Family wins school lunch case over son's table manners 'Eat Like A Canadian'
Kenyon Wallace, National Post, With Files From Canwest News Service Published: Monday, April 26, 2010 Luc, now 11, said he was reprimanded by a school hall monitor for eating his lunch by breaking up the food with a fork and pushing it onto a spoon, a traditional Philippine way of eating Getty Creative Images Luc, now 11, said he was reprimanded by a school hall monitor for eating his lunch by breaking up the food with a fork and pushing it onto a spoon, a traditional Philippine way of eating
A Quebec Filipino family has won a human-rights fight against a Montreal school board that allegedly discriminated against a seven-year-old student by reprimanding him for eating "like a pig."
The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal is ordering the Marguerite Bourgeoys School Board to pay MariaTheresa Gallardo and her son, Luc Cagadoc, $17,000 in moral and punitive damages in a claim of racial and ethnic discrimination.
"We are overwhelmed and happy that this is finally over and we got the justice we were looking for," Ms. Gallardo told the National Post yesterday.
"I just hope my son will now have some peace and that the school board doesn't try to appeal. [Luc] is still going to have the memories of the experience for the rest of his life."
While the award is less than the $24,000 she sought, Ms. Gallardo, 39, says she's happy that the judgment "made it very clear the offence to myself and my son was discriminatory."
The claim stems from a 2006 incident in which Luc, now 11, said he was reprimanded by a school hall monitor for eating his lunch by breaking up the food with a fork and pushing it onto a spoon, a traditional Philippine way of eating.
The hall monitor is alleged to have told Ms. Gallardo that her son "ate like a pig," while the principal is alleged to have told her Luc should eat "like a Canadian."
Ms. Gallardo also alleged that a lunch supervisor asked Luc whether people "in his country" wash their hands before eating. The school had argued that the boy was punished for clowning around during lunch.
Attempts to reach the school board for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
The incident garnered international headlines and prompted protesters to surround the Canadian embassy in Manila. Jose Brillantes, the Philippines ambassador to Canada, declared Luc's reported treatment "an affront to Filipino culture."
"To assert one's accepted eating practices, which after all are most proper and which have become part of one's cultural identity is, in fact, encouraged under the Canadian immigration policy," Mr. Brillantes said at the time.
The Marguerite Bourgeoys School Board was involved in another human rights case a decade ago when it prohibited a Sikh student from wearing a kirpan to school. The case was eventually fought to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that schools must allow Sikh students to wear the ceremonial daggers rather than ban them in the name of public safety.
Ms. Gallardo's initial complaint to the Quebec Human Rights Commission was rejected on the basis of a lack of proof that her son was reprimanded for his use of eating utensils and that the supposed discriminatory comments were made.
However, Quebec law allows complainants to take their cases to the province's Human Rights Tribunal, even if they are rejected by the commission. In March 2009, Ms. Gallardo appealed directly to the tribunal, which handed down its ruling last week.
The school board, school principal and Luc's former teacher have 30 days to decide whether to challenge the ruling.
Neil Castro is secretary-general of Kabataang Montreal, a local Filipino youth group, and has been following the Gallardo case closely. He says Luc's experience shows the school board's "cultural insensitivity" and argues the issue still hasn't been dealt with properly at the highest levels of the board.
"I don't know what kind of policies are being put in place to address these issues with immigrant students," Mr. Castro said. "Is it not OK to bring our own culture to Canada? What is Canadian culture?
"For us, the whole reaction from the school was just completely unacceptable. It exposed its inability to help with the integration of immigrant children."
He added that while the Montreal Philippine community is satisfied with the tribunal's ruling, more needs to be done to help Filipino youth.
"A lot of our youth are still having negative experiences in the school system."
Human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis said the ruling should be a lesson to schools and public service providers that they need to treat people in a way that is respectful of where they come from.
She noted that sometimes, as in the Gallardo case, two sides end up digging their heels in, while most complaints of this nature are resolved by the school board.