The Ontario provincial government sanctioned special religious status for Muslim students in the public school system after the Canadian House of Commons voted in favor of an “Islamophobia” motion Thursday that critics say could have long-term consequences on freedom of speech.
The Peel District School Board, responsible for a large swath of schools in the suburbs of Toronto, allows Muslim students to hold regular Friday prayer session on school time and on school property. Parents have objected to this practice because they say Christians and Jews are not allowed to hold religious meetings.
“I have met with the leadership of Peel and have obviously been very concerned about what I’ve seen and heard,” said Education Minister Mitzie Hunter in a joint statement with Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau, who back the school board. Later, she told reporters in Toronto, “It felt important to Minister Coteau and I to really reinforce our expectations … there’s just no tolerance for discrimination of any sort. We don’t tolerate issues of racism and Islamophobia.”
The school prayers have become an issue because local imams are invited to pray and speak to the students in Arabic, and the school board cannot provide assurances that the students are not being subjected to radical Islamic indoctrination.
Last week a video surfaced on YouTube that featured an imam speaking to a Montreal mosque, in which he urged the congregation “to kill the Jew behind you.”
Harvey Levine, the Quebec director of B’nai Brith, the Jewish human rights organization, told The Daily Caller that the outrage is nothing new and that other incidents like it have occurred in the city. He has asked Montreal police to investigate for potential violation of hate crimes but they have not charged anyone.
The two Ontario ministers dismissed the concerns of parents and refused to address the question of why one religion is being taught in public schools, saying such a practice was in full compliance with the human rights code and religious accommodation guidelines.
They suggested opposition to the weekly prayers was based in prejudice.
“While it is our expectation that all public school boards comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, we know that hate continues to spread, even in the most diverse regions of our province.”
At the Peel board’s Wednesday night meeting, a group of almost 100 protesters refused to be ignored, prompting the board’s chairwoman, Janet McDougald, to speak: “To say it’s disrespectful is a great understatement. It’s hateful — the social media has just been abysmal, it’s just been awful, and some of our students are feeling a little unsafe because of it.”
McDougald has previously angrily told parents to leave the board meeting and called at least one a “racist.” The mayor of Brampton has also joined the Islamophobia chorus, claiming the parents are purveyors of “misinformation and hateful speech.”
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