SHAFAQNA- Former administrators at a Toronto private school have apologized to two former Muslim students who had sued them for $1.6 million for defamation.
“My clients acknowledge, in hindsight, some matters could have been handled better and if the plaintiffs’ feelings were hurt, they are sorry,” the officials’ lawyer, David Tompkins, said in court Wednesday.
The apology was accepted by the plaintiffs’ lawyer on behalf of Omar Elgammal and Danial Velshi.
Toronto French School headmaster John Godfrey, principal Heidi Gollert, and board member Lena Sarkissian were sued over how they handled a fist fight Elgammal and Velshi were involved in six years ago.
All three claims made by Elgammal and Velshi have been settled, but both parties are keeping the details secret. In addition to the apology, TFS is sending a letter to the school’s students, parents and alumni expressing regret for the events leading to the lawsuit.
“We are happy with what happened and the settlement that we got,” said Velshi after court was dismissed.
“It’s proof that they did something wrong in the beginning and that it’s been dealt with.”
TFS released a statement saying it was “pleased with this outcome.”
A fist fight off school property that allegedly lasted “less than a minute” led to the removal of the two Muslim students from the private school.
The pair sued over how the school handled the fallout, alleging its response amounted to defamation and the effect of a “deficient” investigation was racial profiling.
“If I wasn’t Muslim, this would never have happened to me, plain and simple,” said Elgammal.
He and Velshi were both in Grade 9 when the fight occurred with another male in Cheltenham Park, near the school at Lawrence Ave. E. and Bayview Ave., on Oct. 23, 2008.
No one was seriously hurt, according to testimony heard at trial. Neither side has indicated any weapons were involved.
An individual who wasn’t a student at the school allegedly hurled racial taunts at both students. Elgammal testified that the visiting student called him “Osama bin Laden’s son” before the fight broke out. Velshi testified that, on other occasions, the visiting student had called his mother a “maid” and “nanny.” He said he believed these taunts were made because his mother is of Filipino heritage.
After the suspension, headmaster Godfrey, a former Liberal MP, led an assembly to discuss the actions of the Oct. 23 incident. He characterized it as a two-on-one fight and the actions as “the way of a bully, a thug, a coward,” according to an uncontested transcript of the assembly. Although no names were mentioned, former students testified it was widely acknowledged Godfrey was referring to Elgammal and Velshi.
“In the 39 years I’ve been doing this, it’s the first time I’ve seen defendants’ counsel turn around and apologize on behalf of his clients to the plaintiffs,” said Wilson.
“I think more adults should apologize to young people; I think it would be a better world.”
By: Sadiya Ansari