Is your child facing antisemitism at school?

Learn about your legal rights and get help through the Combatting Antisemitism in Schools Program

About the Program

The Combatting Antisemitism in Schools Project is a joint effort of Pro Bono Ontario, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto  and CIJA to provide free legal service for low and moderate-income families whose children experience antisemitism at school.

Through this program, volunteer lawyers help eligible students and their parents understand their legal rights and negotiate solutions when they feel unable to resolve conflicts with school administrators and officials.

How it Works

After you apply online, your application will be reviewed by our program coordinator, who will contact you about next steps. We cannot guarantee that all cases will be matched with a pro bono lawyer, but we will respond to all completed applications.

Other Education Law Issues

If your child is experiencing another form of bullying or harassment or other problems at school, please visit our Education Law Program page for information and assistance.

Volunteer Sign-Up

Are you a lawyer in Ontario? Learn about how you can volunteer for this project and help students facing antisemitism in schools.

Volunteer Resources

Already a volunteer with this program? Log in to our volunteer resources page for training and information.

How to learn more and get help:

Step 1: Review the Resources Below

The resources below answer some common questions and provide guidance on steps that can be taken before involving a lawyer.

Please take some time to review these resources. If you have questions or need further assistance, our program is here to assist you.

Step 2: Apply for Assistance

If you’re ready to apply to be connected with a lawyer, please fill out our online application form.

After we receive your application, our program co-ordinator will reach out to you to discuss next steps.


Resources for Combatting Antisemitism in Schools

Education

All antisemitic incidents should be reported as soon as possible to your school so that appropriate action may be taken to address the incident and protect the student(s). Antisemitic conduct from fellow students, teachers, school staff, parents or guardians, or volunteers are all unacceptable in the school environment.

The antisemitic conduct does not have to occur at school; it can also occur at a school-related activity or in any other circumstance where the student’s behaviour can have a negative impact on the school climate (for example comments made on social media to other students or school staff).

Each school board should have their own policies and procedures for reporting discriminatory conduct, hate crime, and bullying.  For example, see:

Following an incident, you should take detailed written notes including what occurred, when, and who was present. Keep all evidence that documents the incident, including photographs and screenshots.

If the incident occurred in your child’s classroom (and the teacher is not the source of the antisemitic conduct), you can request a meeting with your child’s teacher to see if the matter can be resolved cooperatively. It’s a good idea to follow up any meetings with an email or written account of the discussion and what resolution or next steps were agreed upon. Pro Bono Ontario has a helpful video on Education Advocacy Tips for Parents in Ontario to help guide you through this meeting.

Ultimately, however, the principal of the school has a duty to ensure a safe and caring learning environment. If the teacher’s response is unsatisfactory, if the matter is very serious, or if the teacher is the source of the antisemitic behaviour, you should request a meeting with the principal, preferably by email so that there is a record of your request. You should take notes of the meeting and follow up with an email summarizing the discussion and reviewing the next steps.

If the antisemitic incident involves the principal, a complaint should be made to the school’s superintendent. If an online search of your school doesn’t direct you to the contact information of the school’s superintendent, you can search for contact information for your school board using the Ministry of Education’s search tool to see if they can assist.

If the antisemitic incident involves a teacher or the principal, a complaint can also be made to the Ontario College of Teachers.

You may also report the incident as a crime to the local police and/or to organizations that track antisemitic incidents. For example, the Toronto Police Service has an online intake form for hate-motivated graffiti.

If the antisemitic conduct occurred on social media, you can report the incidents to the social media provider. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has a PDF guide on their website, How to Report Antisemitism on Social.

School boards operate the province’s publicly funded schools and are governed by publicly elected board members called trustees. The responsibilities of school boards include setting the policies to prevent discrimination and bullying.

Trustees do not have individual authority, as the board of trustees in each school board makes decisions collectively. Trustees can raise issues and concerns of parents, students and constituents to the attention of the board. That means, it’s important to let your local trustee know about your concerns, so that they can be relayed to board administration.

Principals take a leadership role in the daily operation of schools, at the direction of their superintendents of education. The duties of principals include:

  • Maintain proper order and discipline in the school
  • Give diligent attention to the health and comfort of students under their care
  • The instruction and discipline of students in the school
  • The organization and management of the school
  • Maintaining student records
  • Assigning teachers to classes and assisting and supervising them
  • Making recommendations to the board on the appointment, promotion, demotion, and dismissal of teachers

As noted above, complaints about antisemitic conduct should be raised with the principal. If the principal is unresponsive or is part of the problem, complaints can be made to the school superintendent.

