Are Jewish students next on anti-Muslim bigots’ hit list?
Last month, Canadians witnessed an vile scene: angry parents picketing in front of John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga hurling bigoted statements at Muslim children and their parents over the school’s accommodation of Muslim prayer.
Protestors wore T-shirts proclaiming “Stop Islam; Save Humanity” and engaged in Islamophobic vitriol claiming Islam was engaged in “pedophilia, rape culture violence and barbarity.”
Peel police incomprehensibly stood by even as the bullies spat verbal abuse. They contend there was nothing said that contravened antihate laws.
The picket, organized by parent Paul Marker, was supported by wellknown anti-Muslim organization Rise Canada, and was directed at the Peel District School Board’s decision to allow a prayer room for Muslim students at Peel schools, a religious accommodation long permitted under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
It was a shameful display, but it got me thinking.
Suppose in the not too distant future, Orthodox Jewish children whose parents cannot afford to send them to private Jewish day schools decided to have them educated in Ontario public schools.
The schools would, of course, have to accommodate the children’s religious beliefs and part of that might be the use of a prayer room for morning and afternoon services. Oh, and Orthodox Jewish tradition demands that young boys and girls be separated during prayer services after the age of 13.
Schools in areas with large Jewish populations might have to alter the school day or close entirely for Jewish holidays. Other accommodations might include provisions for kosher food and early closing on Friday prior to the beginning of the Sabbath. All of these accommodations are protected under Ontario human rights law.
How long do you think it would take before the same bigots that are attacking Islamic students in Peel turn their attention to Jewish students in public schools in say, Thornhill?
The truth is Ontario has, unlike other provinces and Western democracies, chosen not to provide funding for any faith-based schools other than Roman Catholic.
Many have argued that the current system favouring educational funding for one religious group is discriminatory.
But such funding was found to be constitutional as part of a historical agreement that protected Catholic rights in Upper Canada and Protestant rights in Lower Canada under the British North America Act, legislation that led to the establishment of our country.
Those parents in Ontario who desired a faith-based education for their children are forced to go the private route and pay heavily for it.
Today, faith-based schools are becoming increasingly unaffordable and religious-minded parents are sending their children to public schools. Here in Ontario, in order to be inclusive, schools provide reasonable accommodation to meet the needs of observant children.
Ontario has opted for a model of inclusivity. This means that as Ontarians, we are obliged to make sure our schools and other public institutions are truly inclusive.
And that means ensuring that bigots and bullies who would spew hate are removed from school property and, when necessary, charged under Canada’s anti-hate laws. Bernie M. Farber is executive director of the Mosaic Institute. firstname.lastname@example.org | @nowtoronto