The Louis Riel School Division is banning 35 individuals — all of whom disrupted a spring board meeting to protest disciplinary action against a trustee who shared transphobic content on social media — from local schools and sites.

Supporters of St. Boniface representative Francine Champagne, including high-profile “freedom fighters,” showed up unannounced to a June 20 event.

As the meeting got underway, members of the group heckled trustees and alleged the board had stifled Champagne’s right to express herself by handing her a three-month suspension without pay on June 6.

Ryan Palmquist, a board member who recently came out as bisexual, reported being subjected to derogatory slurs ranging from “pedophile” to “groomer” to “f- – -ing faggot” during the tense meeting.

Police were called to the boardroom at 50 Monterey Rd. amid the ruckus.

“The division has an obligation to protect students, staff and families from the aggressive and threatening remarks and behaviours that our community experienced at the meeting,” superintendent Christian Michalik wrote in no-trespass order letters dated Aug. 18.

“As a consequence, you are no longer permitted at any of the division’s properties and/or premises.”

Every notice alleges the recipient either caused a disturbance, participated in the creation of a disturbance on division grounds, or engaged in both activities.

When reached by phone Tuesday, Michalik said division staffers are tracking down all 35 individuals who were part of the group that disrupted the June 20 meeting. So far, 21 letters have been sent to recipients.

Karl Krebs, a Winkler resident who gained notoriety for opposing COVID-19 mandates and has since been a vocal supporter of Champagne’s, was among the first to receive one. Krebs posted the notice, alongside a statement ending with, “What’s (the division’s) motive?” on Facebook on Monday.

“Issuing a no-trespass order is a rare occurrence. It happens, but it’s rare,” Michalik said, adding the sheer number of notices being sent at once is a necessary first for the division to ensure future meetings are not disrupted.

The majority of Champagne’s supporters did not register in advance of the last meeting of 2022-23, despite the board’s ongoing request that members of the public sign up to participate in a virtual or in-person meeting ahead of time.

Tensions heightened shortly after the group was allowed in the boardroom on June 20 — especially after division staffers realized they were overcapacity and suggested some participants would have to wait outside to abide by the fire code.

Visitors shouted at employees throughout the meeting.

Palmquist said one individual made threatening throat-cutting gestures directly at him. At the request of his colleagues — at least one of whom expressed concern his presence was putting everyone’s safety at risk because of attendees’ irrational and emotional reactions, he excused himself from the main boardroom shortly after the event started.

“The board fully supports the no-trespass letters that have been issued and the rationale under which they were sent,” chairwoman Sandy Nemeth said in an email Tuesday.

The letters reference the division’s commitment to creating safe and respectful education and work spaces that are free of harassment and reiterate an expectation that all visitors show respect for human diversity, Nemeth said.

Champagne has not spoken publicly about her suspension or a $2,000 cheque that she was sent from a group of her supporters last month in acknowledgement of the financial losses she has suffered as a result of her suspension.

The Ward 1 trustee is anticipated to resume her duties, including policy-making activities and representing the board at events, on Sept. 6.

The board’s first public meeting of 2023-24 is scheduled for Sept. 5.

Michalik said members of the public will no longer be able to show up to an LRSD meeting without pre-registering in the future, along with a number of imminent changes that will ensure there is no repeat of June 20.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 22, 2023 at 17:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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