Superintendents of education are responsible for the supervision of a group of specific schools (often called “family of schools” or “learning networks”) and the support services and resources directed to those schools. They participate in the development of the board’s policies, plans, and programs and are responsible for supporting the implementation of these initiatives at the schools they oversee. Superintendents of Education report to the Director of Education of each school board. The Director of Education reports to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees entrusts the day-to-day management of the board to its staff through the Director of Education.

Some school boards offer definitions of antisemitism. For example, the Toronto District School Board defines antisemitism on its website as “latent or overt hostility, or hatred directed towards, or discrimination against, individual Jewish people or the Jewish people for reasons connected to their religion, ethnicity, and their cultural, historical, intellectual, and religious heritage.”

When determining whether a particular activity is motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate for the purpose of determining whether a suspension is mandated, principals should be guided by their board’s policies, including its Code of Conduct, Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy, Equity and Inclusive Education Policy, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Education Act. School administrators have the primary responsibility for ensuring that the learning environment is free from discrimination.

Principals must investigate reports of antisemitism at school, at a school-related activity, or in any other circumstances where the student’s behaviour can have a negative impact on the school climate.

School board employees have a duty to report antisemitic incidents to the principal, as soon as reasonably possible, unless doing so would cause them, or any other person, immediate physical harm.

Following the investigation, the principal determines if disciplinary action is required. When determining what disciplinary action to take, principals take a “progressive discipline” approach that uses a range of interventions, supports, and consequences that are not solely punitive to foster and support positive behaviour. More serious consequences are considered for repeated or more serious behaviour. In all cases, principals consider the student’s individual circumstances when deciding how to respond.

The Education Act sets out the circumstances that permit or require the suspension or expulsion of students. Suspension is the removal of a student from school for a period of 1 to 20 school days, and expulsion is the removal of a student for a period longer than 20 school days. Actions that can warrant a suspension fall into two categories: acts for which the principal may suspend a student, and acts for which a principal must suspend. For example, bullying motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate (i.e. antisemitism) requires a suspension.

Where a suspension is warranted or mandated, the principal must determine the appropriate length of suspension. Students from kindergarten to Grade 3 cannot be suspended, however, and other disciplinary measures must be considered. For more information, see PBO’s FAQs about School Suspensions in Ontario.

In considering the most appropriate response to address inappropriate behaviour, the principal will take the following into account:

  • the particular student and the circumstances
  • the nature and severity of the behaviour
  • the impact on the school climate, including the impact on students or other individuals in the school community.

Where a principal must suspend a student for certain conduct, the principal may also recommend an expulsion. A student can only be expelled following a hearing by the board of trustees. A minimum of three trustees are required to sit on a discipline committee hearing. Victims are not generally parties to these proceedings and are not generally entitled to make submissions. The procedure for expulsion hearings varies from board to board. For more information, see PBO’s FAQs about School Expulsions in Ontario.

If the principal decides to suspend a student for a serious student incident, the principal must try to inform the parents/guardians of the student who engaged in the incident (unless the student is 18 years old or older) within 24 hours of the incident, and advise them of the following:

  • The nature of the incident
  • The harm caused to the other student(s) – harm can be experienced physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically
  • Any disciplinary matters taken in response to the incident
  • The supports provided for their child in response to the incident

The principal is not allowed to identify the student(s) who were harmed in the incident.

With respect to the student who was harmed as a result of a serious student incident, the principal will inform their parents/guardians about:

  • The nature of the incident (but personal information about the student who was responsible for the antisemitic conduct many not be disclosed)
  • The harm caused to their child
  • What steps were taken to protect their child’s safety, including any disciplinary measures taken in response to the incident
  • The support that will be provided to their child

The principal must also notify the superintendent as soon as possible following an antisemitic incident.

Other steps a principal may take include contacting the police in accordance with their local police or school board protocols. As well, if school board employees believe a student may be in need of protection, they must follow procedures and contact the local children’s aid society.

No, the investigation into your complaint will not be made public, but any decision to suspend or expel a student further to a hearing will be made public, as set out below. The principal is not allowed to provide any identifying information about your child to the parents/guardians of the student responsible for the antisemitic incident.

