Muslim Parents Association (MPA)

Perveen Bhalagamwala

Presentation Regarding Human Rights Draft Policy
Toronto District School Board
1 Civic Center Court (Etobicoke)
Monday, January 24, 2000

Good Evening ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make a presentation on the issue of human rights in the Toronto public school system.

In this first-world country that we are living in, we usually read about ‘human rights’ in a newspaper in association with far-off places with repressive governments, civil war, and the like. The word ‘Toronto’ and the phrase ‘human rights violations’ together in a sentence would at the very least be confusing to most. Unfortunately, however, this reputation that Toronto has of being multi-cultural/multi-religious acceptant, is just that – a reputation. In reality, the track record in Toronto has shown that a clear, decisive, conscious, and a sustained program of a consistent and universal application of human rights with respect to the various cultures present in this society is lacking. All human rights issues are based on the UN Charter and Declarations; these principles are supposed to be upheld, promoted, implemented, and enforced diligently system-wide without prejudice. Although on paper we might follow these codes, they are of no benefit to the society if they aren’t implemented to completely satisfy the needs of people.

When rules are selectively, partially, and inconsistently applied, they cease to be rules. Such is the case with the Human Rights Code, its misuse is in itself is a gross violation of human rights. The results are that certain groups may gain more favor even though a large and justified opposition exists! Just consider the recent case of the hasty and unabashed adoption by Toronto District School Board of a plan of defending sexual orientation and promoting homosexual behavior in schools as normal - despite the strong principled objection by the various religious communities, and those with strong moral convictions. Sadly, this action of the Board shows they are lacking in understanding and respect that is deserved to the various cultures and religious groups in Toronto. This as a result poses grave concerns to us as parents of the various religious communities with children in the public school system.

We think of Toronto as a multicultural/multi-religious society yet the Toronto District School Boards fails to listen when a religious community objects gravely to one of their policies. We call on the public schools to respect the rights of the parents and students. UN declaration of Human Rights Article 26 section 3 clearly states "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children". The Toronto District School Board claims to include public participation and parental involvement in the policy and curriculum formulation process, but in fact, behaves selectively thereby prejudging the interest and concerns of many parents. Of what use is this participation if these concerns are not dealt with?

Certain non-academic programs and activities that are clearly against our beliefs should warrant informing the parents and therefore their consent. Although this is a logical request, we do not see this happening today. Astonishingly enough, more often than not the parents are being ignored and in their place, the school authorities are assuming responsibility for what is appropriate and acceptable for our children! As individuals, we have the right to practice and defend our faith. But again, the public school system has not made a serious attempt to respect the rights of Muslims within the school curricula and extra-curricula activities that stand in direct contradiction to Islamic values, teachings, beliefs, and practices.

We sincerely hope that our concerns are not in vain, and that today’s gathering is truly indicative of genuine concerns of the authorities to address very serious and pressing human rights issues and grievances as they relate to the parents and communities at large, especially to the Muslim community. The need for change is very real. It is necessary for the public school to work in close-cooperation and meaningful partnership with parents and their children. Therefore, we call upon Toronto District School Board and all responsible authorities in the strongest terms to implement the Human Rights Code and its Policies as they relate to the rights of parents, their children and the various religious communities. It is gross contradiction to believe that Toronto is a multi-cultural/ multi-religious society if the institutions fail to listen to such large outcries against such policies.

Thank You.