East Gwillimbury, Georgina and Newmarket will be without representation at York Catholic District School Board meetings after fellow trustees voted to place sanctions on Trustee Theresa McNichol.
Trustees voted 5-4 for the sanctions last night, Sept. 26, put forward by chair Frank Alexander, which will prevent McNichol from attending any meetings until the end of her term in 2026. The ban comes in response to an independent report conducted by JMJ Workplace Investigation that found McNichol engaged in harassment and discrimination toward Italian Canadians after several comments made in the previous term.
Four former trustees delegated to the trustees to request the sanctions, if McNichol did not resign.
“She is in a position of public trust, and her comments against a specific ethnic group call into question her ability to serve all students,” former trustee Dino Giuliani said. “We are here to ask you to do the right thing by sending a clear message to the YCDSB community that you do not tolerate discrimination and harassment.”
The matter stems from last year when five trustees on the board alleged McNichol engaged in anti-Italian discrimination. The board retained JMJ Workplace Investigation in May to investigate the matter. The allegations included that McNichol referred to the group as Italian trustees, that she used the Italian language in emails and social media, and she indicated it was the only way her colleagues would understand. The trustee group also felt McNichol’s expressions of fear for her safety and security requests alluded to them having ties to organized crime.
McNichol refuted that her actions were discriminatory, that she had no intention to insult. But the report found, on the balance, that McNichol’s communications in Italian were done deliberately to annoy, taunt and/or mock her colleagues, and her colleagues' interpretation of her security concerns was reasonable.
“I found that McNichol engaged in discriminatory and harassing conduct towards the complainants on the basis of ancestry and ethnic origin,” JMJ partner Jennifer MacKenzie said in the report.
The report further said that McNichol’s conduct was unwelcome even if unintentional, and had the effect of offending her colleagues. It further said that the conduct breaches the trustee code of conduct and the board’s inclusive education and workplace harassment policies.
NewmarketToday did not receive a reply to a request for comment from McNichol before publication deadline. McNichol did not speak to or vote on the matter during the meeting.
Although trustees were unanimous in agreeing to take action against McNichol, several expressed discomfort with the length of the punishment, which will extend to the end of the term 2026.
Markham Trustee Carol Cotton said she does understand the hurt caused and agrees with sanctions but could not support something that long.
“I feel this is too harsh, and I would be prepared to support something much less,” she said.
Vaughan Trustee Jennifer Wigston echoed the sentiment.
“That’s an unreasonable amount of time. I feel the code of conduct is meant to be used as a learning mechanism and not as something punitive,” she said.
However, vice-chair Maria Iafrate, also part of the group of trustees who alleged anti-Italian discrimination, said McNichol had other chances to learn. The board previously sanctioned McNichol the day after her re-election last October, over an incident where she asked another board member to apologize to her during a meeting, with a report deeming her out of order.
“There’s been a lot of learning opportunities,” Iafrate said. “It’s not a one-time thing here.”