If the incident results in a suspension or an expulsion of a student, a copy of the principal’s reporting form with information indicating the action taken is included in the Ontario School Record of the student whose conduct was inappropriate. Before the form is filed, the names of all other students must be removed.

If the matter proceeds to a suspension or expulsion hearing, all names of students are anonymized before being published.

  • In what time frame can I expect my complaint to be addressed?

You should expect a very timely and supportive response to your complaint. Your principal should conduct their investigation immediately and report antisemitic conduct to the school’s superintendent promptly.

  • What recourse is available to me as a victim of antisemitism?

If your child is the victim of antisemitic conduct at school, the school must offer programs and support to your child. Supports may include social workers, child and youth workers, or psychologists, for example. For more information about the supports available for your child, contact your local school board. As well, plans must be put in place to address the antisemitic conduct and monitor that it does not happen again. If it does, you can escalate your concerns and/or take legal action (see below for further information).

Your child can also contact the Kids Help Phone for counselling, support, and resources by the phone (1-800-668-6868) or online at the Kids Help Phone website.

  • I am not satisfied with the actions (or lack of action) that my principal has taken in response to my report. What else can be done?

If you are unsatisfied with the response, or lack of response, from your school’s principal, you should raise your concerns in writing with the school’s superintendent. If your school board has a Human Rights Office, you should copy them on the correspondence.

If you are unsatisfied with the superintendent’s response, you should document your concerns in writing and escalate the matter to your trustee.  Finally, if you are not satisfied with the response of the trustee, you should document this in writing and escalate the matter to the Minister of Education.  Be clear in your correspondence what happened, what the response was at each level that was unsatisfactory, and what remedy/outcome you are seeking.

If you are still dissatisfied with the school and Ministry’s response, you can consider making an application to the Human Rights Tribunal (see below for further information) or suing the school board or principal in court. In general, there is a one-year time limitation period to bring a matter before the Human Rights Tribunal and a two-year limitation period to sue in court, but if you are considering this option, you should promptly obtain legal advice.

In addition, if a teacher or principal is responsible for the antisemitic conduct, or refuses to address the conduct appropriately, you may make a complaint to the Ontario College of Teachers

As noted above, if the antisemitic incident involves a teacher or principal, a complaint can also be made to the Ontario College of Teachers.

You may also report the incident as a crime to the local police and/or to organizations that track antisemitic incidents. For example, the Toronto Police Service has an online intake form for hate-motivated graffiti.

If the antisemitic conduct occurred on social media, you can report the incidents to the social media provider. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has a PDF guide on their website, How to Report Antisemitism on Social.

Human Rights Complaints

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) is a provincial law that aims to protect people from discrimination and harassment in key areas of their lives, including in the workplace, in rental housing, or accessing and using public services like educational services. The Code applies to publicly funded and privately funded early childhood pre-schools, elementary, and secondary schools, colleges, and universities. All provincial laws in Ontario must comply with the Code unless the law says otherwise.

This means that all students have the right to a school environment free from discrimination, harassment, or other expressions of hatred (Ontario Human Rights Commission, No Room for Hate in Schools). Discrimination often begins with a person experiencing negative, differential treatment because of a personal characteristic called “prohibited grounds”, which are listed in the Code. Prohibited grounds include race, ancestry, sex, place of origin, disability, and creed (which includes religion), for example.

Discrimination can be direct (i.e. explicit) or indirect (referred to as “constructive” or “adverse effect” discrimination) where a requirement, policy, standard, or rule appears to be neutral but has the effect of excluding or disadvantaging a group protected under the Code. For example, an employer with a rule that all male employees must be clean-shaven engages in discriminatory conduct as this rule has the effect of excluding certain sects of Sikhism, Islam, and Judaism.

Harassment based on protected grounds in the provision of services (including education) is also forbidden in the Code. Harassment means engaging in a series of upsetting, disturbing, or frustrating comments or conduct that someone knows or ought to know is unwelcome. It doesn’t matter if the behaviour at issue was intentional or unintentional; if it was unwelcome, it can constitute harassment.  A course of conduct usually requires conduct to occur more than once to meet the threshold for harassment.  However, a single comment or conduct can be considered harassment if the behaviour is serious enough. Like discrimination, harassment must be linked to one or more protected grounds.

