English Montreal School Board (ESMB) commissioners Joseph Lalla and Agostino Cannavino say they and the board can’t be associated with comments made online by fellow commissioner Sophie De Vito.
It’s the reason they asked for a special meeting Wednesday night and brought a motion forward asking her to step down.
“Maybe it was an error on her part, maybe that’s fine. But she did it. And we are the ones left behind having to clean the mess that was made,” Cannavino said at the meeting.
The comment in question was posted at the beginning of August.
“How’s the REM working out? Leave it to the French to get this working. Anglos and immigrants would have had this running smoothly. Everything has to be done in French,” De Vito tweeted.
De Vito is referring to several problems the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) had after its launch.
The post sparked a wave of reaction.
“She was subjected to hundreds of truly hateful messages and emails, making all types of assumptions about her, inciting violence and mutilation against her and calling her all sorts of horrible names,” said parent commissioner Maria Corsi, who added she has been in touch with De Vito since the incident.
Quebec’s French language minister Jean-François Roberge called De Vito’s comments “undignified and unacceptable”. In his own social media post, he urged her to withdraw them and apologize to all francophones.
De Vito did.
On the same day she posted: “I sincerely apologize for the inappropriate tweet I posted earlier. I recognize that my words were offensive and did not reflect the values that I strive to uphold. Looking ahead, I am committed to building bridges between all Quebecers.”
On August 15th, De Vito issued a second apology, saying in part: “After reflection, I am determined to learn from what happened. I have decided to pursue anti-bias training and in the coming weeks will be consulting with an outside expert.”
EMSB president Joe Ortona says he’s satisfied with De Vito’s actions following the controversial post.
“She’s very sorry about what she did and I believe her to be sincere and that’s why I accept her apology and that’s why asking her to resign is too harsh,” Ortona told Global News.
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During the meeting, several colleagues jumped to De Vito’s defence and when it came to the vote, the motion was defeated.
“All the members of the council except for the parent commissioners are all part of ‘Team Ortona’ as is Ms. De Vito,” Lalla told Global News following the vote. “So obviously they all voted against the motion, no surprise whatsoever.”
Both Cannavino and Lalla say it was important for them to dissociate themselves from De Vito’s comments and that it’s now on the record.
“We just hope that maybe the explanation will convince the population, the other communities that the action she took is sincere and we’ll let them evaluate it. However, we wanted to discuss this in a public forum because it was just because not even addressed throughout the summer,” Cannavino said. “I think that this is wrong and this is why we took this action, to bring it forth.”
While De Vito was not at the meeting, she is not expected to resign.
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