

This act was deemed a protest to an internal email that was leaked. The email, apparently written by Superintendent of Education Tom Hickey, offered guidance for avoiding the “Rainbow Tent” on the forthcoming school trip to the June 1-4 Nutrien’s Children Festival of Saskatchewan June 1-4.

“Pleased be assured that GSCS schools are still welcome to attend the Children’s Festival,” states the email which was widely circulated on social media May 25. “However, we ask that you speak personally with the teacher(s) who may be taking students and inform them that the Rainbow Tent should not be part of their visit. Please ensure that any parent chaperones who attend are aware of this as well.”

According to the festival website, this Rainbow Tent — listed for all ages — offered “Drag Queen Storytime to inclusive dress up performances filled with colour and fun.”

Hickey’s email drew criticism from OUTSaskatoon, a local LGBT advocacy group.

“In order to create an environment and sustain an environment that embraces curiosity, normalizes differences and encourages respect, it’s important for educators, families and the community to do some self-reflection and some self-education,” reads part of the OUTSaskatoon Facebook statement. “We find it deeply regrettable that GSCS has issued this directive to limit children’s experiences at the festival.”

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen defended the school board’s decision in a statement.

“I support Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, administration, teachers and staff as they navigate difficult moral and social issues — especially as they affect the lives and well-being of children, young people and their families — as they strive to be faithful to the mission and identity of a Catholic school,” said Hagemoen.

Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education Dustin Duncan also endorsed GSCS’ stance.

“Certainly, I do support the division’s decision on this, and certainly they have the autonomy to make that decision locally as all school divisions do,” said Duncan. The minister added it should be in the purview of parents to decide when to engage in “sensitive” and “evolving” discussions with their children.

GSCS has limited its comments to media outlets about the vandalism at the board office, but communications consultant Derrick Kunz made a brief statement to The Catholic Register via phone.

“The school division supports the right of people to peacefully protest in a variety of ways. It is unfortunate that the building was splattered with paint, but that is one of the freedoms that we enjoy in a country like Canada is that people have the right to express their views in a variety of ways,” said Kunz.

According to the local CTV News, administrators met with protesters face-to-face outside the board office June 1. Hickey was described as “conciliatory” to the crowd.

“I’m sorry. We love you. We love the students that come to our schools,” he said, according to CTV News.

“Trust has been broken, and that’s fair. There’s lots of you that are angry. I’m looking forward to continuing to meet with people and connect with people.”

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