A homework assignment distributed to high school students on Montreal's south shore is being called racist because it asks them to describe two "gangsters" who resemble racialized people.
George Stetka, the father of a Grade 7 student at Centennial Regional High School in Greenfield Park, Que., said he was shocked when his daughter came home Tuesday with the French assignment.
"The fact that it happened on the first day of Black History Month made it even worse," Stetka said. "Any day is bad, but especially not that day."
The exercise asks students to describe two "gangsters" — a character resembling a Black woman holding a firearm and a dark-skinned man wearing a bandana with his pants hanging low. Another part of the assignment depicts a racialized person as a suspect from a crime scene.
Stetka said he was told by the school's administration that the assignment had been used for the past three years without complaints.
"There's never been a problem before — nobody noticed or was shocked," Stetka said, adding that Centennial is a very multicultural school. "I think it's a case of the teacher being naive."
Civil rights advocate Joel DeBellefeuille, however, said the homework is a perfect example of systemic racism.
"It's not the kind of images that, as a Black person you would like to see," DeBellefeuille said. "It shouldn't be happening in 2022."
Education Department spokesman Bryan St-Louis said in a statement Wednesday that the images of the homework, which have been shared on social media, do not allow the department to identify the publisher of the material.
Centennial's school board did not immediately return a request for comment.
St-Louis said the material is unlikely approved by the government and that the department is taking the situation seriously and would investigate.
"Educational institutions and teaching staff are responsible for choosing the complementary materials they deem appropriate to support teaching as well as student learning," St-Louis said. "Workbooks can therefore be used by teaching staff without specific authorization from the department."
DeBellefeuille, founder of Red Coalition, a group that works toward eliminating racial profiling in Canada, questioned whether the assignment was the only racist material used in schools.
"This is the systemic problem," he said. "This is how it starts. For the past three years, previous students have gone away with the knowledge that Black people and Hispanic people are criminals."