Niagara-on-the-Lake Catholic school board trustee Natalia Benoit violated the board’s code of conduct by comparing the Pride flag to the Nazi flag, an independent investigation has concluded.
On Tuesday, her board colleagues voted to suspend her for five months.
Benoit is barred from attending Niagara Catholic District School Board meetings and from taking part in board-related activities until June 30.
The decision was released in a statement announcing the findings of – and subsequent board vote – on a report prepared for trustees by independent investigators Parker Sim LLP.
The investigation into Benoit’s conduct came after a complaint was filed last June by Welland-Pelham trustee Paul Turner, citing Benoit’s actions outside a May 23 board meeting.
In announcing the sanctions against the NOTL trustee the board did not say what she had done to deserve the penalty.
That information will be available once the meeting minutes are posted online, a board spokesperson said.
However, in the livestream video of Tuesday’s meeting board chair Danny Di Lorenzo reads from the report’s conclusion, which said investigators found Benoit violated the code “when she compared the flying of the Pride flag to the flying of the Nazi flag after the board meeting on May 23, 2023.”
The report also concluded that Benoit “mischaracterized” what transpired at the meeting and “failed to acknowledge that the board’s decision was consistent with its process as set out in the bylaw and imply that the board acted improperly in waiting to vote on the policy until June 2023.”
As well, the investigation concluded that Benoit “supported the parents’ comment that children should be removed from the Niagara Catholic District School Board and spoke publicly in a manner that could have been understood as speaking on behalf of the board.”
In the past, Benoit has pushed for the board to reverse a policy allowing schools to fly the Pride flag during Pride Month.
At the May 23 meeting, she attempted to pass policy that would have prevented employees from advocating to students on “partisan, political or social policy matters.”
Had it been adopted, employees would have been barred from wearing or displaying symbols of an ideological nature, which would include the inclusivity flag.
Benoit also appeared in a now-deleted YouTube video after the meeting comparing the Pride flag to that of Nazi Germany.
Her justification for the policy was that the role of educators was to teach kids how to think, not what to think.
Her formal motion made exemptions for advocacy of Catholicism.
“While I am sorry that we had to go through this process, I believe we made the correct decision,” Di Lorenzo said in the board’s statement.
“I am grateful for the thoughtful and compassionate comments made by the trustees during our deliberations.”
Di Lorenzo, vice-chair Rhianon Burkholder (Thorold/Merritton) and trustees Larry Huibers (St. Catharines-Niagara-on-the-
Joe Bruzzese (Niagara Falls) was the lone vote against the report but, in a separate vote, was in favour of the suspension.
Benoit will not receive correspondence from the board during her suspension but will continue to be paid under the terms of the Education Act. She has 14 days to appeal.
The decision was made via a recorded vote at a special meeting of the board.
Benoit has been on a leave from her role as trustee since September. She attended the meeting virtually but did not speak.
In its statement, the board said that the report will be made available when the approved minutes of the meeting are posted online.
The board’s compliance audit committee will also meet at 10 a.m. on Jan. 31 to consider the audit reports of Benoit and trustee candidate Jolanta Pawlak’s campaign expenditures.
That meeting will take place at the Catholic Education Centre at 427 Rice Rd., Welland. It will be open to the public and will be available via livestream.