They’ve been called hot spots. It’s actually ‘code’ for social inequity

More analysis confirming COVID-related racial and other disparities:

People who live in Toronto and Peel COVID-19 hot spots are on average nearly twice as likely to be racialized and about four times more likely to be employed in manufacturing and utilities compared to those in the regions’ other neighbourhoods, a new analysis shows. 

New research from the Gattuso Centre for Social Medicine at University Health Network also highlights how residents of these hot-spot areas are, on average, more than twice as likely to work in trades, transportation and equipment operation and also more likely to meet low-income thresholds.

While the public has heard over the past year that racialized people, those with lower-income status and essential workers are bearing a disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, the analysis from the Gattuso Centre highlights at a granular level who actually lives in the neighbourhoods hardest hit by the virus, how much money they make, and what they do for a living. 

“When we talk about ‘hot spot’ postal codes, what we’re really talking about is the structural determinants of health. Social inequities and the pathologies of poverty have been driving this pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of the Gattuso Centre. “This is further evidence that life-saving measures need to get to neighbourhoods with the highest structural risks –– this at the very least means community leadership driving vaccine rollouts and better safety measures at workplaces.”

Using Census data, the social medicine team looked at demographics in Toronto’s 13 “sprint” strategy communities deemed most at-risk and compared it with the rest of Toronto’s forward sortation areas (the first three characters in postal codes). They also compared hot spots in Toronto and Peel with the remainder of neighbourhoods in those regions, and did a similar comparison of all of Ontario’s 114 hot spots with postal codes in the rest of the province.

In virtually every case, the most at-risk neighbourhoods had, on average, higher proportions of racialized individuals, those who meet low-income measures, people who work in manufacturing and utilities, and those employed in trades, transportation and equipment operation. 

For example, M3N, which includes Jane and Finch and Black Creek, has the most manufacturing and utilities employment, the sixth-highest proportion of people who meet low-income thresholds, the eighth highest employment in trades, transportation and equipment operation, and is the 10th most racialized community out of all postal codes in Toronto and Peel.

Similarly, L6R, in northern Brampton, has the most trades, transportation and equipment-operation employment, the fourth-most manufacturing and utilities employment and is the third-most racialized postal code out of all Toronto and Peel neighbourhoods. 

The only exception the researchers found was in the Ontario-wide hot-spot comparison, in which the percentage of people who work in trades, transportation and equipment operation in hot spots was slightly lower than non-hot-spot neighbourhoods.

“That’s the thing with this data, it also really shows the disparity. It really shows that no, we haven’t all been through the same experience with COVID,” said Sané Dube, Manager, Community and Policy with Social Medicine at UHN, using the example of someone who makes over $100,000 annually, lives in downtown Toronto and can pay for their groceries to be delivered.

“That is very different from the experience from the person who is making $30,000 in a grocery store, has continued to work the whole pandemic and lives in a certain part of the neighbourhood. There’s this idea that we’ve all had the same experience in this pandemic. We haven’t. This really brings that home.”

Laura Rosella, scientific director of the Population Health Analytics Lab at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a collaborator on the analysis, notes that hot spots are vulnerable for different reasons, which is why connections between policy-makers and the communities are so important.

“The data kind of gives you that first layer, saying we need to pay attention here. Then it’s the conversations with the community that will tell you what the solutions are,” Rosella said. “The data alone won’t tell you what the solutions are. The community will.”

Michelle Dagnino, executive director of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre, says that while she is not surprised by the data, many people, including many who work in social services, did not realize just how many people in vulnerable areas have continued to go to work throughout the pandemic. 

“I think there was a sense that there were going to be more workplace shutdowns than there ever actually ended up being. The definition of ‘essential’ just ended up being so broad in terms of these workplaces,” she said. 

“Effectively, all of our factory workers, whether they’re manufacturing glass panes or producing clothing or whether they’re delivering factory-made goods through Amazon distribution centres, they have been open the whole time. And the consequences of that in this third wave have led us to a situation where we have seen racialized, low-income workers dying because they’ve had to continue to go to work.”



South Asians play a part in COVID-19 transmission and we need to acknowledge it

Important and courageous piece by South Asian Canadian doctors:

Canadian society is an interwoven matrix of multiculturalism that contributes to the strength of our nation. The South Asian community comprises a significant part of this rich heterogeneity. Today, we write to you both as physicians, and also members of this vibrant community.

South Asian culture itself is extremely diverse, but there are some themes that are common throughout the vast subcontinent. One such theme is hospitality to others, no matter what background or creed. A guest leaving your house on an empty stomach is considered a travesty, and results in long meals and conversation. 

We grew up with a strong bond with our elderly relatives, and many of us still live in multi-generational families, respecting the traditions of our ancestors before us. Our weddings, cultural holidays, and music nights celebrate not only our unique culture, but embrace the family and friends that enrich our lives. This is the ethos that shaped us as health care providers and human beings. 

