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Police expand racist yearbook probe as 10 high school students say entries altered

PICKERING, Ont. — Police east of Toronto have expanded an investigation centred on a high school where a Black student's yearbook entry was altered to include a racial slur, saying more students have reported their profiles being tampered with.

PICKERING, Ont. — Police east of Toronto have expanded an investigation centred on a high school where a Black student's yearbook entry was altered to include a racial slur, saying more students have reported their profiles being tampered with. 

Nine more students at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School have come forward since the original complaint was filed alleging their yearbook entries were changed, Durham Regional Police said. 

Officers interviewed faculty and students at the school this week to determine who was responsible for the racist yearbook entry, police said, after a quote provided by Joshua Telemaque honouring his late grandmother was allegedly altered to contain a racist slur referring to a gorilla that was shot at the Cincinnati zoo. 

"When I saw it, my heart stopped. It was heartbreaking to hear him cry," said Telemaque's mother, Marva Massicot-Telemaque. 

She said her son had been bullied at the school before, but nothing that reached the level of the change to the yearbook entry. 

"A yearbook is something that everyone has access to. It can be shared," she said.

In the week since the racist entry was posted online -- along with calls for authorities to make the situation right -- there's been an outpouring of support. 

On Wednesday, during a drive-by event at his home, Telemaque was presented with a four-year scholarship from the Pinball Clemons Foundation and the Toronto Argonauts to a Canadian university of his choosing.

Several Toronto-area professional athletes sent their well-wishes and the mayor of Ajax, Ont., also offered Telemaque with a certificate from city council while calling out systemic racism.

Massicot-Telemaque said the support her son has received from the community, the country and around the world has been heartening. 

"This outpouring, it's wonderful to see that there are good people, that they do care," she said. 

Police said in a statement on Friday that their investigation includes the nine new complaints, only one of which involves alleged racism. 

"Their submitted quotations were also changed, without their knowledge," police said. "However, only one other entry had racist overtones."

Police said one female student was criticized for body image and another for his grades. The nine new students who came forward were a mix of male and female students from different cultural backgrounds, they added.

Word of the altered entries prompted the school to recall the published yearbooks.

The Durham Catholic District School Board apologized this week to those impacted by the comments allegedly inserted into Telemaque's entry and the broader Black community served by the board.

"We recognize that words cannot repair the hurt that these comments have caused, and the horrific experience this has been for families and friends within the school community and beyond," the board wrote in its statement. 

"This offense is not acceptable in our schools, nor is it a representation of our Catholic values and core commitment to equity." 

Both the school and police say the investigation is ongoing and they're urging anyone with information to come forward. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2020.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press




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