11/17/2014 01:58 EST | Updated 01/17/2015 05:59 EST

Toronto French School Ignored Slurs Against Muslim Students: Lawsuit


TORONTO - Officials at a private French school in Toronto waged a campaign to defame two 13-year-old students involved in a fight because they were Muslim, a series of lawsuits allege.

In three separate suits being tried together, Omar Elgammal and Danial Velshi — both now 20 — allege they were publicly blamed by officials at the Toronto French School for a fight with a student from another school.

Elgammal and Velshi claim the fight broke out on Oct. 28, 2008 over racial slurs the other teen used to describe them and their relatives.

The other teen "engaged in racial taunting of Omar Elgammal, calling him a terrorist, calling his father Osama Bin Laden and making gestures of a terrorist with a bomb hand-detonator," the plaintiffs' lawyer Jeffery Wilson said Monday in his opening statement.

That same teen had previously called Velshi's mother, who is from the Philippines, a "maid or nanny," Wilson said.

Elgammal replied using a homophobic slur. After school, all three met in a nearby park where "an altercation occurred," the lawyer said.

"The altercation lasted less than a minute. There were no weapons involved. No noticeable injuries occurred," he said.

Yet both students were later painted as "thugs" and "cowards" by school officials and suspended for weeks, Wilson said.

School officials — including headmaster John Godfrey, a former Liberal MP, and principal Heidi Gollert — denounced the pair at a school assembly and in emails to parents and alumni, the suit alleges.

Wilson said the school's investigation into the incident was "egregiously deficient" and completely ignored the alleged slurs.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Elgammal and Velshi were charged with assault, but the charges have since been withdrawn.


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