Winnipeg school division moves meetings online to reduce tensions

A Winnipeg school division has moved their school board trustee meeting online to reduce tensions, following the suspension of a trustee accused of making homophobic comments. Alex Karpa reports.

A Winnipeg school division has been forced to move their school board trustee meetings online as tensions flare following the suspension of a trustee accused of making homophobic comments.

The decision comes after a group of people interrupted and disrupted a board meeting in June. The group was there in support of trustee Francine Champagne who was suspended for three months without pay, after posting anti-2SLGBTQ+ content on her social media page.

The group has since been banned from the division. Shortly after the meeting, Louis Riel School Division trustee Ryan Palmquist announced on his social media that he is bisexual and was subject to harassment. He says this decision was made to keep staff safe and not add fuel to the fire.

“Our principal objective is to not allow our board meetings to become a platform for hate and misinformation,” said Palmquist.

“If this situation were to continue to escalate, we could be potentially seeing schools, teachers, students and their families impacted by these extreme groups.”


Sandy Nemeth, Chair of the Louis Riel School Division Board of Trustees says the meeting, scheduled for Sept. 5, was moved online to de-escalate tensions, and is unsure how long this will continue. She says there is also a potential for two protests scheduled during the time of the meeting.

Letter from the Louis Riel School Division. (Photo Courtesy: Louis Riel School Division)

“It’s physical safety, which frankly I am not overly worried about that. But it’s emotional safety, psychological safety and people getting the message that they are valued, and they are loved,” said Nemeth.

Back in May, a group of people called for a ban on 2SLGBTQ+ books in the Brandon School Division. Most recently, Canada has advised 2SLGBTQ+ travellers to be aware of new U.S. state laws affecting members of that community.

Robert Mizzi Canada Research Chair in Queer, Community, and Diversity Education says the world is changing, and not in a good way.

“There are people, who are a very vocal minority, who are gaining some space and they want to see changes happen that will send our movement into retrograde. It’s deteriorating our progress,” said Mizzi.

Ashley Smith from Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre says the rise in hate is extremely concerning.

“With attempts to ban books, with protests at school board meetings, with this new discourse about parental rights. It’s all playing on the same path, and we need to be vigilant. This hate is here,” explained Smith.

As for Palmquist, he says moving forward it’s important to protect students, teachers and families from misinformation.

“I think the real danger is that their rhetoric, in a more water-down form, might be allowed to enter the mainstream and actually begin to form public policy.”

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