Stephen Lecce, one of Doug Ford’s most prominent cabinet ministers, apologizes amid the Ontario election campaign for his involvement in what his fraternity called a ‘slave auction’ fundraiser 15 years ago years.
Lecce took part in a 2006 Sigma Chi event dubbed a “slave auction” while he was a member of the fraternity chapter at Western University, the left-leaning website PressProgress reported late Tuesday.
Hours after the story broke, Lecce issued a two-line statement apologizing “unreservedly” and not denying his involvement.
“The 2006 event 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 advocate for the interests of all Ontarians, regardless of religion, heritage, orientation or race.”
In a statement to CBC News on Wednesday, the executive director of Sigma Chi International Headquarters said the fraternity was “disappointed” to learn of the incident. Michael Church said the organization “does not tolerate any destructive, degrading or abusive activity towards anyone or any group, or any form of personal degradation”.
Ontario New Democrats want Lecce to do more than apologize. They are asking that he step down as the Conservative candidate in the King–Vaughan riding.
“Slavery is no joke,” said an NDP press 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 Center).
“Mr. Lecce chose to lead and participate in events that mocked and trivialized this painful history. He also chose to hide them for years as a public servant,” the NDP candidates said.
“In no way should the people of this province, or even more alarmingly our children, be represented by him at this time.”
Velma Morgan, president of Operation Black Vote Canada, agrees, adding that she thought it was a joke when she first heard about the incident.
“When I realized that wasn’t the case, I was completely horrified,” she said in an interview with CBC. Subway morning Wednesday.
WATCH | Lecce faces calls to step down amid Ontario election campaign:
Morgan said political candidates must be held to a higher standard to ensure incidents like these surface before officials are elected.
She also said she hopes incidents like these will spark change among voters.
“I hope people look at this and say, ‘We need someone who will represent our values,'” Morgan said.
Lecce became the leader of the fraternity in 2008
Lecce became a leader of the Sigma Chi fraternity in 2008, when the PressProgress report said a “slave auction” also took place.
An Ontario PC Party official said Lecce had no memory of the 2008 event.
“He participated in Derby Days, a week-long effort to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, which usually included an auction,” the party official said in an email to CBC News.
“It was a charity auction, with an inappropriate name. No one referred to it or remembered it like that,” the official said.
Lecce served as education minister in the Ford government for nearly three years.