Reasonable Accommodation and the Niqab – Quebec Ruling

Good example where an administrative tribunal made the right call in refusing an accommodation, in this case, for a medical examination required to justify an ongoing disability claim.

Rights tribunal says immigrant who failed engineering exam three times was discriminated against

Another example of reasonable accommodation gone wrong. While it is valid to question whether Canadian requirements are completely objective or do have some inadvertent bias, the reality of working in Canada requires common standards. Given that the person in question failed the exams three times, hard to accept that he had not been given an adequate chance:

It’s all well and good to laugh. Unlike many of the poor schmoes human rights tribunals put through the wringer, the engineers have the money to defend themselves. APEGGA will appeal the ruling, and some superior court will hopefully blow it to smithereens. But these clay pigeons cost a lot of money. At the end of the day, legalities aside, Mr. Jiwaji wants to ensure the employment of an incompetent engineer under the banner of human rights. In the court of popular opinion, it’s not clear how long Canada’s current human rights apparatus can survive decision-making like that.

Chris Selley: Rights tribunal says immigrant who failed engineering exam three times was discriminated against | National Post.

U of T student loses bid to avoid class with women because he’s shy | Toronto Star

For Valentine’s Day.

This is an easy one (but why such a student would pick a Women and Gender Studies course). How would UofT and others handle such a request if it was based on religious grounds is the more interesting question.

U of T student loses bid to avoid class with women because he’s shy | Toronto Star.

Les femmes d’un bord, les hommes de l’autre | Le Devoir

It would be nice to see some commentary in English media on accommodation at the U of Regina, where one of the complications is the large number of foreign students, including from Saudi Arabia, where mixed gender activities are prohibited and uncomfortable for many.

Professor Grayson spoke in favour of the Quebec Charter to French media but has not, to my knowledge, done so to English media. And while I do not agree with the decision of York U administration in favour of granting an accommodation, at least they were reviewing the issue and present, unlike U of Regina where admin appeared to be absent:

Une des personnes qui ont contacté le professeur Grayson est membre de l’Université de Regina. Cette personne, qui ne veut pas que son identité soit révélée, déplore les accommodements accordés par son institution à des musulmans demandant de ne pas être exposés à la vue de femmes. Cette personne cite les fenêtres de la piscine, les groupes séparés selon le sexe et même le fait que « plusieurs étudiants ont préféré recevoir un zéro plutôt que faire un travail sur les femmes et le leadership ». « Ce que j’ai trouvé le plus difficile fut la façon dont les étudiants masculins me dévaluaient et me traitaient comme un objet. En bout de piste, je crois que nous avons un problème au pays […]. Quelqu’un doit se tenir debout. »

Les femmes d’un bord, les hommes de l’autre | Le Devoir.

Chris Selley: Canada’s secret ‘values’ debate | National Post

Chris Selley of the National Post on treatment of evangelicals versus other religions. While some of his points are valid, he may be going to far in stressing expression of religious freedom compared to other rights. My general test is to substitute other religions, race, or orientation and see how it lands, remembering that the effect on others is where the balance of rights question arises.

But I agree with him that open discussion is better than hiding things. Far better that Professor Grayson of York U went public over the accommodation issue to help society discuss the “reasonable” in reasonable accommodation:

Yet in the Rest of Canada, politicians aren’t advocating legal changes. They seem to have started simply proclaiming certain opinions unpresentable, or even un-Canadian — ”This is Canada, pure and simple,” a scandalized Liberal MP Judy Sgro said of York’s position — while ignoring the obvious ramifications of their positions were they consistently applied. Worse, they’re not consistently applying them and they show no signs of starting. As ever, many on the Canadian centre-left seem to be indulging a paranoid obsession with evangelicals, and it’s just as discreditable as Quebec politicians’ paranoid obsession with Muslims. Ugly as it is, at least Quebec’s “values” debate is playing out in the light of day.

Chris Selley: Canada’s secret ‘values’ debate | National Post.

Lost in the York U furor: Accommodation isn’t a trump card

Good commentary by Amira Elghawaby:

The trouble for diverse communities is that cases like York alarm society at large that hard-won gains will be clawed back to appease a tiny minority with unreasonable demands. The impression is that our legal frameworks are not prepared for the onslaught.

These fears play right into the xenophobic justifications for limiting the freedom of religion of others, as displayed in the whole values charter debate in Quebec. “A lot of people have been afraid to speak out against unreasonable accommodations made to religious groups by public institutions … and who are now saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” commented Parti Québécois minister for democratic institutions Bernard Drainville following the York incident.

