A video began circulating online late last week offering $1,000.00 cash to anyone who could record hate speech coming from Muslim students. Kevin J Johnston, self-titled journalist and social commentator, added his voice to the Peel District School Board (PDSB) tensions regarding Muslim prayers during school hours.
Following protests at school board meetings where a Qur'an was destroyed, Johnston is offering his own money to any person who can record hate speech during the Jumu’ah prayers occurring in PDSB classrooms. He mentions how the sermon must be in Arabic, but that he will hire a translator to ensure that there is, in fact, hate speech contained within that sermon, stating that, “The sermons are going to be full of anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-infidel, and kaffir rhetoric.” He stipulates that the students must be identified by face and name, and that people should “be creative in the way you hide your cameras, and let’s fight for Canada!” He assures his viewers that the offer is serious, and promises to allow them to wear a mask while he hands them the cash in person.
In response, PDSB staff and students are being cautioned to remain vigilant. A memo was sent to school administrators making them aware of the video and for staff overseeing the prayers to keep an eye out for recordings.
“It is important that you make staff who supervise Friday prayer at your school aware of this challenge and ask them to be extra vigilant in their supervision and that this invasion of privacy is not appropriate.” As of writing this, the video has almost 12,000 views (in comparison to the average 1,000 views Johnson’s other videos currently have).
“Clearly this individual is trying to fund students as an incentive to breach privacy laws,” PDSB spokesperson Brian Woodland said in an email. “And the video itself prejudges our Muslim students in a way that is both unfair and untrue...Our greatest concern is that Muslim students will feel targeted and it creates an environment that isn’t safe. This is hate-filled showmanship by someone who wants attention for his ongoing attack on members of our school community.” Constable Harinder Sohi, a spokesman for Peel Regional Police, echoed the sentiment, stating that the police are investigating the incidents, treating them “very seriously and have allocated the appropriate resources as required.”
When questioned about the issue during a news conference in Toronto on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Canadians have understood our differences are a source of strength, not a source of weakness…[and they] need to continue to stand strong against intolerance and demonstrate that we know that working together is the way to build a stronger country and a stronger world.”
Johnston defended the video, insisting that he’s not racist and doesn’t believe he’s infringing on privacy laws, saying he’s “unconcerned” with them. When asked why he believes students are spewing hate speech during these Friday prayers, Johnston said:
“There are too many imams in North America who are being caught on hidden camera just like I have proposed who are spewing hate, and they’re doing it to children.” Johnston claims that he is standing up for what’s right for Canadians, because the Friday sermons are in Arabic and therefore would go unchecked by staff supervisors. But the Peel board countered by saying that the sermons are in English, as they have been for the past 20 years these prayers have been taking place. The only Arabic used are direct quotes from the Qur’an, and would continue to be supervised by a staff member.
Johnston routinely criticizes Islam and its adherents on his site, Freedom Report, which brands itself as “the last great bastion of honesty and freedom in Canada.” Two years ago, he faced off against Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie in an attempt to stop the development of an Islamic Centre but failed. Now, he’s turned his focus to the PDSB. Johnston made his thoughts known at the last school board meeting, writing that Muslim students were trying to “infiltrate Peel region public schools and spread their message of hate and death.” In the cash reward video, he calls the school board “treasonous and cowardice, and anti-Canada and anti-women” for allowing those Friday prayers. He has even falsely claimed that Muslim men regularly consume camel urine in a recent video.
Yes, there are some examples of imams delivering hate-filled sermons and even a student getting suspended for challenging a Muslim professor’s criticism of Christianity. There are real, tangible instances that deserve attention, discussion, and critical thought. But Johnston’s video is none of these. I find it hilarious that he hasn’t torn apart these examples, because they’re worthy of some analysis. I find them disturbing, but Johnson apparently doesn’t. No, instead he’s encouraging youths to spy on each other (or even lie; he stated that some kids should pretend to pray in order to get into the rooms). In fact, Johnston himself seems to be the one spreading hate messages. Kudos for him for not hiding behind a keyboard, but his rhetoric is a part of this disturbing discriminatory movement gaining momentum. He’s encouraging bigotry and trying to get kids to break the law to join him. He doesn’t have any evidence about the supposed hate in these classroom prayers, so he’s offering money to get some. Maybe Johnston needs to go back to school to get a refresher on the scientific method; evidence comes before conclusions. You can’t accuse the school board of allowing hate speech before you have examples. Sidenote: extra creepy that he demands students faces and names must be identifiable to get the $1,000.00.
I personally think all public schools should have nothing to do with religion at all. As one commenter said on my last article, “Go to school, get an education-that’s what you’re there for.” It is. Schools are about education, and that should be it. I understand the school board is only doing what is required by law in providing religious accommodation, but it’s becoming pretty clear that people cannot come together and allow these religious accommodations without a huge fight. Either all religions are treated equally, or no religion can be allowed at all. I’m obviously for the latter, because academics and religion should be segregated to provide reasonable, just, and informed decisions. You know, kind of like how the church and state are supposed to be. But it appears that, like the church and state, people are stomping all over this distinction and just want to wage ideological war. The first step to a war? Financial funding. And Johnston’s providing the money for people to start searching for hate-speech, essentially starting a hunt for ‘weapons of mass destruction’ so people can start justifying casualties.
The only casualties from this are the children. I’m not trying to make a “think of the children!” argument, but this is really about the kids. These are kids, in a goddamn school, trying to learn and grow up. Leave them out of the perverse obsession with slandering Islam and Muslims.