PRESENTATION TO TDSB’s STANDING COMMITTEE
155 COLLEGE STREET TORONTO, ONTARIO M5T 1P6
WEDNESDAY APRIL 12, 2000
Attn: Standing Committee
Re: Human Rights Draft Policy
Ladies and gentlemen, once again we have the opportunity to express our concerns related to the Human Rights Draft Policy and assist in its development. We acknowledge and appreciate that some of our concerns were incorporated in the revised draft. However, we still have serious concerns about certain practices, procedures and policies related to equity issues that are contained in the foundation statement. The Board has an obligation to provide equitable treatment, the mechanisms and opportunities regarding all equity issues with the same level of importance.
I would like to bring to your attention the Board’s practices and procedures regarding equity and fundamental human rights, especifically the faith policy that is currently being developed behind closed doors by the TDSB staff, rather than following the same procedures and template of Memorandum 119 that were used to develop previous documents that the Board adopted in December 15, 1999. This is a blatant inconsistency and a grossly inequitable practice of the Board. The Board must be reminded that it has an obligation to treat and regard all issues that are contained in the foundation statement fairly and equitably. Such unacceptable practices bring attention to the issue of accommodation. It seems that certain groups gain easier access to accommodation over others. Why?
Since the Board is also responsible to ensure protection for students of faith communities under the Human Rights Code, accomodation must be comprehensive and transparent and as well specified in the Human Rights Draft Policy. Up to date, Muslims are being systematically discriminated against and denied accommodation on the basis of their faith. Thus, the urgency for transparent implementation of the rights of the Muslim community cannot be over emphasised.
On p. 75, no. 2, ‘forms of discrimination’:
Bullet #5 states: "Failure to reasonable accommodation short of undue hardship on any of the grounds covered by this policy."
Bullet #8 states: "Negative or ‘poisoned’ environments created and fostered by acts or omission that maintain offensive or intimidating climates for study or work. Poisoned learning environments include inappropriate or non-inclusive curriculum and pedagogy, bias or discriminatory comments made by teachers and other employees. Poisoned working environments thrive where there is managerial or supervisory condonation of discriminatory or harassing behaviour. Poisoned environments can also be created where there is inattention to fair and equitable recruitment and employment policies, practices, and procedures."
Based on the above mentioned categorisation of forms of discrimination, on p. 85, ‘duty to accommodate’ must be upgraded to include children of faith background. These children should be accommodated regarding curriculum materials, activities, practices and program that are consistent with their beliefs as a matter of right and Board policies. Also, it is incumbent that staff members of Muslim denomination should not be forced to teach or instruct any materials against their beliefs, morals, and values. These issues are crucial and need to be clearly spelled out in the document.
In addition, the parental rights, more often than not, are being denied in regards to curriculum materials, programs, and activities. The Human Rights Draft Policy neither covers nor ensures protection of parental rights. The document must be clear about the rights of parents to object to any material, program, or activity that are introduced to their children which directly conflicts with their beliefs. The document should clearly state that in such cases, the parents’ requests should be respected and their children should be provided with acceptable alternatives. This is both a matter of their rights and the responsibilities of the Board and cannot be overlooked.
In comparison to others, the rights of the Muslim community in particular are not being fully addressed or dealt with seriously by the TDSB. These rights are being systematically set aside indefinitely or being placed on the backburner.
The TDSB must provide in-school service and workshops for their staff, at all levels, regarding Muslim students. The TDMEA is constantly receiving many complaints about the peculiar attitude of the administratives and staffs, their practices, and lack of knowledge about Islamic culture. The result is that we are being marginalised. Our children and parents are being continuously and systemically mishandled, harassed and discriminated against, on a regular basis.
Furthermore, the TDSB’s homosexual agenda that is being imposed on our children is causing much frustration and harm to parents. Promoting one group while infringing on the rights of others itself constitutes a serious violation of the Human Right code. Systematic discrimination against particular groups and the introduction of homosexual lifestyles through curriculum materials directly conflict with our faith as Muslims, especially when parents are deliberately not being informed or being deceived.
Such attitudes and practices constitute a direct attack on parental rights and this practice of the Board makes them feel frustrated, powerless and worried by the unsafe and poisonous school environment. This undermines public trust in the school authorities. The Board, as a matter of policy, systematically engages in blatant tactics by the convenient use of such buzz-words as "tolerance" and "equity" in order to justify its conduct. The fact is that children are being taught by the public schools to believe that the indulgence in homosexual practices is normal. This is contradictory to these children’s belief and contrary to scientific reality. Why then are children not being taught religion on the same claim of "tolerance" and "equity"? What is so special about homosexual perversion that this tiny issue should be given such a disproportionate priority in the public schools over others?
To be fair and equitable, the TDSB should provide workshops on Islam and other faiths and cultures similar to those held for ‘homophobia’ under the ruse of ‘tolerance’. The TDSB has an obligation to provide resources (books, video tapes, materials. Etc.) and opportunities to all children and staff in the public system if it is serious about tolerance, equity, fairness, inclusiveness and the human rights of all without exception.
It is a sad fact in the public schools that Muslim students are being systematically harassed, mishandled, mistreated, punished and marginalized. This constitutes an abuse by administratives, staff and all those responsible for festering such an environment for our children. Some parents were also threatened that if they did not sign certain forms their children cannot attend schools. These attitudes and practices continue within the Board without the administratives being held responsible and accountable for their actions.
The TDSB is urged to immediately undertake extensive workshops across the city to educate their staff on how to deal with Muslim children on an equitable basis and with respect and dignity. Our children have the same rights to protection like any other children in the system. Simply having a laudable Human Rights Policy without a serious and transparent implementation plan with the appropriate mechanisms in place to eliminate barriers in the system is meaningless because it does not protect peoples’ rights.
It is moreover incumbent that the TDSB hire qualified and competent individuals from the Muslim community to provide guidance and counselling to our children and not simply use settlement workers to do so because they are not necessarily qualified or equipped with the requisite Islamic knowledge or practice of the religion.
Appendix A contains the term "anti-Semitism" which is dubious. It does not reflect the real meaning intended and should be replaced with the corrected definition. We have to be clear and precise in what we mean.
Appendix B, is also very problematic because of the example provided. It is better for the example to be eliminated because it is highly suggestive of bias. It should be based on generic prohibited grounds of discrimination because the same discrimination apply to all prohibited grounds of discrimination and not limited to those specifically mentioned groups only.
· Like any other policy, the Human Rights Policy should have an implementation plan in place, made transparent and a timeframe for implementation.
· The Human Rights Policy should be reviewed yearly to ensure its effectiveness. Also, a copy of the Human Rights Code should be attached to the document. For the system to work, accountability must be taken into account.
· The Human Rights Office should be independent of the Human resources department in order to function without impediments, ensure impartiality and create trust. It should be reasonably staffed in order to deal adequately with complaints within a reasonable time.
· Throughout the document, the statement, ‘posting hate material or graffiti, etc’, should include the term ‘offensive’.
The TDMEA calls for the immediate implementation of the relevant human rights codes and policies and an upgrading of those codes and policies in order to protect the rights of all the members of the diverse communities without exception in the public school system in the GTA. It is the responsibility of the Board to do what it is mandated to do; it is the right of children and parents to be fully accommodated in the public school system that they belong. It is imperative that the Board be subject to public scrutiny and be held accountable for its actions.