An online yearbook aimed at bringing Mount Douglas Secondary students together during the COVID-19 pandemic was hijacked by someone who wrote a series of racist, sexist and anti-Semitic posts. The vitriolic comments, discovered over the same weekend that thousands of people came together for an anti-racism rally at Centennial Square, are being investigated by Saanich police.
The online yearbook was launched last week as a way for students to share memories about the school year which was interrupted when the coronavirus pandemic forced students to continue classes from home.
Over the weekend, students noticed a series of posts which included racial slurs against black people and Chinese people, anti-Semitic language and swastikas, white supremacist language as well as a post that promotes sexual violence and rape.
“They were very vile [messages] and truly hate speech,” said Greater Victoria school board chair Jordan Watters. Parents alerted the school board and the online yearbook has been shut down.
Watters said none of the posts targeted any students by name, but she said it’s been difficult for any students who feel targeted because of their race, religion or gender.
“It’s been a really challenging year for all of our students so this was pretty devastating especially for our students who were potentially targeted,” she said.
The incident has been referred to Saanich police who are looking into the source of the comments.
“It’s not a joke,” Watters said. “There is zero tolerance for this.”
It’s possible the online yearbook was hacked by someone outside the school community, Watters said.
A post on the school’s website gave students a link to share with friends but told them not to post the link publicly.
Coming on the heels of world-wide anti-racism protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Watters said this issue highlights the importance of speaking up and stamping out racist posts online.
“I think it really crystallizes how serious this issue is and it is close to home and we need to do our best to combat racism wherever we find it,” she said.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said the incident underscores that racism is not just an American problem, but prevalent here as well.
“On the background of what’s happening in the States, it was shocking, shocking to the point of horror,” he said of the content of the posts. “This is so antithetical to what the school represents.”