A former Canadian principal died by suicide after filing a lawsuit against the Toronto District School Board in response to the harassment he faced for disagreeing with an anti-racism instructor who claimed Canada was more racist than the U.S.
Richard Bilkszto, 60, worked for the school district for 24 years and retired in 2019, according to the Toronto Star. He continued to do contract work as a fill-in principal until his reputation was “systematically demolished” after challenging a Black instructor during two anti-racism training sessions in 2021, he alleged in a lawsuit filed against the district earlier this year.
The instructor allegedly accused him of supporting white supremacy for pushing back against her claims.
In a statement on social media, Bilkszto’s attorney, Lisa Bildy, said her client took his own life on July 13 because the harassment stemming from the training sessions caused him “severe mental distress,” adding that the “stress and effects” of the incidents “continued to plague” him.
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On April 26, 2021, Toronto District School Board educators attended an anti-racism training addressing the struggles of Black people, the Toronto Star reported. The session was led by Kike Ojo-Thompson, founder of the KOJO Institute, a consulting firm that provides anti-racist training.
Bilkszto alleged in his lawsuit that Ojo-Thompson told educators that Canada could be considered more racist than the U.S. because Canada has “never reckoned with its anti-Black history.” Bilkszto, who disagreed with the instructor and challenged her comments, was condemned 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 said, according to the lawsuit.
During a follow-up session a week later, Ojo-Thompson allegedly recalled their disagreement from the first session and used Bilkszto’s efforts to challenge her claims as a “real-life” example of someone supporting white supremacy.
Bilkszto said he reported Ojo-Thompson’s alleged misconduct, but claimed that the school board failed to look into it, adding that one unidentified board member allegedly praised Ojo-Thompson for handling his “discomfort.”
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board investigated the incident after Bilkszto filed a “mental stress injury” claim and found that Ojo-Thompson’s behavior was “abusive, egregious and vexatious, and rises to the level of workplace harassment and bullying.” Bildy said the investigation deemed her client a victim, and he was offered two months of lost earnings.
Despite the findings of the investigation, Bilkszto said his reputation was tarnished by the instructor’s comments about him and the school board’s response.
After a six-week medical leave later that year, the district would not reinstate his contract, the Toronto Star reported. Bilkszto claimed this was either because of his damaged reputation or as retribution for asking the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to investigate the incident.
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In his last months alive, Bilkszto is said to have spent his time advocating against the district’s various programs focused on addressing inequity.
The school board, in a statement following Bilkszto’s death, thanked him for his 24 years of service and for returning to the district as a fill-in principal after his retirement in 2019.
“Our hearts go out to Richard’s family and loved ones,” district spokesperson Ryan Bird said in a statement to the Toronto Star. “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.”
The KOJO Institute said in a statement earlier this month that the allegations in Bilkszto’s lawsuit give “an inaccurate and incomplete picture” of what happened during the training sessions.