COVID-19 has changed the life of everyone on the planet, and South Asians are certainly no exception. The virus that transmits from person to person (especially in close, indoor environments) are the same places we find the most comfort in our community. While we all have been given the same public health advice and messaging, it is increasingly apparent that some groups are being affected harder than others. 

It is time to acknowledge that South Asians are acquiring and dying of COVID-19 at a degree higher than other Canadians, and we need to take immediate action.

The evidence is fairly profound. In Peel Region, one of the hardest hit areas across the country, South Asians account for about a third of the population, but account for almost half the COVID-19 cases. 

COVID-19 has changed the life of everyone on the planet, and South Asians are certainly no exception. The virus that transmits from person to person (especially in close, indoor environments) are the same places we find the most comfort in our community. While we all have been given the same public health advice and messaging, it is increasingly apparent that some groups are being affected harder than others. 

It is time to acknowledge that South Asians are acquiring and dying of COVID-19 at a degree higher than other Canadians, and we need to take immediate action.

The evidence is fairly profound. In Peel Region, one of the hardest hit areas across the country, South Asians account for about a third of the population, but account for almost half the COVID-19 cases. 

In Toronto, despite only being about a tenth of the population, South Asians account for a fifth of total cases. The city of Surrey in British Columbia, where approximately 30 per cent identify as South Asian, there have been three times the number of cases of any other greater Vancouver area. 

Many well publicized COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada have been associated with South Asian events, such as weddings. When these infections are later introduced into a large, multi-generational household, it’s easy to see how the problem can compound quickly. 

What are the consequences of this spread? South Asian populations are at higher risk for dying of COVID-19. Canadian data suggests the rate of death is 25 per cent higher in neighbourhoods with large South Asian communities as compared to those with small communities. 

A large study from the United Kingdom suggested South Asians were more likely to die of COVID-19 than the general population. The high rates of underlying diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and obesity within the South Asian population are the very profile of risk factors that increase the risk of hospitalization, intensive care stay, and death with COVID-19. 

Furthermore, South Asians have a strong presence in public-facing professions in health care, commercial business, and the service/manufacturing industry, creating a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19 outside of home. 

Financial instability, particularly amongst new Canadians, creates disincentives for testing and participating in contact tracing. People afraid of losing income are liable to go to work even if feeling unwell thereby further propagating the spread of infection. 

Family structures, embracing our multi-generational cultures, create situations where young and old mix with prolonged close contact. Stigmatization, particularly of those who need to go into isolation or infect others, creates more hesitancy around testing when symptomatic. 

The next few months pose a difficult journey for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the time for action is now. Our health care providers, communication experts, cultural and religious leaders, and the community as a whole need to embrace this challenge. 

Our values teach us the ethics of protecting our communities, and in this pandemic, protecting our most vulnerable members is a part of that. We need to examine our day-to-day activities, and provide support for one another, but in a safe way where non-essential contact is minimized. 

Indoor gatherings of individuals outside of our direct household must be temporarily stopped in order to limit spread — particularly with large celebrations, such as Diwali, upcoming. 

We need to be creative with outdoor spaces, trying to allow for some in person interaction while minimizing risk. 

We need to create virtual support networks to provide the stability and welfare of our community. 

We need to reach those suffering mental health and other consequences of the pandemic. 

Finally, we need to create culturally and linguistically appropriate materials to disseminate amongst our hardest to reach, encouraging distancing, hand hygiene, masking, self evaluation for symptoms, how to access testing, and holistic support for those who test positive. 

From a societal standpoint — a recognition of this minority community that has been hit particularly hard is paramount. Partnering with our local public health units and trying to engage our community leaders is essential for creating a position of trust. Understanding the cultural contexts that are unique to our population, such as multi-generational families, public-facing occupations, poor English literacy, and densely populated communities, allow for individualized planning that benefits society as a whole. 

The next few months pose a difficult journey for COVID-19 cases and deaths, and the time for action is now. Our health care providers, communication experts, cultural and religious leaders, and the community as a whole need to embrace this challenge. 

Creating campaigns discouraging large gatherings around festive events, rites of passage, and religious ceremonies, with local cultural leaders will help to prevent scenarios involving sustained indoor spread. Encouraging healthy workplaces, particularly reinforcing indoor masking and avoidance of prolonged close contact is paramount. 

The successes of these campaigns will not only benefit the South Asian population, but given how interwoven we are, the larger community will also prosper. The financial and human resource needs should be prioritized for the greater good of our society.

Many of our community made incredible sacrifices leaving their homes across the globe to reestablish themselves in Canada for the promise of a better life. We are fortunate in Canada to live in a society where our customs and traditions can be practiced freely, and we can contribute to the growth and success of our nation in all sectors. 

The time has come for us to recognize that collaboration with internal and external stakeholders in the South Asian community will lead to more sustainable outcomes for COVID-19 transmission, and the health of our community. 

