Jonathan Montpetit, Globe and Mail (Toronto), October 23, 2007
A teenage spat over ice cubes has morphed into a racially charged conflict that has two schools in lockdown, four girls facing assault charges and chat rooms buzzing with talk of a race war.
But administrators representing English-language Lester B. Pearson High School and nearby French-language Henri Bourassa did their best to minimize last week’s beating of a 14-year-old girl over a racial slur she uttered.
“We have to remember this is an isolated case involving only a few individuals,” Anthony Bernardelli, who heads the school board responsible for Henri Bourassa, told reporters yesterday.
The controversy began Wednesday at a Burger King in Montreal’s ethnically diverse north end, where a 14-year-old Pearson student was hit by an ice cube tossed by a group of girls from Henri Bourassa.
The girl, who is white, has admitted to reacting with a racial slur.
A group of about 15 girls, most of them black, later jumped the student and her friend, punching and kicking her repeatedly in a park. Her beating was filmed and posted on YouTube.
The two girls were treated for minor injuries.
A day after the attack, students from Henri Bourassa, which is predominantly Haitian, had to be chased from Pearson by police after breaking several windows.
As many as half of Pearson’s students didn’t show up for class on Friday with administrators reassuring parents their children would not be marked absent.
“I can understand their concern,” said Sylvia Lo Bianco, the school board commissioner responsible for Pearson.
By yesterday, Montreal police had charged four teenagers between 14 and 16 with assault for their role in the attack. They are to appear in youth court later this week.
Although there were no classes at either school yesterday because of a previously scheduled professional development day, representatives from the two institutions met to deal with the situation.
“We have to try to return to the daily routine as quickly as possible,” said Ms. Lo Bianco, who took part in the meetings.
She stressed that dialogue has always been strong between the two schools, and that both sides would work to increase that interaction.
Police have already increased their presence in the area, and will beef it up even more when classes resume today.
“We also have community officers who will meet with teachers and students to talk about what happened and to make sure such an incident never repeats itself,” said police spokesperson Lynne Labelle.
The added vigilance may be welcome given some of the heated rhetoric that viewers of the video have posted on YouTube.
Comments on the website included outright racist remarks about blacks and Italians.
But while tensions appear to be rising—if only in the virtual world—local community workers are warning the public, and the media, not to read too much into the situation.
“There aren’t more racial tensions between youngsters here than elsewhere,” said William Lamarre, who heads a youth outreach program in the neighbourhood.