The Toronto Catholic District School Board has voted to sanction Trustee Mike Del Grande for comparing homosexuality to bestiality, pedophilia and cannibalism at a board meeting last year.

The TCDSB held a special meeting Wednesday night to revisit a report on the incident and ultimately voted to sanction the Scarborough trustee.

In a statement Thursday, TCDSB Chair Joseph Martino called Del Grande’s behavior “disrespectful to the LGBTQ community as a whole and the TCDSB community.”

The board’s sanctions include a request that Del Grande present a public apology and complete an equity training program. The board will also refrain from appointing Del Grande to any representative position or role for a period of three months.

Martino said the TCDSB also agreed to release a portion of the independent report into the incident, though that action falls short of calls from critics, including former premier Kathleen Wynne, to release the entire report.

“I want to assure students, their families and staff, that the TCDSB is committed to creating inclusive learning environments and school communities that are safe and welcoming places,” Martino said in his statement Thursday.

Del Grande’s comparison came just over a year ago at a Nov. 7, 2019 board meeting where trustees were considering adding new terms, such as “gender identity” and “gender expression,” to the board’s code of conduct to support LGBTQ students.

Del Grande said the move was a “slippery slope” and said if LGBTQ terms were included, pedophiles and cannibals, among others, might demand inclusion as well.

Such comparisons have long been slammed by the LGBTQ community as an effort to demonize its members.  

The independent report, which was written by lawyer Michelle Bird and partially released on Thursday, found that Del Grande “created an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community.”

Bird noted in the report that while Del Grande was certainly within his rights and duties to voice disagreement with the proposed changes, “there were many ways in which Mr. Del Grande could have argued his disagreement with the motion to amend the Code of Conduct without crossing the line into disrespectful rhetoric.”

She also noted that his harmful comments were exacerbated by the fact that he made them during a meeting where a delegate had spoken directly to their experience of having suicidal thoughts and losing a friend to suicide due to a lack of acceptance of the gay community.

Bird found that making such comments at a meeting where members of the LGBTQ+ community were present were “disrespectful, not inclusive and lacking in compassion.”

While Bird accepted Del Grande’s assertion that he had the right to provide a Catholic perspective on the amendments, she found he could not do so “in a vacuum.”

“I note that the Trustees’ Code of Conduct specifically states that trustees shall ‘recognize and rigorously defend the constitutional right of Catholic education’” Bird wrote. “The Trustees’ Code of Conduct also speaks to the connection between Catholic schools and the teachings and mission of the Church. These sections of the Trustees’ Code of Conduct cannot, however, be read in a vacuum.”

Previous vote to sanction Del Grande failed

Wednesday’s vote follows another TCDSB vote on the issue which failed back in August because it did not meet the required two thirds majority to pass. Four trustees voted against the motion to sanction Del Grande at the August 20 meeting, despite the findings of the independent report.  

Former Ontario premier Katheleen Wynne, who is also gay, a former Toronto District School Board trustee and a former Ontario education minister, spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting and delivered a scathing statement criticizing the board for previously failing to act on the report’s findings.

“Here's what I thought we all understood: that we live in a province where people cannot be disadvantaged or discriminated against because they are gay or lesbian or trans or two spirited. People are not evil or wrong if they live in a same sex family, they are not bad if they express their gender differently than you do,” Wynne said. “We are a diverse society and that makes us stronger. We're called upon to find ways to extend a loving hand to every single child in our school system, and that school system includes our Catholic boards.

“None of our schools is exempt from compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code, and neither are our school boards – not public, not Catholic, not English, not French – and that's what I thought our consensus was. But my concern is that you chose to protect one of your colleagues who ignored that consensus. You chose to allow one of your members to thumb his nose at all the years of work, and the tears of shame and shame of teenagers who question their sexuality every day, who would contemplate suicide because they have been rejected by their school ,their peers and their community.”

Wynne called on the board to sanction Del Grande and release the full report and warned trustees that “your protection of the Catholic education system is weakened every time you demonstrate that students, staff and families might be less safe, less included less respected in Catholic schools than in other schools in Ontario.”