By Caitrin Pilkington,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
An image posted to social media this week appears to show a Liidl?? Ku? Elementary School teacher dragging a child across a school parking lot in Fort Simpson, N.W.T.
In the picture, the teacher appears to pull the child by the hood of their snowsuit across the ground. The student’s parents and grandparents said they were “horrified” by the photo.
While no faces are visible in the image, which was made public on Monday, Shannon Cazon said her child is the one shown.
Cazon said she and her husband, Dale Moses, were contacted by a resident who said they had seen her daughter being dragged through the elementary school’s parking lot.
“When they explained to me what they had seen, I was really shaken up,” Cazon said.
Cazon said she was alarmed enough to file a complaint with the RCMP and have her child checked out at the health centre.
In a written statement, RCMP confirmed the Fort Simpson detachment received a call about an incident at the school on March 28. “An investigation into that incident was undertaken and no charges have been laid,” an RCMP spokesperson stated. Cabin Radio is not naming the teacher in this report as charges were not laid and the school’s disciplinary process has yet to conclude.
Cazon said she spoke with Dehcho Divisional Education Council superintendent Philippe Brulot and school principal Ben Adams, and was told the teacher had been suspended while an investigation took place.
Brulot told Cabin Radio by email: “The GNWT (DDEC) is aware of the incident and takes it very seriously.” He added that the education council is “currently looking into” what happened and cannot yet comment further.
Cazon said her daughter hasn’t been herself since the incident and has complained of a sore neck and back.
“We were in Yellowknife when we heard about this,” said her grandfather, who asked that his name not be published. “It was good that we were over there, because I wasn’t as civil as I am now when I saw that picture.”
“We don’t do that to our children,” he continued. “We’ve never done that … We were teaching them all our values because in this family we are residential school survivors, Sixties Scoop survivors, Indian hospital survivors. It kind-of triggered what we went through.
“It isn’t a good thing to see a photo of your grandchild being dragged like an animal. It was not a way to respect us, not a way to respect the public who had to see that, not a way to respect our way and our culture, not a way to respect the system that she works for.”
The teacher in the picture, whose back is to the camera, was identified by multiple people as a longtime Fort Simpson resident.
Reached by Cabin Radio, the teacher in question said her lawyer had advised her not to comment.
In messages and calls, six parents and colleagues spoke of the teacher’s contributions to the community, which include receiving one of Canada’s highest awards in recognition of volunteer service.
Dayna Marie, a parent whose children attend Liidl?? Ku? Elementary and participate in a sport with the teacher in the photo, described her as an “amazing teacher and person.”
“She showers the kids with love and encouraging words and affirmations. I have trusted her and will continue to trust her as a teacher, friend and community member,” said Marie.
“I believe there is way more context than shown,” Jodie Isaiah said of the photo. “The woman has been an amazing teacher and volunteer to this community for decades. She has taught me, my siblings and my kids.
“My son is currently working with her as well, with the not-for-profit organization Open Doors Society, and because of this it is pushing him to pursue social services.”
But two other parents and a former colleague, who each asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said they had seen other instances of concerning conduct from the same person.
One of the teacher’s colleagues, who asked for anonymity to discuss matters related to the school, said three students in the teacher’s class have special needs and were mandated to have aides, but the woman teaches a class of 15 by herself.
“Where’s her support?” the colleague said. “Obviously they were outside, and if there’s one kid that’s running away and you’re by yourself, what do you do? How do you handle that situation?
“Do you let the kid run into the road and hope for the best? You know, it’s tough. Our schools are very, very understaffed.”
Another colleague, who similarly asked not to be identified in discussing the incident, asserted that the teacher and the child had been playing a game at the time of the photo, before school started that day.
But Cazon said the woman in the photo is not her daughter’s teacher and it was not clear to her why they appeared to be outside alone at the time of the incident.
Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, who contacted Cabin Radio regarding the photo, said he does not believe a lack of support excuses the incident.
“I don’t buy it,” he said.
“Yes, there are teachers out there with large classes, dealing with kids that are doing all kinds of things. But these are adults, they’re trained, they have the right tools to deal with these kinds of situations. When you’re touching a child, swearing at a child, anything like that, you’re crossing a moral line.”
Section 43 of the Canadian criminal code justifies parents and schoolteachers using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, provided the force “does not exceed what is reasonable.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission included a call to repeal that section of the code as part of its 94 Calls to Action. In 2015, the federal government committed to repealing the section, informally dubbed “the spanking law’,’ but has yet to take any formal steps to do so. In May 2022, the NDP introduced a private member’s bill to outlaw physical punishment of children.
In a February email to Cabin Radio, before the Fort Simpson incident occurred, N.W.T. Teachers’ Association president Matthew Miller said he had met with territorial MP Michael McLeod to express concern about repealing section 43.
Miller said the association “wholly condemns” any corporal punishment of children and supports the TRC’s Calls to Action, but believes fully repealing the section could leave teachers legally vulnerable.
“When you consider that stopping a student from running into the street or breaking up a fight between students 1/8could 3/8 now put teachers at legal risk _ these situations will end up with harmful, dangerous, and violent outcomes that were previously prevented through the intervention of teachers,” said Miller.
“We need to ensure protective language that allows teachers to keep their classrooms and students safe without hesitation or fear of the legal implications.”
Norwegian, though, said the photo triggered a flashback to his experience in residential school.
“We pray that something like this will never happen in our lives again. We sort-of put that behind us,” Norwegian said. “And then all of a sudden, a next-door teacher does the same kind of thing we would see at school. That’s really hard on people trying to move forward.”
“We would like to see a policy come from this,” said the girl’s grandfather.
“Teachers should be trained in how to deal with trauma. We would like to see support for teachers who have never experienced trauma, who don’t know how trauma works, because when you come and work in Indigenous communities, you’re going to experience it and you’re not going to walk away trauma-free yourself, either. It will become part of your life. So you have to have some way of dealing with it after you leave.”
Cazon said more Indigenous leadership on school boards could provide this kind of direction and feedback.
“They should be working closely with Dehcho First Nations and ?????dl???? K???? First Nation to create a foundation for success for our students,” she said.
“We need to bring our graduation rates up in this community.
People deserve an education, they deserve to be properly guided in life.
“Right now, my daughter is scared. And that is the most heartbreaking thing to see in a four-year-old child who should be excited to go to school.”
Caitrin Pilkington is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with CABIN RADIO. The LJI program is federally funded.