Toronto Music Teacher Sues After Principal, VP Call Folk Song Racist

Ainslie Cruickshank, Toronto Star, December 7, 2017

A Toronto music teacher is suing her principal, vice-principal and the public school board for defamation after the administrators sent an email to the school community apologizing that a well-known folk song — “Land of the Silver Birch” — was performed at a school concert, calling it “inappropriate” and “racist.”

In her statement of claim, Violet Shearer, the music teacher at High Park Alternative Public School, said the email effectively suggested that it was her professional judgment and conduct that were “inappropriate and racist.”

Shearer taught the song to her classes at the school and it was performed at a school concert she organized in May 2016, according to her claim.

She is now seeking $75,000 in damages and an “unequivocal apology” from the administrators and the school board.

The school’s principal, Nancy Keenan, vice-principal Edita Tahirovic, and the Toronto District School Board deny in their statement of defence that Shearer suffered any damage to her reputation and said the email was factual and fair comment.

None of the allegations outlined in this story has been proven in court and none of those involved agreed to be interviewed.

According to Shearer’s statement of claim, Keenan and Tahirovic sent an email to the school community two weeks after the concert following concerns from parents about the song, which they say is based on a poem by Pauline Johnson.

“While its lyrics are not overtly racist . . . the historical context of the song is racist,” the email said.

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