Awarded $17K, boy proud of using spoon and fork

Community News & Features Apr 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Montreal Boy Wins Discrimination Case

“I may still be a young boy but I know the meaning of discrimination”, says the triumphant 11 years old Luc Cagadoc. The Cagadoc family, a resident of Montreal was awarded $17,000.00 after a long court battle against Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Board for racial discrimination and moral damages.

The School Board, the principal and the educator have to pay $5,000 each in moral damages and the principal, $2,000 more in punitive discrimination based on race and ethnicity. The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal focused particularly on the principal who failed in his duty, among other things, to implement the School Board’s policy on intercultural education.

According to Fo Niemi, executive director of The Center for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), “Luc Cagadoc’s case is one of the very few times an Asian Quebecer wins in a civil rights case especially since most Asians are afraid to file a complaint”. CRARR was one of the strong supporters of the Cagadocs in their quest for justice.

Luc Joachim Cagadoc with father Aldrin Cagadoc, sister Hannah Camilla and mother Maria Theresa Gallardo-Cagadoc.

Luc Joachim Cagadoc with father Aldrin Cagadoc, sister Hannah Camilla and mother Maria Theresa Gallardo-Cagadoc.

The case, popularly known as the “spoon and fork” controversy created headlines when in 2006 Luc Cagadoc, 7 years old, was reprimanded in school, for his “bad eating habits”. His mother, Maria Theresa Gallardo, claimed that the educator did not want the young boy to use spoon and fork during lunch in school and to follow “how Canadians eat”.

Gallardo used to recall the times Luc came from his school, the Ecole Lalande, looking sad and bothered. He finally confessed to his mom that he was quite confused that his teacher let him eat alone during lunch time. When Gallardo inquired from the school regarding her son’s predicament, it was when she realized that her son was suffering in silence but unable to express nor explain why he was being treated unfairly and punished. “Kawawa naman yung bata, hindi alam kung bakit palagi siyang nag-iisa kung kumain at pinagtawanan minsan ng mga kaklase. (I pity my son because he was eating alone all the time and sometimes ridiculed by friends),” explained the mom.

Gallardo felt deeply hurt. Describing her feelings when she confronted the principal, she said “When he was subjected to verbal negative remarks that his eating manner was messy and disgusting, I was furious”. Adding, “When he was sarcastically asked whether Filipinos wash their hands before eating, I was not only insulted but my culture and my country of birth (Philippines) was inconceivably ridiculed”.

Luc Cagadoc

Luc Cagadoc

A public outcry by the Filipino community was further fueled when one of the teachers was quoted saying that “you are here in Canada… you should eat the way Canadians eat”.

Without getting not even a sympathy from the principal, Gallardo filed a complaint with the Montreal School Board and the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission against the school board and two officials for racial and ethnic discrimination.

Gallardo sought $24,000 in moral and punitive damages from the educator, Martine Bertrand, the school principal, Normand Bergeron, and the school board. She was supported by CRARR throughout her QHRC complaint and was represented by civil rights lawyer René Saint-Léger in her lawsuit.

In 2008, the commission did not find any evidence of any discrimination. It was considered an isolated incident.

However, the Cagadocs were adamant to fight them in court. According to Gallardo, her son became anti-social, obtained poor grades, and lost appetite in eating. The family then transferred him to another school. Occasionally, he woke up in the middle of the night complaining of bad dreams.

In 2009, the family appealed to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal in Montreal and sought support from various Filipino organizations and CRARR. CRARR finally submitted a request to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Commission to re-evaluate and repeal its decision regarding the complaint.

The family requested the community for a donation to help finance their pursuit for justice. They also launched a campaign that included a public awareness program in English, Tagalog and in French about racism and its manifestations.

“It was an uphill battle”, recalled Gallardo, the woman who many believed has championed the dignity of every Filipino and courageously fought against racism. In spite of financial difficulties, she defied all odds in order to restore her son’s honor.

In the morning of April 23, 2010, Gallardo along with Luc, faced the world and tearfully said, “As a mother, I am still hurting but seeing my little boy still proudly using his spoon and fork gives me great pride for my heritage. I would like to thank the people who have relentlessly stood by our side.”

Luc was born in Manila and came to Canada when he was eight months old. Because of his experience, he now plans to become a lawyer – a profession his mother aptly approves.