By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The City of Toronto has announced that the election for the French language public school trustee position in the Conseil Scolaire Viamonde (Ward 3 – Centre) is void.
The Viamonde’s Ward 3 is located in central Toronto and takes in city wards including Beaches-East York and Toronto-Danforth.
The decision by the city came after discovery that one of the two candidates running for the position was ineligible to hold office in the Conseile Scolaire Viamonde. The city made the announcement in a news release on Oct. 19.
A new trustee was scheduled to be elected during this Monday’s (Oct. 24) municipal election. However, a byelection will now be held at a later date for that position, the City of Toronto said.
In a press release by the city, it was revealed that one candidate was dismissed because they are not a French language rights holder, as required by the Education Act, R.S.O. 1990. The act requires candidates for the Viamonde school board to either have French as a first language, have attended a French language school in Canada, or have children who attended or are attending a French language school in Canada.
According to the Municipal Elections Act, “if a certified candidate for an office becomes ineligible to hold that office and another candidate would be elected by acclamation as a result, then the election is void and a byelection shall be held to fill the office.”
Some parents of students in Ward 3’s French language schools have expressed relief at the news as they had little faith in this year’s trustee elections due to the lack of candidates and information.
Carrie Schoemer, a parent at La Mosaïque School (École élémentaire La Mosaïque), said that she feels inspired by the “huge parent and community response to this trustee election” as parents took it into their own hands to find out more about their candidates’ lives and beliefs.
“Many parents took extraordinary steps to locate the candidates in the first place, then to gather and ask questions about the candidates’ perspectives, visions for the school board, and values,” said Schoemer.
“As a result of parents’ engagement, Joseph Frasca was disqualified and Amina Bibi Bhaiyat revealed that, besides not speaking French, she holds views which I find very troubling on Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ issues.”
As per the Education Act, it is not a requirement that a candidate speaks French as long as their child attends a French school – which Bhaiyat’s daughter does.
She refused to disclose which school her daughter attends out of respect for her privacy and safety.
In regards to her stance on the LGBTQ2S+ community, Bhaiyat told Beach Metro Community News that her words were misconstrued and stressed her acceptance of all people, no matter their sexual preference, colour or age. She said her only belief on the matter, based on her personal observations and conversations with a lesbian friend , is that “children are not born with a gay identity.”
In her own experience, she has only seen people change their sexual preference due to circumstances, she said.
“She wasn’t a lesbian,” said Bhaiyat in regards to her friend. “She became lesbian because her partner cheated on her. Life makes them gay or lesbian.”
She said that she simply has a different view on why an individual might become a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Schoemer said she’s remaining hopeful that a “more suitable, French speaking candidate will present themselves to run for trustee in the byelection.”
Another parent from La Mosaique, Shamim Ahad, took issue with the initial lack of candidates for Ward 3. She blamed the low turn-out on post-pandemic community fatigue as well as people generally taking school board trustee elections for granted.
“There were only four candidates running in all three of Viamonde’s Toronto catchments, and two school trustees were acclaimed,” said Ahad.
She said that the lack of candidates, and lack of information about them, surprised her.
“Without the community coming together, we would have never discovered the troubling information about the candidates,” said Ahad.
Ahad, like Schoemer, believes a void of the Oct. 24 vote by Toronto officials was the best possible outcome as it now leads to a byelection that will have the public more invested in the process.
“I know of at least four people who want to run now. This gives the community an opportunity to choose a representative that truly aligns with their values and interests,” said Ahad.
To run for elected office, candidates must file a nomination and sign an Acknowledgement of Qualifications affirming they are qualified to be elected and to hold the office. The qualifications to run for this school board are set out in the Education Act in subsections 58.8 (1) and 219 (1).
Although Bhaiyat hasn’t been notified yet, she hopes for a letter from the City of Toronto appointing her as trustee for the ward until the byelection date is set. When the time comes, she told Beach Metro Community News, she plans on registering as a Viamonde Ward 3 candidate once again.
Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.