The Halton Catholic School Board has released the reports which lead to the censuring and suspension of Trustees Vincent Iantomasi and Helena Karabela. In two separate special meetings of the Board of Trustees, Iantomasi and Karabela were found to be in breach of the Trustee Code of Conduct and censured as well as suspended from attending board meetings until the fall. What was in those reports which lead to this punishment was not known, until the Board voted last week to release them to the public. Complete copies of the reports are available at the bottom of this article.
Trustee Iantomasi Report
In the reports we now know that on April 25th, Chair Marvin Duarte brought to the board a Code of Conduct violation against Trustee Iantomasi. The following day on April 26th the violation was made known to the entire board and Vice-Chair Brenda Agnew was assigned to investigate the claim. In the report she authored, a total of 25 individual incidents are cited as evidence of Iantomasi’s breach of the HCDSB Code of Conduct dating back to September of 2020. When presented with this report and asked for his response, Trustee Iantomasi only replied with an email to Vice-Chair Agnew and then Education Director Pat Daly refuting the allegations.
Two items stand out as a serious breach by Trustee Iantomasi. At the height of the pandemic, Evidence-Based Social Enterprises Canada, reached out to the Board to inquire about building a relationship in which schools in the board might donate to the not-for-profit. Evidence-Based Social Enterprises Canada is the organization behind the Donate A Mask Project to help distribute masks where needed during the pandemic. After the not for profit reached out to the Board, Trustee Iantomasi apparently directly called the Executive Director to reprimand them on the proper usage of the term “mandate” vs “mission”, as well as to suggest that HCDSB would not be able to assist them in their efforts to raise funds for masks. In an email to the Board, the Executive Director outlined her conversation and how the Trustee undermined the fledgling relationship by suggesting that the not-for-profit seek help from their MPP and government rather than the board. As a result of the exchange, the Executive Director stated that they would no longer be pursuing any partnership with the Halton Catholic School Board.
The second more serious point stems from text messages between Trustee Iantomasi and Chair Duarte. In one text message, Trustee Iantomasi accuses Chair Duarte of incompetence: “Ur at disadvantage because u just don’t know and don’t take the time to find out/incompetence!” “Me.Chair U just don’t know please learn procedure for the benefit of HCDSB”
On Feb 2, 2022 Trustee Iantomasi accused Chair Duarte of collusion between board members. It is well documented that at this point the board a broken down into a typical 5 to 4 division amongst most items being voted on at board meetings. Iantomasi simply stated: “You have the complicit 5 lol”. In one text message, Trustee Iantomasi justifies his apparent refusal of accepting a redacted individuals education credentials during a board meeting, by using the phrase “Typical Practices in Canada.” Which according to the report Chair Duarte interpreted as implying his own lack of credibility on the matter due to Canada not being the country of his birth.
The majority of the incidents cited focused on internal emails between trustees in which Trustee Iantomasi calls into question Chair Duarte’s competence and knowledge of the Board’s by laws and procedures. Other emails provide examples of Iantomasi refusing to abide by the requests of his fellow trustees. In one email, Trustee Iantomasi was described as spamming the other trustees email by forwarding general emails from the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustee Association. These emails were already being received by trustees and therefore the action was deemed to be redundant and unwelcome by other Trustees. When presented by this request, Trustee Iantomasi responded: “Mr. Chair, As a catholic and supporter of HCDSB and as elected trustees, none of us can be censured, muted, silenced by the Chair, or individual trustees by asking any to refrain from disseminating information that relates to educational matters directly, indirectly either before after Board decisions, meetings or anytime.”
In another exchange, the report describes a request from the HCDSB Communications Department for Trustees to submit Christmas messages by a deadline in December to ensure they could be sent out in time. Iantomasi apparently failed to submit his message by the deadline, and when Chair Duarte and Vice-Chair Agnew requested Trustee Iantomasi to follow up, he replied: “…Vice Chair Agnew, I’m not sure why you have chosen to speak to this matter, since neither you or the Chair have prevue (purvue). The Municipal Act the governing document stipulates how often Trustees can communicate with constituents and the Ministry of Education funds this activity either via email, web site posting or flyers sent through Canada Post. Furthermore, the deadline guideline for Trustees cannot be set by operations under the guidance of the Director of Education. Only Trustees functioning as a Board can decide on a policy to address this matter…” Much of the email items in the report centre around this behaviour.
