Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth
OCDSB Trustee, Zone 9
Ottawa Carleton District School Board
In Ontario in May 2022, prior to the provincial election − before I decided to run as a school board trustee − I wrote an article in the Ottawa Citizen, urging Ottawans to vote for candidates who care about the health and well-being of children, seniors, people with disabilities, women, marginalized populations.
I was subsequently encouraged by community members in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South to run as a school board trustee on a platform of the same advocacy. From the moment that I put my name on the ballot, threats and harassment increased steeply. Vile anti-Jew hate, organized campaigns calling for my resignation, unrelenting anti-vaccine/mask rhetoric, anti-2SLGBTQ bigotry and misogyny.
As you know, I was accused in February 2023 of a breach of the Code of Conduct for sending one text message to a colleague, in November 2022, calling on her and other trustees to pass a motion to temporarily reinstate masks in schools to help vulnerable populations, and pointing out the well-established link (following the Ottawa convoy) between white supremacy and the anti-vaxx/mask movement. Do I regret that I sent that text message? Yes. I apologized sincerely, explained it was a mistake to say that the other trustees did not care, and I asked for mediation. Mediation was denied.
On September 11, 2023, the motion accusing me of a Code of Conduct violation was dismissed. At that hearing, I was referred to as a “white woman attacking a Black woman.” I unmuted myself to object to this mischaracterization. For those who do not know, references to Jews as “white” is a deeply antisemitic trope that rejects our status as an equity-seeking group and dismisses our experiences of discrimination. After that hearing, I was accused of a new Code of Conduct violation for unmuting myself, for speaking with the media, for questioning the toxicity of the pattern at OCDSB, as well as for commenting on OCDSB sharing emails about my safety plan with Rebel News.
On December 19, 2023, the trustees voted that I was guilty of those new Code of Conduct violations. In effect, I was punished for calling out hate and questioning bureaucratic dysfunction, and constituents lost their representation.
On January 8, 2024, I submitted my appeal of the OCDSB’s decision. That appeal is based on the errors, omissions and double standards within the Integrity Commissioner’s Report, the weaponization of the Code of Conduct process, and my central complaint that the Board has not taken seriously my concerns about antisemitism or its impact on my safety. The letter of appeal is available to read in full.
I am disheartened but not surprised that none of the grounds of my appeal were even mentioned at the January 16, 2024 hearing of the OCDSB. It is Orwellian, but inevitable that they upheld their original decisions.
Do I regret that I commented publicly that silence is complicity? No. Just as I have stood up as an ally with others, so too do I expect colleagues and community to stand with me in the face of antisemitic hate.
Do I regret that I criticized the OCDSB for sharing emails about my safety plan with Rebel News? No. I submitted a complaint to the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario about their failure to protect me. They agree that OCDSB failed to protect me. The responsibility for that failure, and the requirement to respond to the Privacy Commissioner, falls on the OCDSB.
Do I regret that I have questioned a pattern of abuse/weaponization of the Code of Conduct process at the OCDSB? No. It is a problem at other school boards across Ontario, also. I have submitted a complaint to the office of the Ontario Ombudsman, asking them to investigate the pattern of abuse/weaponization of the Code of Conduct processes.
Do I regret stepping into politics? No and yes. I do not regret taking on a role to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to advocate for all children to get the most out of publicly funded education. I do, however, regret my naiveté, my optimism that it would be safe to work in a bureaucracy that has a history of toxicity, and my belief that I could rely on champions of equity and diversity to show up as allies against antisemitism.
At the end of the day, will I resign? No. However, I will not return to an environment that is physically or psychologically unsafe or procedurally dysfunctional. I have submitted a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, asking for review of the entrenched antisemitism at the OCDSB. I also wrote to the Minister of Education to ask for a leave of absence while the issues of safety are addressed.
The OCDSB can and must do better. Democracy can only thrive when its institutions, policies and practices are equitable, just and the political arena is truly safe for everyone.
Dr Nili Kaplan-Myrth is a family physician and OCDSB Trustee for Capital and Alta Vista.