Schools have a duty to maintain a positive, non-discriminatory learning environment. This includes ensuring that the school has policies in place to prevent harassment and discrimination on the basis of Code-protected grounds, has policies and processes in place to appropriately investigate and respond to incidents that may contravene the Code, and that they act promptly, effectively, and proportionally in response to alleged violations.

Antisemitism is a form of creed-based discrimination and may intersect with other prohibited grounds such as race, ethnic origin, ancestry, and place of origin.

Creed is not defined in the Code, but courts and tribunals often interpret it to mean religious beliefs and practices (“religion” itself is not a protected ground in the Code). Creed can also include “non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed, p 1).

Discrimination based on creed is established under the Code by showing that a person has a creed, has experienced negative treatment or an adverse impact in a social area protected by the Code (like education services), and the creed was a factor in the negative treatment or adverse impact. The party accused of the discriminatory conduct then has the burden to try to justify their behaviour. If they cannot, discrimination is proven.

Discrimination does not have to be intentional; what matters is the negative effect of a creed-based distinction, preference, or exclusion on a person or group.

Antisemitism and creed-based harassment and discrimination can take various forms. Some examples of creed-based harassment include:

  • Derogatory language toward individuals or communities affiliated by creed
  • Insults, comments that ridicule, humiliate or demean people because of their creed
  • Comments or conduct relating to a perception that a person is not conforming with, or poses a threat to, “Canadian way of life”
  • Making negative comments about a person’s commitment to their faith or adherence to their beliefs
  • “Jokes” related to a person’s creed, including those circulated in writing, by email or social media
  • Intrusive comments, questions or insults about a person’s creed or other creed-related practices, dress and personal appearance
  • Threats, unwelcome touching, violence and physical assault
  • Assigning collective guilt and blame to all members of the creed when individuals or sub-groups (including state or non-state actors) commit objectionable or heinous acts (Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed, p 31)

The Code also prohibits discrimination and harassment against a person because they have a relationship or association with someone with a creed. This could apply to friends, family, or someone advocating on behalf of a person with a religious or creed background.

Code protection for creed does not extend to practices and observances that are criminal, hateful, or incite hatred or violence against other persons. An example provided by the Commission is the denial by a school of an extra-curricular student club based on extremist Christian, white supremacist creed beliefs. Similarly, creed rights may be limited when they interfere with other Code-protected rights or rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In some instances, where a person is the subject of antisemitism due to the fact that they are Israeli, or are perceived to have an association with Israelis/Israel, the protected ground at issue may be ancestry, race, place of origin, ethnic origin and/or citizenship in addition to creed.

There may be a number of legal forums that can hear your complaint, including the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”), the Small Claims Court, the Superior Court of Justice, or other administrative bodies. You should consider the following when determining where to bring your complaint:

  • Does the matter fall within the scope of the Code? For example, the application must relate to a ground of discrimination or harassment on the basis of a protected ground in an area (such as education) covered by the Code.
  • Is a violation of the Code the only allegation you are making? If so, the Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction to hear the matter.
  • Are you seeking a monetary award (also called “damages”) or policy changes? The Tribunal can order broad remedies such as training and policy development.

Although it may be possible to bring multiple proceedings in different forums, you should seek legal advice before doing so as this may be prejudicial to a claim you have. In the event of multiple proceedings in multiple forums, the Tribunal may decide (in a preliminary hearing or by written submissions) whether the matter should be postponed or dismissed because of another completed or ongoing legal proceeding.

In general, applications to the Tribunal must be brought within one year of an alleged rights violation. If the discriminatory conduct happened more than once, the application must be brought within one year of the last incident of alleged discrimination.  In some circumstances the Tribunal will hear an application outside of the one-year time limit if it’s satisfied the delay was in good faith and there is no substantial harm or prejudice to the other parties.

You should seek legal advice on your various options. For referrals, see below “Are there other legal avenues I should consider?”

A person who believes their rights under the Code have been violated (the “applicant”) can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”).  Applications to the Tribunal can be made by an individual, an organization, or the Ontario Human Rights Commission. There is no cost for filing an application and you are not required to have a lawyer represent you in the Tribunal’s process (although parties often do have lawyers or representatives).

