Stephen Lecce, one of Doug Ford’s highest profile cabinet ministers, is apologizing in the midst of the Ontario election campaign for his involvement in what his fraternity called a “slave auction” fundraiser 15 years ago.
Lecce participated in a 2006 Sigma Chi event dubbed a “slave auction” while a member of the fraternity’s chapter at Western University, the left-leaning PressProgress website reported Tuesday night.
A few hours after the story appeared, Lecce issued a two-line statement apologizing “unreservedly” and not denying his participation.
“The event from 2006 was inappropriate and in no way reflects who I am as a person, which is why I unreservedly apologize,” Lecce said in the statement.
“I will continue to passionately advance the interests of all Ontarians — irrespective of faith, heritage, orientation or race.”
In a statement to CBC News Wednesday, the executive director of Sigma Chi’s international headquarters said the fraternity was “disappointed” to learn of the incident. Michael Church said the organization “does not condone any activity that is destructive, demeaning or abusive to anyone or any group nor does it condone any form of personal degradation.”
The Ontario New Democrats want Lecce to do more than apologize. They are calling for him to withdraw as a PC election candidate in the King–Vaughan riding.
“Slavery is not a joke,” said an NDP news release signed by three of the party’s Black candidates: Jill Andrew (Toronto–St. Paul’s), Faisal Hassan (York South–Weston), and Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre).
“Mr. Lecce chose to lead and participate in events that mocked and trivialized this painful history. He also chose to conceal them for years as a public official,” said the NDP candidates.
“Under no circumstances should the people of this province, or even more alarmingly our children, be represented by him at this time.”
Velma Morgan, chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, agrees, adding that she thought it was a joke when she first heard about the incident.
“When I realized it wasn’t I was completely horrified,” she said in an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning Wednesday.
WATCH | Lecce faces calls to withdraw in the midst of the Ontario election campaign:
Morgan said political candidates must be held to a higher standard to ensure incidents like these surface before officials have been elected.
She also said she hopes incidents like these spark change among voters.
“I do hope people look at this and say, ‘We need someone who’s going to represent our values,'” Morgan said.
Lecce became fraternity leader in 2008
Lecce went on to become a leader of the Sigma Chi fraternity in 2008, when the PressProgress report says a “slave auction” also occurred.
An official with the Ontario PC Party said Lecce has no recollection of the 2008 event.
“He participated in Derby Days, a week-long effort to raise funds for the Children’s Miracle Network, and that usually included an auction,” said the party official in an email to CBC News.
“It was an auction for charity, with an inappropriate name. No one referred to it as that or remembers it as that,” the official said.
Lecce has served as education minister in the Ford government for nearly three years.