Dr. Zain Chagla is an infectious diseases physician, St Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton and associate professor at McMaster University.Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti is an infectious diseases physician in Mississauga and a lecturer at the University of Toronto.Dr. Tajinder Kaura is an emergency medicine physician at the William Osler Health System and a clinical assistant professor (Adj) at McMaster University.


Peel board review team finds ‘racism and discrimination’ and slams administrators for inaction

Of note:

Three reviewers sent in to investigate the Peel school board heard “painful and difficult” stories of racism — including how white supremacists attend meetings — and have reprimanded senior leaders for being “paralyzed by inaction” to make changes.

The reviewers detail how racism disproportionately impacts Black students, from lower enrolment in academic classes to higher suspension rates — and often for dubious reasons such as “wearing a hoodie,” do-rags or even hoop earrings, says the reviewers’ report, obtained by the Star.

Their report, to be released Friday, also covers issues of equity, poor leadership and a lack of diverse staffing, including a dearth of Black guidance counsellors in the province’s second largest board.

“The accounts of racism and discrimination documented in the report are deeply troubling and will not be tolerated,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement. “After decades of inaction, I want to see swift implementation of these recommendations to drive the change racialized and other discriminated students deserve.”

Lecce said “students and the community have demanded change and I want to assure them that we will monitor board implementation and hold them to account to deliver this transformational change that will put every student on a path to success.”

The reviewers — Ena Chadha, Sue Herbert and Shawn Richard — were called in to probe the board late last year as it struggled with allegations of racism, dysfunction and troubling trustee conduct. Patrick Case — a human rights lawyer and assistant deputy education minister — oversaw and assisted in the investigation.

In their final report, the review team found that “some teachers use any excuse to exclude Black students from the classroom and some principals use any excuse to suspend Black students from schools.”

Black students comprise 10.2 per cent of high school students, but make up 22.5 per cent of those suspended — and many of those suspensions don’t meet standards set by the Ministry of Education, they found.

“During our review, Black youth told us that they feel like they are held to higher standards, and different codes of conduct in comparison to white or other racialized students,” and that they are disproportionately streamed into classes that don’t give them the requirements for university, the report says.

“It is untenable that, for many years, the board has been unaware of this terrible state of affairs.”

Black students are the target of “degrading, inappropriate and racist comments” made by teachers and principals, and often hear the N-word uttered by other students without punishment, the report says.

They heard about one teacher who commented that a Black student “will be a drug dealer just like his dad.”

The level of enrolment of Black students in specialized arts schools or International Baccalaureate programs is “abysmal,” and disproportionately low for students of Latin American heritage, the reviewers found.

Islamophobia is also a concern, and the reviewers said they “were provided with French curriculum materials that were clearly Islamophobic, conveyed blatant hostility to the Muslim community and an ignorance of the basic tenants of Islam.”

In speaking to Muslim students and community members, the reviewers said they heard of many incidents of Islamophobia. “Citing conflicts referable to prayers in (Peel) schools and the presence of white supremacists at a meeting of the board of trustees, we heard from the students, families, and educators of the real need for an Islamic co-ordinator to support Muslim students.”

The reviewers acknowledged that trustees and administrators agreed there is anti-Black racism in the board, yet have done nothing to address it.

Teachers and principals “escalate trivial issues unnecessarily…involving police for minor issues leading to arrests and stigmatization of Black children at a very young age,” the report said. Black children, it added, “are leaving the (Peel board) because it is not safe for them.”

The report also says that “approximately 25 per cent of (staff) are racialized, which is almost the opposite of the demographics of the student body.”

In their interim report released in January, the three reviewers said they had already “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”

The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment.”

The reviewers began their work amid turmoil at the board and after a trustee referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint.

Their report demands that the board “immediately issue a responsive and respectful public apology for the mishandling” of the McCrimmon incident — and it also noted that other diverse schools are known by disparaging nicknames, including Central Peel being referred to as “Central Africa,” and Meadowvale as “Meadow Jail.”

The report also directs the boards to create a four-year plan to improve enrolment and achievement of Black and other racialized students.

Among staff, the reviewers found a “culture of fear” — which past reviews of other boards, including the Toronto public, have also uncovered — as well as poor communications with the community. Trustees, who are bitterly divided, were criticized for often overstepping their roles in hiring and promotions.

“The (Peel District School Board) is facing a crisis of confidence,” they wrote.

Among their recommendations: hire a mediator to broker peace among trustees, as well as between trustees and senior administrators; improved trustee training; and also to “retain the services of an integrity commissioner who has demonstrated experience in, and knowledge of, human rights principles.”

The Peel District School Board has more than 155,000 students in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools, and about 17,000 staff members.

It is highly diverse, and among students the three largest groups are South Asian (45 per cent), white (17 per cent) and Black (10 per cent).

The reviewers heard from more than 300 people, including 115 in-person interviews.