The application can be filed electronically or by mail or email (if you need a paper copy of the application form contact the Tribunal). You will need to name the person and/or organization that you believe is responsible for the discrimination or harassment (called “respondents”) and provide a detailed account of the claim and how each respondent is responsible for the discrimination or harassment. You will also need to explain what you want to happen as a result of the application, what harms you suffered as a result of the circumstances, and whether you want to see any changes in policies or practices.

Depending on the age of the child, you may have to complete a litigation guardian form to submit the application on the child’s behalf. For more information, see Tribunals Ontario’s Practice Direction on Litigation Guardians before Social Justice Tribunals Ontario (the Human Rights Tribunal is a “Social Justice Tribunal”).

Next, you will receive a letter from the Tribunal with a file number. If your application is missing information, the Tribunal will send you a notice to tell you what you need to add. If the application is complete, a copy of the application will be sent to the respondent(s). The respondent(s) then have an opportunity to submit a Response, which will be provided to you by the Tribunal. You may file a Reply if there is anything you want to add after reviewing the respondent’s Response.

If all parties agree, the Tribunal can arrange mediation to try to settle the claim. Mediation is free, confidential, and voluntary. If the parties decline mediation, or if mediation is unsuccessful, the application proceeds to a hearing.

The hearing is before an adjudicator who decides the application after hearing and reviewing the parties’ evidence, which can include calling witnesses and providing documents.

If the adjudicator finds that the Code has been violated, the adjudicator may order remedies for the applicant. Examples of remedies include:

  • monetary compensation (money)
  • a non-monetary award (human rights training for the respondent’s employees)
  • an order to promote future compliance with the Code (develop human rights policies, training)

For more detailed information on bringing human rights applications before the Tribunal, see:

  • Tribunals Ontario – Application and Hearing Process website
  • Human Rights Legal Support Centre – How-to Guides website

It’s important to note that it can take years in some cases for a hearing at the Tribunal. In very serious and urgent cases, such as where serious bullying is occurring at school, it may be appropriate to consider filing a request for an interim remedy or to request an expedited hearing. While these are not commonly used processes, they may be appropriate in certain exceptional situations that require a faster, or interim decision remedy. For more information, see Tribunal Ontario’s Practice Direction on Requests to Expedite an Application and Requests for an Interim Remedy.

In addition to the Tribunal, the Ontario Human Rights Commission works on systemic matters, developing policy and public education, and conducting human rights inquiries. Occasionally, the Commission will take its own cases to the Tribunal or intervene in existing cases where the issue is one of broad public interest.

School staff who discriminate or harass students based on Code grounds or who know or ought to have known that a student is being discriminated or harassed on Code grounds and fail to take effective steps to remedy the discrimination or harassment may be subject to sanction (Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Guideline on accessible education”, pp 11 and 12).

Under the Code, a corporate respondent – like a school board – is deemed to be legally responsible for certain actions taken by their officers, officials, employees, or agents. It is not usually necessary to name individual school staff who was acting in the regular course of their employment or duties when the alleged harassment or discrimination occurred. That said, there may be circumstances where naming an individual respondent is appropriate, like when the individual conduct of a proposed personal respondent is a central issue, or where an individual engaged in misconduct or failed to respond appropriately to it when it was brought to their attention (such as a teacher, principal, or superintendent, for example).

A corporate respondent may be appropriate if the allegations are more in the nature of following organizational practices or policies as opposed to where the nature of the alleged conduct may make it appropriate to award a remedy specifically against that individual if an infringement is found (Sigrist and Carson v. London District Catholic School Board et al, 2008 HRTO 14 (CanLII) at para 42).

While you cannot name a student as a respondent, a school board may be liable for a poisoned environment if it fails to take prompt, effective, and proportionate action when it becomes aware of allegedly discriminatory behaviour caused by a student (Armitage v. Ottawa Carleton District School Board, 2022 HRTO 252 (CanLII) at para 189).

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your school has handled your complaint, you may want to seek legal advice as to whether a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal, the College of Teachers, or a civil action is appropriate in the circumstances.

For advice on human rights issues, you can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre at 1-866-625-5179.

You may also get help from Pro Bono Ontario’s Combatting Antisemitism in Schools Project www.probonoontario.org/combattingas, a specialty legal clinic, or a private lawyer or paralegal.

Need help with something else? Learn about PBO’s other programs:

Education Law Program

Free legal help for families whose children face challenges to their rights in public schools.

Free Legal Advice Hotline

Free legal advice and assistance with civil law matters in Ontario for people who can’t afford a lawyer.