School Board Meeting On Muslim Prayers Gets Ugly

World

Police were forced to intervene in a school board meeting last Wednesday when audience members shouted anti-Muslim rhetoric and tore pages from a Quran in protest of prayer spaces at schools. The anger forced the province’s Liberal government to issue a statement supporting religious accommodation to students.

Peel District School Board (PDSB), which is a public school system that encompasses the Toronto suburbs of Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon, had started providing spaces for Muslim students to meet and pray as a group every Friday. Boards are legally required to provide religious accommodation when it's requested, but critics argue a secular school system should not accommodate religion. Some schools in the Greater Toronto Area, for example, have even gone so far as to allow students to be exempted from classes- such as music and art- based on religious beliefs. However, PDSB argues that this is only a last resort after failing to reach a compromise with parents.

“We know that the Peel District School Board has been working close with their students and the community for more than a decade on religious accommodation in their schools,” Education Minister Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services, said in a statement Thursday. “We are pleased to see their commitment to inclusion. Realizing the promise of Ontario’s diverse is a continuous process grounded in actively respecting and valuing the full range of our differences.”

Brian Woodland, spokesman at Peel, told the Globe and Mail about 80 people attended the board meeting in the late evening on Wednesday. As school trustees were offering tributes to a retiring staff member, the meeting’s agenda was interrupted by the angry parents which escalated quickly. With many already riled up because the start of the event was delayed, one parent sitting in the front row began making retching noises followed by others screaming that they were being disrespected as taxpayers. Woodland recounted that one person in the audience stood up, tore up a copy of the Quran, and another person stomped on and walked on the pages. He said members of the crowd immediately began shouting “fairly horrific” anti-Muslim comments.

“We don’t want religion in schools,” screamed one unidentified woman. “Leave our kids alone.” A man in front of her took it a step further.

“People died today because of that book,” he shouted, referring to the Quran and speaking of the London terrorist attack. “You guys killed four people today.”

Other school board meetings have been disrupted lately, although this past meeting featured Ron Banerjee, head of the hardline anti-Muslim group Canadian Hindu Advocacy at the forefront. Peel Region police were on hand this past week, and about half-an-hour into the meeting were asked by the board's chair to clear the crowd out of the room. Woodland claimed that those protesting in the room were not opposed to religious accommodation, but were actually opposed to accommodating Muslims in schools.

“They used language and comments that were the most hateful that I have ever seen in my career,” Woodland said. “I was actually deeply shaken by what I hear. I’m not sure I’ve ever in my life seen this level of hatred.”

Hearing about incidents like this make the passing of M-103 in the House of Commons a little easier to understand. I still disagree with its incredibly vague language because I think the bill will be misused, but anti-Muslim rhetoric is becoming more and more commonplace.

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