They also noted that there are issues of “factional violence amongst South Asian communities and, in particular, in relation to male youths of the north Brampton Punjabi community” that teachers and administrators “either ignored or were indifferent to the violence.”

Drug and alcohol abuse is also a concern in the South Asian community.

Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s newly named advocate for community opportunities, said the minister is taking action on the recommendations and that is “an important step toward building a public school system that gives each child — regardless of race, background, or postal code — a fair start in life.”

He said “with the announcement of 29 new ministerial directives, the Government of Ontario is positioning the (Peel board) to immediately strengthen its governance and leadership practices to focus its attention on ensuring that all (Peel) students can realize their full potential in classrooms and schools where they are supported, respected, valued and welcomed.”

Source: Peel board review team finds ‘racism and discrimination’ and slams administrators for inaction

Racism probe finds ‘marginalization, discrimination, harassment’ in Peel school board

Ongoing review:

Just weeks into their probe of racism and dysfunction in the Peel public school board, three provincial reviewers say they have already “consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities.”

The “narratives shared with us signal a profound lack of respect in relationships, demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment,” says their interim report, obtained by the Star.

Ena Chadha, Suzanne Herbert and newly appointed reviewer Shawn Richard are looking into complaints of racism — in particular anti-Black racism — as well as issues overall with equity, hiring and leadership.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered the investigation in early November after the Peel board reached out for help as it grappled with allegations of anti-Black racism, a trustee who referred to the diverse McCrimmon Middle School as “McCriminal,” and after a senior administrator in charge of anti-discrimination launched a human rights complaint.

So far, the review team has received more than 350 interview requests as well as email, mail and phone submissions, which they characterize as a “strong” public response.

The review began in December, and that month alone they spoke to 50 people, both individually and in groups.

Richard, a lawyer, was appointed later last month after concerns that no one from the Black community was on the front lines.

At the time, Lecce noted that the entire review was being overseen by assistant deputy education minister and human rights lawyer Patrick Case, a prominent member of the Black community who was part of a review team in 2017 — with Herbert — that issued a scathing report on racism and a lack of leadership in the York Region District School Board.

The trio filed their interim report on Peel to Lecce on Dec. 30, and their final report is due by spring.

In a statement, Lecce said he has met with the reviewers “to better understand their immediate observations of systemic anti-Black racism, and lack of adherence to governance, leadership, trustee conduct” and hiring and promotions practices.

“I believe students and families deserve better,” Lecce said. “It is my hope that the final report will build momentum for the transformational change racialized families are seeking, after a period of inaction.”

Their interim report says “we have received written and oral submissions from many individuals and groups representing diverse perspectives on the issues within the scope of the review.”

The reviewers have also been examining “various documentation, minutes of board meetings, board policies and data. We have consistently heard painful accounts of traumatic experiences in schools and school communities that speak to systemic and historical disparities between and across racial, ethnic and cultural groups with respect to access to programming, services, academic achievement, transitions to post-secondary education and the workforce, hiring, and promotion, as well as discipline measures both in education and employment.”

They go on to say that a “profound lack of respect (is) demonstrated by stories of marginalization, discrimination, differential behaviour, and harassment. To date, these sentiments relate to leadership, governance, human resources, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and other forms of inequities put forward by students, parents, educators, staff, senior administrators, elected officials and community members who we have met with thus far.”

The Peel District School Board is the second largest in the province, with more than 155,000 students in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon schools, and about 17,000 staffers. Its student body is highly diverse, with the three largest groups identifying as South Asian (45 per cent), white (17 per cent) and Black (10 per cent).

So far, the reviewers say that “all stakeholders, from students and parents to educators, staff, senior administrators, trustees and community members, have expressed consensus that the review is a much needed intervention to better understand the challenging and compounding dynamics operating within the (Peel board) and broader community.”

However, there has been some criticism that given the tight timeline, the review will not be as comprehensive as needed. The reviewers say they will identify the problems and make recommendations, but more work will need to be done.

The board, they say, will need a “process that will allow community members to directly ‘speak their truth’ to trustees and senior staff” in order to “regain public confidence that will be necessarily longer-term and that will be monitored by the ministry,” they wrote.

Those they’ve interviewed “have told us that they expect that this review will assist the (Peel board) to become more transparent and responsive in its commitment to provide inclusive learning and working environments where all students and staff feel respected.”

Last month, Lecce himself met with some Peel community members who told him part of the problem is a lack of diversity among teachers.

Lecce said that Regulation 274, which was brought in under the former Liberal government, impedes boards in hiring because it forces schools to hire the most experience supply teachers for full-time jobs, rather than their top choice or who will be the best fit.

The regulation is a part of the current negotiating round between teacher unions and the province.

The Peel review team had at least 13 days of interviews in January — in Brampton, Mississauga, Malton, Etobicoke and Toronto — and notes that “considering the urgency to complete this review and the volume of requests to participate in the review process, we will not be able meet with everyone who has expressed interest” but promises that all written submissions will be looked at.

