Response to the TDSB's Draft Human Rights Policy

 

The Toronto District School Board

Draft Human Rights Policy and Procedures Document

 

My name is Ahmed Motiar. I was born in South Africa and have been an active member of the ANC (African National Congress). I am now a retired teacher but am still actively involved in organizations, which focus on improving Race Relations in our schools and our communities. I am the author of "Defanging a Bully" (or, Getting Closer to God/Righteousness and Justice). I hope this background enables me to offer a perspective which will make this Human Rights Policy more fair, inclusive and just.

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The Toronto District School Board must be commended for taking the initiative to draft a Human Rights Policy, which has some excellent merits. Inviting the public to offer feedback on this policy is a welcome first step to improve on the draft policy.

I would like to draw your attention to some points, which need to be addressed lest the Human Rights Policy void itself by internal contradictions.

(1) It must at all times be "inclusive"

(2) It must not infringe upon rights protected under other codes of the policy.

 

(1) IT MUST AT ALL TIMES BE "INCLUSIVE" 

To be inclusive, the policy must not elevate one group for special protection or undue focus without according similar protection to others in similar circumstances. Otherwise, this would result in accusations of racism or double standards arising out of the text of the Boardís own draft Human Rights Policy and Procedures.

One glaring example, which violates this goal to be "inclusive", is the use of the term "anti-Semitism". According to the Glossary, (Appendix A) this refers only to the Jews. If this is so, then why not use the term "anti-Jewish". This would be far more appropriate in our multi-cultural society where the majority of the Semites are non-Jews. They are Christian and Muslim Arabs. As the term is defined in the policy it does not apply to the vast majority of Semitic people. Therefore, why not use the correct term "anti-Jewish" which is more accurate, more appropriate, and totally unambiguous.

The Human Rights Policy must not only promote inclusiveness; it must also demonstrate it within the text of its policy. Examples cited can in themselves be very powerful protections. In Section B, subsection VI, we find "anti-Semitism" singled out for special reference. First of all, as stated above, it is inaccurate. The more accurate term would be "anti-Jewish". Given that the examples provided in this policy are not value neutral, why not also offer similar protections to all other communities by adding to the text of the policy, anti-Black, anti-Catholic, anti-Islamic, anti-Sikh, anti-Hindu etc. Where an example is necessary, it would have far greater value if the selected example was of an ethnic group that is more vulnerable and subject to greater attacks than one which is not so vulnerable.

According to an Ontario Commission Report on Racism chaired by Steven Lewis, it found the most blatant racism (a serious human rights violation) was systemic racism and was especially targeted against Blacks. Nowhere in the policy document are Blacks or other visible minorities singled out for such reference. It may be argued that they are covered by the generic terms "race" or "national or ethnic origin". But then so is "anti Semitism" and the correct term "anti-Jewish" also covered by such generic terms as "creed" or "race".

The policy must decide to use generic terms to cover all groups, or offer "equal protection to all" by including every individual group in their examples or references. Singling out one but excluding the others will inevitably result in accusations of racism.

A Human Rights Policy by its mandate needs to be "inclusive". Anything less would make it less effective and open to challenges that would undermine its moral value.

 

(2) IT MUST NOT INFRINGE UPON RIGHTS PROTECTED UNDER OTHER CODES OF THE POLICY

Let me offer two examples where the Boardís Human Rights Policy promotes this anomaly.

(A) Denying historical events such as the Holocaust: (Appendix B)

Including "denying historical events such as the Holocaust" on the list of banned "hate group behaviour" raises several concerns

(i) The Holocaust is so well documented and so widely acknowledged that denying it becomes ludicrous. Given that examples cited often receive the most attention and focus, by mentioning the Holocaust as the sole example, other Genocides not mentioned are actually "marginalized or denied" by default. This does not measure well for a Human Rights Policy, which aims to be inclusive.

(ii) It is an established fact that historical events have differing interpretations depending on the perspective from which it is offered. The perspective of the victor is different from that of the vanquished. When opposing perspectives are raised pertaining to an historical event of genocide which does not fall under the umbrella of "hate behaviour", students are relaxed as there is no "threat" that a different or an unpopular perspective offered about the genocide may land one into trouble for "denying an historical event". This is as it should be within a non-threatening educational environment where ongoing research unearths new facts, which help to revise old "facts" or expose them as mere myths. However, because the Holocaust is specifically mentioned, opposing perspectives raised about the Holocaust, can result in accusations of "denial" even where both opposing viewpoints may be from Jewish sources. This creates some serious concerns about academic freedom and freedom of speech, which are important rights guaranteed to all citizens.

Therefore, by including the "denial of historical events" as part of hate group behaviour, opens the door for unnecessary disputes, introduces censorship and stifles the freedom of an academic environment. Besides, who decides when a different perspective about an event becomes "denial". Within an academic environment, learning can only find its excellence when the child has no fear of expressing his opinion, right or wrong, favourable or unfavourable. Through free discussion the learning process helps the child towards truth and justice. I would therefore urge that "denying historical events such as the Holocaust" be removed from examples of "hate group behaviours" as it would destroy academic freedom and its continued inclusion would be contested as violating oneís freedom of expressionóan equally sacred principle of Human Rights. Any infringement of these rights incorporated in the Boardís Human Rights policy can only result in unnecessary Court challenges which would seriously undermine the policy and discredit the Board.

 

(B) Portraying homosexuality as deviant behaviour. (Appendix B)

Should "gay and lesbian bashing" be under hate group behaviours? Yes, absolutely! No one denies they need this protection.

Should the "portrayal of homosexuality as deviant behaviour" be listed under hate group behaviours? Definitely not. This is because it creates internal conflicts where one groupís rights infringe upon the rights of others protected under other codes of the same policy.

One needs to make a distinction between a behaviour manifested in "gay and lesbian bashing" and the "portrayal of homosexuality as deviant behaviour" as a hate group behaviour, which is really a creed. However, every individualís creed is protected by this very same Human Rights Policy document under Section B, subsection 1: "Legislative Context: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms".

The Canadian Charter recognizes that one personís creed may clash with that of another which could create conflict. To prevent such conflict, the Charter accepts each personís creed as his/her personal choice and offers protection for that choice. This is best illustrated by the conflicting "creeds" of the three Abrahamic faith groups, namely Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Despite the different creeds held by each group about Jesus Christís divinity, they all feel protected by the Charter. The Charter protection promotes tolerance. It does not seek to change or super-impose oneís creed on another.

Sadly, this legality seems to have been overlooked in the Boardís Draft Human Rights Policy. Since the Charter guarantees protection of everyoneís creed, this Human Rights Policy document cannot seek to enforce or impose upon others the Boardís creed which states that "portraying homosexuality as deviant behaviour" is a hate behaviour. To do so, would infringe upon the rights of others, who may subscribe to a different creed, but are nonetheless protected by other codes of the Human Rights Policy. As the imposition of any creed, whether it is one that favours heterosexual behaviour or homosexual behaviour is outside its jurisdiction, it behooves the Board to remove this "homosexuality creed" from its Human Rights Policy.

Justice, it is said, must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done. The same also applies to this Human Rights Policy. It must not only be fair, inclusive, equitable, and just, but it must also be seen to be so by both the students and the public.

The Board has taken an important first step. If it ensures that the policy is fair and equitable it will promote a healthy tolerant atmosphere and decrease tensions in our schools.