NOW Magazine

Bigotry blowback

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. | @nowtoronto

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