Lecce said he wants families to know the government “is listening and is fully committed to combating racism and improving equity and opportunity for their children.”

He pledged to “continue to empower students — notably from racialized communities — to be a part of the solution, to have a voice, and to work collaboratively to eliminate obstacles to academic success and well-being.”

Source: Racism probe finds ‘marginalization, discrimination, harassment’ in Peel school board

In Quebec’s secularism law, an Ontario police force sees a source of recruits

Reminds me of Ontario hospitals doing the same thing during the 2013 PQ charter of values debates:

An Ontario police force will launch a recruiting campaign targeting Quebec residents affected by the province’s new law on religious symbols.

The Peel Regional Police, which covers territory including the cities of Mississauga and Brampton, will conduct a campaign in Quebec after a motion was passed unanimously by the region’s police services board on Friday.

The police force “believes in the values of diversity and inclusion, including the accommodation of religious symbols,” the motion states. It goes on to say that the police board “invites all affected individuals either pursuing or training for a career in policing in Quebec to apply for a career with the Peel Regional Police.”

The motion calls for the police force to place advertising “within Quebec.”

Quebec’s religious symbols law, which was passed last Sunday, will bar public school teachers, government lawyers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols while at work.

The Peel Regional Police have just over 2,000 uniformed officers and 800 civilian staff, said Constable Danny Marttini, a spokesperson for the force. They hire approximately 100 new recruits every year, she said.

The police board motion was seconded by Patrick Brown, Brampton’s mayor and the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, who declared his opposition to Quebec’s law in a statement released Friday.

“We need to send a strong message to proponents of [the secularism law] in Quebec,” the statement says. “This law is an affront to freedom of religion and an infringement of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Brown has also introduced a similar motion with Brampton’s city council for recruiting for the city’s fire and emergency service.

Another motion calls for the city to join a legal challenge to Quebec’s law initiated by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

In his motion advocating for Brampton to join the legal challenge, Brown writes that the city “is ground zero for diversity and Canadian multiculturalism, and [Brampton’s] Council bears a responsibility to stand up in defence of the Canadian multicultural mosaic.”

Those motions will be considered at a council meeting on June 26.

Brown’s statement says the law on religious symbols will prohibit Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others who wear religious symbols from pursuing careers in many public sector jobs.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec thanked the Peel police force for its action.

“Thanks to the Peel Regional Police for applying the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” the organization said on Facebook.

Source: In Quebec’s secularism law, an Ontario police force sees a source of recruits

New head of Peel school board vows to support marginalized students

Good set of initiatives, will be interesting to see how they work out through the ongoing evaluation planned:

“Teaching is very much about meeting students halfway through understanding and empathy,” he said. “And some of our students need more from us. They need us to identify, understand, minimize and eliminate the marginalization they experience so they can rise.”

That includes Black, LGBTQ and Indigenous students, and those who live in poverty, he said.

It was Joshua’s first opportunity to introduce himself at the annual back-to-school kickoff held by the Peel board. But it wasn’t long before he was sharing the stage.

…The voices of students who are struggling or feel marginalized “are sometimes difficult to hear,” he said in his remarks. “Our backs go up. We think, ‘have I said this to a student?’ Our discomfort should lead to self-reflection.”

Those voices also underscore the need for more training to help staff meet the diverse needs of the children and youth they teach. In a survey last year, mental health was an area staff requested more help with, he noted. And additional training will be provided to help equip them with strategies to support students with anxiety and other conditions.

In the past year, the board has announced initiatives to address the needs of Black students after surveys revealed many felt excluded, subject to suspicion and harsher discipline, and that they faced lower expectations for careers and university and were streamed into courses below their abilities.

In response, the board presented a plan starting with mandatory bias and anti-racism training for all staff, which begins this fall. It also pledged to revise curriculum to include the history and experiences of Black Canadians throughout, and to create mentoring programs aimed at getting more Black students involved in taking on leadership roles.

It committed to collecting race-based statistics at a time when boards across the province are being encouraged to take that step.

Peel’s first student census to provide that information is expected to be completed by December 2018.

Its first workforce census earlier this year found that while visible minorities make up more than half of Peel Region, only about a quarter of staff and teachers at the board identify as “racialized.”

Joshua says Peel’s 153,000 students need to see themselves reflected in the people who teach them and what they learn in their classrooms.

“If students see themselves reflected in the curriculum, if they believe their identities are validated and their narratives are included they will be engaged,” he told staff last week.

He said the board will be working with York University professor Carl James to measure the impact of the steps it is taking and what more should be done.

“I’m encouraged with the conversations we’ve had, and the fact the board has had these discussions with the community,” said James, who last spring published a major study on the barriers faced by Black students in the GTA.

“They’ve put in place a number of processes that I think should bode well,” he said in an interview, adding that it has the potential to become a model for other boards.

