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The Blaze
The Blaze
22 Jul 2023
Cortney Weil

NextImg:DEI training, accusations of white supremacy led former Toronto principal to commit suicide, his lawyer claims

A former principal with the Toronto District School Board took his own life after enduring years of accusations of white supremacy for defending his country at a DEI training once, his lawyer has claimed.

In 2019, Richard Bilkszto went into semi-retirement with the TDSB after more than two decades in education. Apparently unmarried and with no children, he spent years dedicating his life to serving non-traditional students, especially recent immigrants and those enrolled in adult education. Even after his retirement, Bilkszto continued to involve himself in the district as a contract principal, filling in as needed for other administrators on leave.

In 2021, Bilkszto and his fellow administrators attended a diversity, equity, and inclusion training session led by the KOJO Institute, which aims to "deliver innovative solutions that achieve equitable outcomes, improve culture, and produce transformational results," according to its website. During the training, KOJO Institute founder Kike Ojo-Thompson allegedly asserted that Canada was a "more racist place than the U.S." and a "bastion of white supremacy and colonialism."

After those statements, Bilkszto — who was also a member of SOS TDSB, which works to preserve merit-based admissions for the district's specialty program, as well as the Toronto chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, which fights against racism and for civil rights for all — spoke up to defend his homeland. "To sit here and talk about facts and figures and then walk into the classroom tomorrow and say, 'Canada is just as bad as the United States,' I think we are doing an incredible disservice to our learners," Bilkszto said.

After making those statements in support of Canada and the general good character of Canadians, Bilkszto was reportedly subjected to a horrendous bullying campaign. Repeated accusations that he was a white supremacist became so intense that he soon afterward took a leave of absence from the district. He later successfully sued for workers' compensation for lost earnings in connection to the incident.

Bilkszto returned to work a month later but was never restored to his former position. The National Pulse reported that the district also barred him from attending a graduation ceremony that year and revoked his contract for the following school year in reprisal for his actions and statements during the training. A fellow training attendee, who has since been named education director in Hamilton, Ontario, even supposedly thanked the KOJO Institute for targeting Bilkszto and thereby "modelling the discomfort administrators may need to experience in order to disrupt" white supremacy.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board later determined that Bilkszto had been the victim of workplace bullying and had endured "abusive, egregious and vexatious" treatment from Ojo-Thompson. This spring, two years after the training, Bilkszto filed a lawsuit against TDSB in the hopes of establishing a more "equality-focused, pro-human approach" to education in the district. In recent months, he had also been caring for his ailing mother, who lived hours away.

Unfortunately, the "severe mental distress" he suffered as a result of the relentless humiliation overwhelmed him, claimed his lawyer, Lisa Bildy, and he committed suicide on July 13. He was 60 years old.

"He leaves his distraught mother, brother, nephews, niece, and many dear family and friends whose lives he touched over the years," Bildy's statement said, adding that "family and friends have been left reeling and wishing they could have had the chance to convince him that he was loved, respected, and needed here."

Following the news of his passing, several former students and colleagues issued statements to express their grief and condolences. "He was very understanding. He understood that people come from all walks of life. … He was compassionate," said former at-risk student Ahmed Patel.

"He’d tour me through the school and everyone would say ‘hi’ to him in the hallway," said his cousin Darryl Wolski. "It was amazing. I mean, I felt like a rock star."

"Our hearts go out to Richard’s family and loved ones," said TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird. "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."

"Richard’s passing serves as a sobering reminder of the importance of community and supporting those around us who are courageous enough to stand firm in their beliefs," said a statement from FAIR.

On Friday, the KOJO Institute also released a statement: "We recently learned of the passing of Mr. Richard Bilkszto. We offer our condolences to his loved ones and colleagues during this difficult time."

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