White Toronto School Principal Richard Bilkszto Dies by Suicide After He Was Accused of Backing White Supremacy
Melissa Koenig, Daily Mail, July 25, 2023
A Toronto school principal has died by suicide after he was accused of supporting white supremacy for calling out a black instructor during anti-racism training.
Richard Bilkszto, 60, worked in the Toronto School District for 24 years and had been serving as fill-in principal at the Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute in Etobicoke where he faced workplace bullying as a result of the spat with an anti-racism trainer.
He filed a lawsuit earlier in the year, claiming his reputation was ‘systematically demolished’ and he was labeled a white supremacist for his remarks questioning racism in Canada.
But on July 13, his lawyer, Lisa Bildy announced on Twitter, Bilkszto took his own life.
‘Unfortunately, the stress and effects of these incidents continued to plague Richard,’ she wrote in a lengthy statement. ‘Last week, he succumbed to this distress.
‘His family and friends have been left feeling and wishing they could have had the chance to convince him that he was loved, respected and needed here.’
Bilkszto’s problems started on April 26, 2021, when Toronto District School Board educators attended an anti-racism training led by Kike Ojo-Thompson, the founder of the KOJO Institute, a consulting firm.
In his lawsuit, the Toronto Star reported, Bilkszto claimed Ojo-Thompson told educators that Canada could be considered more racist than the US because it ‘never reckoned with its anti-black history.’
The principal, who had previously taught high school in Buffalo, New York, disagreed with the sentiment.
He said it would be ‘an incredible disservice to our learners’ to suggest the US is a more just country than Canada, according to the lawsuit, which claims Ojo-Thompson reacted ‘with vitriol.’
She allegedly lashed out at the principal for appearing to undermine a black woman.
‘We are here to talk about anti-black racism, but you in your whiteness think that you can tell me what’s really going on for black people,’ Ojo-Thompson allegedly said.
The lawsuit added Bilkszto tried to de-escalate the situation, admitting that there was anti-black racism in Canada, but argued the evidence suggested ‘we are a far more just society’ than the US.
But at another session the following week , Ojo-Thompson allegedly brought up the argument again, describing it to Bilkszto and his colleagues as a ‘real life’ example of someone supporting white supremacy.
In the aftermath, the lawsuit claims, Bilkszto suffered workplace bullying, which caused ‘severe emotional distress,’ and had to take a stress leave as a result.
He filed a ‘mental stress injury’ claim to Canada’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which provided him with two months of lost earnings.
The board investigated Bilkszto’s claims and found that Ojo-Thompson’s conduct was ‘abusive, egregious and vexatious, and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying.’
But following his six-week medical leave, the Toronto school district refused to reinstate Bilkszto’s contract — which he alleged was a result of either his tarnished reputation or for having the board investigate, he claimed.
Over the past few months, the Star reports, Bilkszto remained active in the community, often advocating against the school district’s programs aimed at tackling inequity.
The school board has since acknowledged Bilkszto’s passing without mentioning his lawsuit – which has never gone to court.
It thanked the principal for his 24 years of service, and for returning as a fill-in principal after briefly retiring in 2021.
‘Our hearts go out to Richard’s family and loved ones,’ Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird said in a statement.
‘He was a strong advocate for students — particularly those in adult and alternative education — and worked tirelessly to create an environment that fostered student success for students of all ages.’
KOJO also provided a written statement offering their condolences.
In that statement to the Star, the institute stated any interaction with individual employees was ‘brief’ and they had ‘no involvement’ in any investigation by the school board or WSIB.
The institute has previously disputed Bilkszto’s allegations, saying the lawsuit paints ‘an inaccurate and incomplete picture’ of what happened at the training session.