Source: New head of Peel school board vows to support marginalized students | Toronto Star

Man tied to $1K reward for videos of Muslim students praying charged with hate crime

Valid charge:

Peel Regional Police have charged a Mississauga, Ont., man, who earlier this year posted a YouTube video offering a $1,000 reward for recordings of Muslim students during prayer, with a hate crime in connection with “numerous incidents reported to police.”

Kevin J. Johnston, 45, was arrested Monday and charged with one count of wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group under the Criminal Code Section 319 (2). The charge follows “concerns over information published on various social media sites,” police said.

The investigation took place over a five-month period, said Sgt. Josh Colley, and wasn’t tied to one specific incident but rather “multiple incidents that the investigators were looking at.”

“It’s not a private message that he was conveying, it was a public message … Anyone could hear, understand the messaging, so that’s where the communicating hateful messages comes into play,” Colley told CBC Toronto.

“The group that was targeted was the Muslim community,” he said, adding the incident “affects us all.”

Earlier this year, Johnston, who runs an online publication called Freedom Report, posted a YouTube video offering a $1,000 reward for recordings of Muslim students at Peel Region schools “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.”

Spreading anxiety

The video sparked concern among Muslim families and led the Peel District School Board, which serves Mississauga, and the Peel Region communities of Brampton and Caledon, to issue a memo to its administrators, cautioning them to be “extra vigilant” and reminding them that personal recording devices can only be used in schools for educational purposes, as directed by staff.

Source: Man tied to $1K reward for videos of Muslim students praying charged with hate crime – Toronto – CBC News

A Battle Over Prayer in Schools Tests Canada’s Multiculturalism – The New York Times

One of the better and more in-depth articles (the Times is certainly increasing the breadth and depth of its coverage of Canada):

The turmoil is one reflection of how Canada’s growing diversity is encountering powerful headwinds, especially in places with significant Muslim populations.

“Although we have a policy of multiculturalism, for most Canadians there is an expectation that immigrants will conform to the mainstream,” said Jeffrey Reitz, the director of the Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies program at the University of Toronto. “Religious accommodations have been made to various groups, and you’re going to get a backlash once in a while.”

The problems in the Peel schools are a particular kind of conflict in a diverse society, social scientists say — involving immigrants and minorities who challenge aspects of Canada’s cherished multiculturalism.

In 2015, socially conservative residents in Ontario school districts, some of them Muslim, objected to an updated sex education curriculumbecause it teaches the names of sex organs and broaches the topic of same-sex relationships.

Since 2013, some Muslim parents in metropolitan Toronto have asked schools to exempt their children from mandatory provincial music classes, citing their belief that Islam forbids listening to or playing musical instruments.

Like its neighbor to the south, Canada is a country of immigrants, helping to fuel a national ethos that celebrates diversity. More than 20 percent of the Canadian population in 2011 was foreign born, a figure that is expected to reach nearly 30 percent by 2031, according to government estimates. In cities like Toronto and Vancouver, the proportion of ethnic minorities could top 60 percent.

The demographic changes have been especially pronounced in metropolitan Toronto, a patchwork of cities and suburban towns bustling with an array of languages and faiths.

School boards like the one in the Peel district are at the forefront of the battles over multiculturalism. The district is among the country’s most diverse, with nearly 60 percent of all residents described as “visible minority,” or nonwhite, according to the 2011 census.

It includes large numbers of Chinese, Filipinos and blacks, but nearly half are categorized as South Asian, a group that includes Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. The Peel district is home to about 12 percent of Canada’s Muslim population.

In allowing prayer in its schools, the Peel district relied on a provision in the Ontario Human Rights Code that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has interpreted as requiring government-funded schools — both public and Catholic — to “accommodate” students in observing their personal faiths.

Other provinces in Canada have similar policies.

For Farina Siddiqui, 43, a Muslim activist whose children attend public and Catholic schools in the Peel district, allowing students to worship once a week in school is a matter of religious freedom.

“We’re not asking for schools to provide a prayer hall for everyone to practice a religion,” she said. “We just ask for the right to have a space to pray.” She supported permitting the children to write their own sermons.

Tarun Arora, 40, who works for an outsourcing call center company and immigrated to Canada from India in 2003, said school boards should not be endorsing sermons or allowing prayer in his children’s public schools at all. He wants the schools to be completely secular.

“I’m sending my kids to school for education, but the schools are being treated as religious places, and this is not right,” Mr. Arora said.

He is a member of Keep Religion Out of Our Public Schools, also known as Kroops, a group that formed in January when the board decided to allow the children to write their own sermons. The group has protested outside recent school board meetings and says it plans to bring a lawsuit challenging the policy of allowing prayer in the Peel schools, arguing that the law does not explicitly permit it.

Another group with a similar name, Religion Out of Public Schools, began an online petition to eliminate religious congregation and faith clubs in Canadian schools. It has garnered over 6,500 signatures from people across Canada and the United States.

