Suspended Vancouver student says he regrets role in spread of anti-Semitic, racist memes

Suspended Vancouver student says he regrets role in spread of anti-Semitic, racist memes

A Vancouver private school student who was suspended along with several others for posting racist content on social media admits the behaviour was offensive, but said it was the work of “erratic teenagers.”

Other students have been expelled from St. George’s School for the “deeply offensive behaviour,” according to a statement released by the school Friday.

The suspended student, who asked for his identity to be concealed to avoid expulsion, told Global News the senior students involved are from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and had been posting the content since at least last year.

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He added the racist memes were being posted and shared mainly over Instagram, and had been for a while before they were caught. He pushed back against earlier claims the students were part of a neo-Nazi Facebook group.

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“They sent back and forth memes that may have been offensive to some communities,” he said. “Mainly anti-Semitic, anti-Black.

“I don’t think we ever meant anything by it. We were just being erratic teenagers. I didn’t realize it could spread that quickly.”

The student said he didn’t post those memes himself, but he was friends with those who did and didn’t intervene. Text messages were also involved, he said, which also targeted other racial and ethnic groups.

“They were on our personal devices and Instagram, maybe on Snapchat too,” he said. He added he’s not sure how the group was caught or when.

The student was suspended for five days for being “a bystander,” he said.

He’s also been urged to speak with a psychologist and is required to take lessons on “why sending these memes is really destructive for the community and society.”

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“At first I was kind of irritated at the school (for punishing the group), but it was my fault and the punishment was pretty severe and necessary for me to stop doing this,” he said.

He and other students have also had their social media privileges revoked for the rest of the calendar year. He said he’s afraid to go back online and be “exposed to these external influences again” when that restriction is lifted.

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“I took lessons from this and didn’t just shake it off,” he said. “I can move on, bounce back and use it as my motivation to do better.”

St. George’s said it cannot provide any other information due to “confidentiality obligations,” but said its school police liaison has concluded the matter is not criminal.

However, Vancouver police said later the file remains open and they have not made any conclusions yet.

“We’re currently conducting an investigation,” Const. Steve Addison said. “Our Youth Services Section, which includes the school liaison officer, is engaged and have been meeting with staff and students at the school.”

Alex Tsakumis, a former student and past president of the school’s alumni association which condemned the behaviour Thursday night, repeated his calls for a full investigation Friday.

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“It needs to be something much further than that,” he said. “The proliferation of anti-Semitism, particularly in the last seven-and-a-half decades since the Holocaust, is extremely troubling.”

The student said he’s hopeful the incident doesn’t tarnish the reputation of the school, adding that he still loves the “great community.”

“Right now, I just regret what I did, and I hope things will get better for my classmates and myself,” he said.

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“Sometimes unfortunate events like this just happen, and it’s very sad to see good friends go away and have their future taken from them.”

—With files from Jennifer Palma and Catherine Urquhart

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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