Police in the Toronto suburb of Peel are charging a local man who was concerned with Muslim students being granted special Friday prayer time with “wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.”
CBC News reports that Kevin Johnston made news a few months ago when he offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could provide video of Muslim students “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.” Police say Johnston was arrested for “numerous incidents” and won’t say if the YouTube video is one of those but that the charge “concerns over information published on various social media sites.”
The Peel region has been the focus of numerous school board protests because Muslim students are allowed to conduct Friday prayer services in Arabic and many parents are concerned that these events are potential focal points for radicalization.
Peel police Sgt. Josh Colley told CBC Toronto that Johnston was arrested after a five-month investigation that apparently focused on “messaging” that the police considered hateful.
“It’s not a private message that he was conveying, it was a public message … Anyone could hear, understand the messaging, so that’s where the communicating hateful messages comes into play,” Colley said. Even though the “the group that was targeted was the Muslim community,” Colley said that “affects us all.”
The Ontario government has already branded the opponents of the Muslim school prayers as racists and Islamophobes. In March, two cabinet ministers issued a public statement in support of the Muslim prayer days. “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. 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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the YouTube video in April, saying critics of Muslims having special Friday prayer sessions need “to ensure that everyone understands [and respects] their neighbors.”
He further claimed that “Canadians have understood that our differences are a source of strength, not a source of weakness” at a news conference just outside of Toronto.