Many of the petition comments specifically criticize Islam. But in interviews, three members of the group, all of them Indian-Canadian, said they opposed the practice of any religion in public schools, not just Islam.

Renu Mandhane, the chief commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, which is charged with interpreting the Ontario code, said schools had a duty to accommodate religious belief.

“Accommodation doesn’t equal endorsing or otherwise becoming entangled in religious practice,” Ms. Mandhane said. “Whether that requires prayer space in school, we’ve never said. What’s required is we need to reasonably accommodate a person’s beliefs.”

In an interview, she disputed the argument made by many protesters that the policy benefits only Muslims. She noted that Jews and Christians were already accommodated because their most important days of worship fall on the weekend, when schools are closed.

“In many ways, what we’re seeing in Peel is the edge where human rights and hyperdiversity connect,” Ms. Mandhane continued. “What Peel shows is that even in places with huge racial diversity, you can have people who identify with different communities but disagree about human rights issues.”

To the Peel school board and many Muslims in the district, the strife over religious accommodation is little more than Islamophobia.

At board meetings, protesters have screamed anti-Muslim epithets, while attacks against Muslims who speak out publicly have spread on social media, leading to the stationing of police officers at the meetings and outside schools. The imam who received the death threat also got an online message calling for his mosque to be burned.

During one fraught school board meeting, a man tore up pages of the Quran, stunning a community that had long prized its tradition of tolerance.

“These are people trying to fuel the fire and brew our ignorances,” said Rabia Khedr, executive director of the Muslim Council of Peel, which lobbied the school board in support of the students’ right to pray. “Religious accommodation is not at the exclusion of everybody. It’s at the inclusion of everybody.”

Anver Saloojee, a political-science professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, has another explanation. He noted that many of those speaking out against the religious accommodation policy were members of the Indian diaspora, including some vocal Hindu nationalists, suggesting that in some ways the battle in Canada mirrors South Asia’s historical Hindu-Muslim conflict.

But the groups opposing accommodation, which include people from a variety of races and religions, deny that. Indian-Canadian members of the groups say their concern has nothing to do with a country they left years and in some cases decades ago.

“My religion is Canadian; that’s what gives me the strength to stand up and fight now,” said Ram Subrahmanian, a founder of Keep Religion Out of Our Public Schools.

Shaila Kibria-Carter, 42, a finance manager of Bangladeshi descent, was born and raised in Canada and lives in the nearby town of Brampton. She said that as a Peel district high school student in the 1990s, she prayed in school on Fridays. So did her college-age son. There were never any class disruptions or complaints, she said.

“What these folks are doing is preaching hate,” she said. “We’ve lived in harmony with Sikhs and Hindus and white people all our lives, and now all of a sudden someone is in meetings ripping up a Quran.”

ICYMI: Anxiety intensifies in Toronto’s suburbs as anti-Muslim rhetoric escalates – The Globe and Mail


Hamza Aziz makes sure to stay close to a friend at all times, and his parents have told him not to be outside after dark – precautions the student never imagined would be needed in his quiet corner of suburban Toronto.

But recent tensions between his school board and some members of the community, including anti-Muslim groups, over providing space for Mr. Aziz and other students to pray as a group every Friday have heightened concerns about safety in the Peel region, just west of Toronto.

“[My parents] are afraid of hate crimes towards the Muslim community, especially since that’s been on the rise lately,” said Mr. Aziz, a high-school student in Mississauga.

That anxiety forced the Peel District School Board to step up security measures at its most recent board meeting on Wednesday evening. Police and security guards were present, guests had to sign in and show identification at the door and the meeting was videotaped. Outside, a group who covered their faces with bandanas to prevent nearby protesters from identifying them said they were there to escort people into the board office safely.

Recent incidents in Peel have caused concern among Muslims, who are among the area’s largest religious minority groups. At an earlier school-board meeting, audience members shouted anti-Muslim rhetoric, tore pages from a Koran and stepped on the religious text. More recently, an inflammatory video circulating online offered a cash reward for a recording of Muslim students using hate speech in Friday prayers.

And on Wednesday evening, Peel police were called to a Mississauga neighbourhood after graffiti with the words “White Power” was smeared on a Canada Post mailbox. The words were scrubbed off, and police say they are investigating.

Critics argue a secular school system should not accommodate religion. But Ontario boards, both public and Catholic, are legally required to provide religious accommodation when it is requested.

Devout Muslim students have observed congregational prayers, known as Jummah, in Peel schools for more than two decades. But the issue came to the forefront in the fall, when the board began reviewing whether to allow students to write their own sermons, approved by a school administrator, or be required to choose from six prewritten ones.

After some push-back from community members and students, such as Mr. Aziz, who said the decision to limit their sermons violated their right to religious freedom, the board earlier this year revised its procedure and allowed students to deliver their own sermons or choose from several prewritten ones approved by local imams.