What we’ve had enough of is the sensationalizing of the give-and-take that is expected in any multicultural, diverse society. On the ground, we are all expected to read the rules, understand their spirit and come to logical solutions grounded firmly in universal principles.

York University’s administration has done us all a disservice by skipping its required reading.

Lost in the York U furor: Accommodation isn’t a trump card – The Globe and Mail.

Op-Ed: When gender equality should trump religious accommodation

Another example of fuzzy thinking. If we do not allow accommodation for a male student requesting only working with male students, we should not allow accommodation for female students requesting only being with females. I agree equality does not necessarily mean identical treatment, but I fail to see why we would accommodate such a request.

What message does it say to other female students? What message to male students? What if the request was based on race or faith?:

Some have asked, well what if it was a female student who made the request because she didn’t want to attend a class with non-family men due to a religious belief? I think that accommodation request should be permitted. Equality in human rights does not mean identical treatment (formal equality). It means equal effects, or what is known as substantive equality. Equality also permits temporary special measures which, recognizing past and systemic inequities, can be applied to give women opportunities to meaningfully participate and offset, to the extent possible, factors which would otherwise exclude or limit women’s participation in any sphere — be it the family, the marriage, the workplace, in health care or in education.

Op-Ed: When gender equality should trump religious accommodation.

The misplaced moral panic at York University | Toronto Star

Amazing. Much of what is said is valid. Of course the male student had the right to request accommodation, of course we have to take accept his beliefs as sincere, but we do not have to accept this request. The authors of this piece skirt that key issue: do they favour the granting or not of the request?

The implication is they do but lack the courage to state so clearly, and just muddle things up with general comments about lack of gender equality and participation in Canada.

Importantly, the Canadian version of secularism does not require people to abandon their deeply held beliefs. Religious people are welcome to bring their ideas to the public table. As Muslim women, we may disagree with the accommodation-seeking student that Islam requires absolute social segregation between men and women (assuming the student is Muslim; his religious affiliation has not been confirmed) – but we defend the right of individuals, including this much-maligned student, to hold their personal religious opinions and to ask the state to accommodate them.

Moreover, as Canadian women, we appreciate how far academic institutions, and Canadian society in general, still are from the ideal of gender equality. Women in Canada – like women in other recovering patriarchies – experience high rates of gendered violence; are persistently underrepresented in the senior ranks of politics, law, business, and academia; and face a significant gender wage gap (Canada’s is among the highest of the OECD countries). Islam is not the threat to gender equality in Canada: patriarchy, in all its various manifestations, is.

The misplaced moral panic at York University | Toronto Star.

When two rights collide, who’s wrong? – The Globe and Mail

Good commentary by Leah Eichler on the issues raised by the York U controversy from the perspective of the some private sector diversity advisers. Much more common sense than from York U admin or  lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos’ It’s not about sex — it’s about the law – New Canadian Media – NCM:

Natalie MacDonald, a founding partner at Rudner MacDonald, a boutique law firm in Toronto specializing in employment law, said the York student’s request for accommodation under the guise of religion marginalizes and perpetuates discrimination against women, setting gender equality back several years.

“I know of no religion that could possibly legitimize such a request that would preclude a male student from working with female students in a group setting. And, if there were such a religion, the fact that it would marginalize women, and perpetuate discriminatory conduct against them, should be sufficient to deny the request,” she said.

Ms. MacDonald added that she finds it “disturbing that this kind of discriminatory request could have been made in Canada in 2014, let alone granted by the head of an institution of higher learning.”

The incident at York should become a cautionary tale, not a professional precedent. I’m an ardent advocate for religious freedoms. But if religious or cultural beliefs in any way reverse the gains earned by the women’s rights movement, count me out.

When two rights collide, who’s wrong? – The Globe and Mail.

York University conflict courts Quebec-style backlash: Cohn | Toronto Star

Good piece by Martin Regg Cohen of The Star noting the risks of a backlash to reasonable accommodation when it fails the common sense test of “reasonable” – which York U Admin sophistry clearly did:

When the authorities align themselves with outliers who would superimpose their extreme religious views on other people’s entrenched legal rights — undermining the status of an accused in court or a female on campus — it fails the common sense smell test.

To this day, officials at York cling to their muddled thinking, rationalizing and over-intellectualizing their thought processes without thinking through the consequences. They not only let down their female students, they undermined public confidence, the sine qua non of non-discrimination.

They are their own worst enemies. By indulging tenuous claims on matters of religious faith, they undermine public faith in the ethic of tolerance.

York University conflict courts Quebec-style backlash: Cohn | Toronto Star.