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Burnaby teacher and school official received death threats

Concern over Parents' Voice prompted Sanyshyn to go public

A scan of the death threat received by a teacher in Burnaby in June. Credit: Courtesy of James Sanyshyn

A Burnaby teacher and a school board official received similar written death threats in connection with the anti-homophobia policy the board passed in June.

James Sanyshyn, vice-president of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association, says the letter to the teacher, who he declined to name for safety reasons, was sent in an envelope “directly to that person’s workplace with their name on it.”

“You want to destroy our children! You are our enemy! You will be shot,” the letter states, accompanied by an illustration of knives dripping with blood.

He says the teacher received the letter in June during the final stages of debate over Policy 5.45, which saw several vocal rallies that pitted parents opposed to the policy against queer students and their allies.

“Another exact copy was sent to a school board official who does not wish to come forward at this time,” Sanyshyn adds.

“We became aware that two letters were sent, one to the individual that Mr Sanyshyn spoke about and one to one of the school board officials,” district superintendent Claudio Morelli confirms.

“At that time, we immediately from the school board perspective, turned it over to the RCMP. They came over and did what they needed to do.”

Morelli declined to reveal if the school board official is a trustee, nor would he say if the message the official received was similar to the one the teacher received. “I’m not going to comment on that either because it’s still under investigation,” he says.

No one from the Burnaby RCMP was available to discuss the matter when Xtra called.

Sanyshyn says neither he nor the teacher has heard back from the RCMP since the letter was handed over near the end of June. As far as he knows, the teacher hasn’t received any more threats.

He says the lack of progress reports from the police was one of the reasons he brought up the death threat at the school board’s candidates debate on Nov 1.

He also decided to go public due to his mounting concern about Burnaby Parents’ Voice (BPV), a political party consisting primarily of people at the forefront of the anti-5.45 protests. “I feel, personally, that the media has been going quite easy on the Parents’ Voice, as a political party,” he says.

Sanyshyn says BPV is not being transparent about “the fact that they are a one-issue party.” And the media are not questioning BPV’s true motives, he continues.

“The motives are that they want to have a majority on the school board so they can gut or repeal the policy, and also they want to pull kids out of classes when any LGBTQ issues are discussed, in any shape or form,” Sanyshyn alleges.

“They talk about it as being a primal directive that parents can pull their children from any discussions that they deem contrary to their values, and that’s in opposition to curriculum and learning outcomes that the province sets through the Ministry of Education,” he says. “They don’t understand the system, and people need to understand that they are clueless when it comes to that sort of thing.”

In July, BPV candidate Gordon World told Xtra that repealing Policy 5.45 “would certainly be a consideration” and that the policy is something “we don’t need and favour.” Last month, following the formation of BPV, he changed his tune.

Now he says repealing Policy 5.45 is not a goal.

At a BPV meeting to introduce its candidates last month, Helen Ward, who is running on the party’s slate, told Xtra that 5.45 is only one issue. But when  asked if she would like to see 5.45 repealed, Ward says there’s no research to show that the policy would be effective in addressing bullying.

“What we would like to see is a holistic approach to addressing the roots of bullying,” she says.

Asked if anti-homophobia education would be a part of that holistic approach, Ward says the “5.45 thing had LGBTQ plus, plus, plus — these are controversial issues. Sexual ethics are controversial; sexual conduct is controversial. It’s very diverse. I’m sure in Burnaby we’ve got every kind of sexual behaviour and sexual relationship going on. Do we want all that diversity represented to kids?” she asks. “I’m a single mom. I don’t want that being taught to my children as like the ideal.

“What 5.45 did was said, ‘We’re not going to have any ideals; we’re going to deconstruct the ideals,” Ward continues. “Parents in international human rights agreements said parental authority in education has been enshrined in those agreements, and this is violating that.”

BPV president Heather Leung, an outspoken critic of 5.45, repeats Ward’s view about adopting a “holistic approach” to deal with bullying, calling for professional input. Asked if she still thinks 5.45 is a tool to recruit children into “a gay lifestyle,” Leung says BPV respects everyone no matter how people label themselves “in terms of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

But, she says, parents “need to have the authority or the choice of our children, what they want to learn. We feel that, seeing through this 5.45 policy, parents have no voice.”

Asked if she wants to see 5.45 repealed, Leung says there needs to be more research, but she doesn’t want to see too much “unrelated education” in schools.

Asked if anti-homophobia education falls into that category, Leung again says BPV will take a holistic approach, “not promoting other people’s sexual orientation or tell the children to question their gender identity. This is not right, don’t confuse them.”