But vocal opponents used the issue to step up their anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Mr. Aziz said he overheard those in the audience at a previous board meeting call him a terrorist. He said another person told him he was not a real Canadian. A friend has been threatened on social media, he said.

A teacher in Peel, who asked that her name be withheld because she fears for her family’s safety, said she asked her teenage son if he wanted to keep participating in Friday prayers at his Brampton school. He told her that the congregational prayer was a form of meditation for him, and he was not going to let fear stop him. The prayer is about 15 minutes.

“I think parents are feeling, ‘Are our children safe during Jummah prayers?’” she said, adding that her fear grew after the video offering a cash reward. “As a parent, I get afraid that what if one day that hate and negative rhetoric becomes escalated and it’s a Muslim child who ends up being in front of that heat.”

The teacher has lived in Brampton for 21 years. She said neighbours have asked her why the situation has grown so heated. Some Muslims in the community said they had been targeted on social media after they spoke out against Islamophobia.

“There is a lot of fear,” she said. “It’s hard for Muslim kids to know that there’s so much hatred against them.”

Source: Anxiety intensifies in Toronto’s suburbs as anti-Muslim rhetoric escalates – The Globe and Mail

Anti-Muslim hatred has no place in my Canada: Margaret Wente

A rare column by Wente that captures the issues well:

We do a pretty good job of welcoming newcomers to this country. It’s one of our great strengths. I don’t buy the myth, beloved of some, that Canadians harbour deep racist and xenophobic tendencies that are just waiting to be set alight by the likes of Kellie Leitch.

But some days, I have to wonder what’s gotten into people. Who, for example, would want to deny Muslims the right to bury their dead?

It seems that there are more than you might think.

The terrible massacre in January of six worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City revealed a problem: Quebec Muslims have few places to bury their dead. The only Muslim-run cemetery in the province is in Montreal, several hours’ drive away. After the massacre, the small town of Saint-Apollinaire (population 6,000) found some land that would be suitable for another one, and quickly struck a deal to sell it to the Muslim community. It seemed like a neighbourly way to help. But as The Globe and Mail’s Ingrid Peritz found, the plan was met with a storm of protest.

“This cemetery is just the embryo of other projects,” one person wrote in an e-mail to the town’s mayor. “These people are here to grab religious and political power.”

The mayor, Bernard Ouellet, is staunch in his support for the plan, and believes most townspeople support it too. But he’ll have to work hard to quell the fears. As Quebec imam Hassan Guillet says, “If the project is refused and we’re not allowed to be buried in this land, how are we going to be accepted to live in this land?”

Religious accommodation is always a touchy subject, but the opposition to this plan is simply wrong. There is no place for it in my Canada.

Here in Ontario, we have our own hysterias. A strident group of anti-Muslim activists have been waging a noisy campaign to end Muslim prayer at schools in a big district near Toronto. At one school-board meeting, someone tore pages from the Koran and stomped all over them. At others, people leaped to their feet to denounce Islam. A parents’ group launched a petition complaining that “unsolicited exposure to religion” could “create subconscious bias in the minds of impressionable children for or against a faith.” In the latest bit of hate-filled showmanship (as a school-board spokesman aptly called it), a local agitator offered a $1,000 reward to any student who surreptitiously recorded hate speech during a Muslim prayer service.

Needless to say, Muslim prayer in schools has always been contentious. You may believe, as I do, that any type of prayer – including this type – has no place in the public schools. But I also believe it’s not the worst idea. Like it or not, religious accommodation is the law, and the schools are devoted to inclusiveness. Our interest is to integrate new Canadians, not segregate them. We want their children to be educated in the public schools, not religious schools. So we’d better make sure the kids (and parents) feel comfortable there. And if an optional 20-minute prayer session once a week helps them feel more welcome, then why not?

The Peel District School Board, where the current commotion has broken out, serves a sprawling, suburban multiethnic community whose Muslim population is around 10 per cent. Muslim students have been observing Friday prayers for 20 years. Other schools around the province make the same accommodation. It’s been a work in progress. One heavily Muslim school in Toronto faced tough questions a few years back because menstruating girls weren’t allowed to take part in the prayer service. There have been concerns about sexism, as well as worries about just what kind of Islam is being preached. The Peel board has conducted lengthy consultations about whether the students who lead the sessions may write their own sermons, and by whom, if anyone, they must be approved.

To be honest, I have no idea how all this will work out, and neither does anybody else. It will take a generation or more to tell. Canada is not immune from the ethnoreligious tensions that are rocking the world and there’s no way we can avoid them. But we can discourage the fear-mongers and the hate-mongers from poisoning our public discourse. We won’t always agree, especially over symbols that touch our deepest values. Let’s just hope we can keep finding ways to disagree politely. That’s supposed to be the Canadian way, and I don’t want to lose it.

Source: Anti-Muslim hatred has no place in my Canada – The Globe and Mail