In the final example, on January 28, 2022 Trustee Iantomasi is cited as calling into the question the practices of the Board’s procurement processes and makes disparaging remarks on Superintendents in their submission of a staff report to the board in order to move forward on capital planning. The report final section cites the numerous examples from the board’s YouTube page in which Trustee Iantomasi either talks out of turn or is cited as undermining the authority of the Chair or fellow Trustees. The report finishes by citing the dates of six board meetings in which Chair Duarte removed Trustee Iantomasi for bad conduct.
Trustee Karabela Report
The report for Trustee Helena Karabela, was in response to a complaint brought to the board by Vice-Chair Brenda Agnew on July 2nd, 2022. Chair Duarte was assigned to investigate the complaint. All relevant materials were compiled by July 13th, and Trustee Karabela was informed on July 14th of the complaint and given ten days to respond. On July 24th, Trustee Karabela responded “I have reviewed the report. The allegations of breach are unfounded. I refute and contest them”.
The report outlines a total of 35 instances in which Vice-Chair Agnew accuses Trustee Karabela of violation the Code of Conduct in regards to not upholding the decisions of the board, making disparaging remarks of other board members, as well as using her position an authority for personal gain. The instances centre around Trustee Karabela’s email newsletter that she sent out regularly to subscribers through the Halton Catholic School Board Website. This is a common feature that is available to and exploited by all of the other Trustees.
Out of the 35 instances, 23 of them are cited as having “ No Code of Conduct violation is provided for this item for investigation.” The remaining 12 instances comprise email newsletters in which Trustee Karabela cites her disagreements with board policy as well as her fellow trustees by name and accuses them of bad conduct.
In her February 19, 2022 newsletter, Trustee Karabela accuses Chair Duarte and Trustee Nancy Guzzo of conspiracy to remove a motion of hers from the agenda. Later on March 5, 2022 in her newsletter she is critical of the board’s masking criteria being more stringent than the minimum standards of the Ministry at the time. This is a common refrain Trustee Karabela returns to in her newsletter, being highly critical of the board’s masking policy. With her email on March 17th, seeming to cross the line in her statement: “As you may know, I currently have two motions which will be voted on by the Halton Catholic District School Board on March 22nd. The first is to immediately end mask mandates for JK and SK Halton Catholic students because they were never mandated in the first place”.
Aside from being openly critical of the board’s masking policy, the report highlights Trustee Karabela’s continued push for a Sanctity of Life motion to be pushed through. The Sanctity of Life motion was a controversial policy passed in 2018, but later rescinded due to backlash from students, parents and teachers due to fact that partnerships with organizations like the MS Society, the Terry Fox Run and the Cancer Society of Canada would end due to the limitations on fundraising that the new policy would impose. Trustee Karabela has at numerous times in the last year, sought to reintroduce the policy to the board and each instance it has been voted down or removed from the agenda. The report outlines how in her newsletters she has been critical of the board for voting down the motion.
The report highlights on two separate occasions, Trustee Karabela calls out two of her fellow Trustees by name and questions their motives. In her June 2, 2022 newsletter, Trustee Karabela refers to Trustee Patrick Murphy by quoting him then stating: “To say that this is not an emergency is the real, big lie. Trustee Murphy went on to say that there was no evidence that the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) is fundraising to “intentionally support abortion or euthanasia or a culture of death. He’s missing the point.” Later on June 9, 2022 Trustee Karabela refers to Vice-Chair Agnew “In a move to kill my motion, Burlington Trustee Brenda Agnew made a point of order which caused my motion to be steamrolled over a concocted technicality. As a result, the motion was not voted on, and my attempt to appeal this decision was overruled. This whole incident is outrageous. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the “Catholic” trustees on the HCDSB don’t want and don’t support pro-life issues.” Lastly on July 9, 2022 in her email she again quotes Trustees Murphy and Agnew and states that they are “pro abortion despite their self-professed Catholic values.” In her July 2, 2022 email, Trustee Karabela as well goes on to accuse her fellow Trustees as participating in a “culture of death” and “destroying democracy” as well as participating in “cancel culture”. As a result of the failure to pass her renewed Sanctity of Life motions.
In regards to accusations that Trustee Karabela had used her emails for personal gain, the report found that there was no evidence to back up this claim. According to the HCDSB privacy officer, all emails on Trustee Karabela’s email list were obtained consensually.
Each report was presented to the board during an in-camera meeting to pass a ruling on whether or not these actions constituted a breach of the Code of Conduct for Trustees Iantomasi and Karabela. Ultimately in each meeting the Halton District School Board found that their fellow Trustees did in fact breach their own Code of Conduct. Trustee Karabela was barred from attending the September 6th and 20th meetings. Trustee Iantomasi is barred from attending all Board meetings until November 15th. Both Trustees are currently seeking re-election to the board.