over reprimand

Montreal-Philippines cutlery controversy

The Montreal-Philippines cutlery controversy was an international incident that arose in 2006, when a 7-year-old boy of Filipino birth was repeatedly disciplined by authorities in his elementary school in the Montreal suburb of Roxboro, for using his cutlery in a Filipino way. The boy's parents protested, and the story was picked up by the media; in response, the Canadian embassy in Manila was surrounded by protestors, and Jose Brillantes, the Philippines Ambassador to Canada, issued an official condemnation, saying that it was "an affront to Filipino culture.

Some commentators saw it as a regrettable example of prejudice and culture clash between minority and nativist elements, what is referred to in the local press as testing the limits of reasonable accommodation, especially since that particular school board had previously ejected a Sikh student for carrying a kirpan.


In April 2006, the boy was disciplined on ten separate occasions by the school lunchroom monitor for "disgusting" and "piggish" eating habits: using a fork to push his food onto a spoon before eating it. The school board countered that the boy was punished only for disruptive behavior. The boy's mother pursued a formal apology, reporting that, in a telephone conversation with school principal Normand Bergeron, he had told her "Madame, you are in Canada. Here in Canada you should eat the way Canadians eat.

The story first appeared in the West Island Chronicle. According to the Montreal-area newspaper, "When (the boy's mother) questioned Bergeron about punishing students for their table habits, she says he replied that, 'If your son eats like a pig he has to go to another table because this is the way we do it and how we’re going to do it every time.'"

In a Chronicle article, Bergeron expanded on his comments. He claimed that the boy is sometimes disruptive, and that was the reason for his being disciplined, not his fork and spoon habits.

“[In my conversation with (the mother)] I said, ‘Here, this is not the manner in which we eat.’

“I don’t necessarily want students to eat with one hand or with only one instrument, I want them to eat intelligently at the table ... I want them to eat correctly with respect for others who are eating with them. That’s all I ask. Personally, I don’t have any problems with it, but it is not the way you see people eat every day. I have never seen somebody eat with a spoon and a fork at the same time.”

Later reporting alleged that the boy was warned that he was tardy at the table, and so he reverted to the spoon-feeding method to save time. The boy said that he was separated from his lunchmates any time he ate that way.

Bergeron was subsequently restrained from speaking on the issue by the school board; spokesperson Brigitte Gavreau stated that board policy is that students can eat with any utensils.

A score of protestors outside the Canadian Embassy in Manila appealed for "respect for cultural diversity" and affirmed "we eat with a spoon and we're proud." The item was quickly picked up worldwide, especially in Filipino newspapers and websites.

A security guard was assigned to the primary school, a police cruiser went on duty, and the school principal received a death threat. Fo Niemi, the boy's family's lawyer and the executive director for the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, had to actively discourage people from the Filipino community from protesting in front of the school board.

France Pilon, the assistant director of the school board, said that the boy's parents were repeatedly invited to meet with school officials, but declined, reportedly on legal advice. Pilon also said that the boy's parents have instructed him to eat apart from other students.

The case was brought to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal for formal mediation. Should mediation fail, a formal inquiry will be held. In the meantime, the boy has been transferred to a different elementary school.

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