Should we allow our public schools to be turned into mosques?

I’m sorry I missed the debate on the Toronto District School Board’s insane and discriminatory decision allowing our public schools to be converted into mosques that was on AM 640’s John Oakley show this morning, especially as it featured Toronto’s own Rock Em Sock Em Mad Mullah “Imam Steve Rockwell“.

The podcast is available here.

Meanwhile check out the Poll, last I saw 94% of voters thought the TDSB should be subjected to some medieval aspect of sharia law for their asinine decision. It’s on the sidebar.

No link yet but I heard on John Moore’s Radio 1010 show this morning that NDP MPP Cheri Dinovo, a once “United Church Minister”, is opposed to the mosqueing of our public schools. As it turns out Ms. Dinovo has concerns…
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A reader who shall remain nameless advises:

Hi, there.

Thanks for your tremendous work on the Valley Park Middle School story.

We’ve all seen the rather frustrating pattern that can emerge in situations comparable to the VPMS issue: the Good Guys expose upsetting accommodations, and the other side invokes “reasonable accommodations”. Our side often responds by spluttering, with diminishing effect.

I’m not in a position to advise about related law, but I do have a thought, for whatever it might be worth.

Once the public is focussed on issues like VPMS, we must be sure to include in our campaigning the language that’s relevant to the matter. Here, it’d be a good investment to read one or two of the Supreme Court of Canada’s reasonable-accommodations’ cases so that we understand exactly what the test for reasonable accommodation (RA) amounts to, and the language that the courts (i.e. the law) uses to define associated rights. After all, RA is now a nonnegotiable constitutional requirement, and we will get nowhere if we do not put our demands in practical, actionable terms.

So, when our adversaries too-liberally throw the magic words “reasonable accommodation” at us, we must take apart their claim. As far as I understand, institutions are required to extend accommodations up to the point of “undue hardship”. Once accommodations would amount to undue hardship, they are no longer “reasonable” for the purposes of the constitution. This should help us frame our argument. Let me give an off-the-top-of-the-head example.

You might remember a fairly recent RA story involving Corrections Canada (CC). This was peddled as a good news RA tale. As far as I can remember, a veiled Muslim woman was hired by CC. There immediately arose a question about her headgear, an item that could be grabbed by prisoners under conditions that could not merely endanger the woman’s safety, but that of fellow CC employees who might have counted on the veiled person’s “back-up”, in a scrape with prisoners.

CC apparently designed special headgear for the woman, in order to take into account these risks. Some folk may have been delighted with the decision, and others appalled. However, the relevant question should have been, did the necessary and associated staff meetings, design, prototype-making, testing and so on of this new headcovering inflict an undue hardship upon the government? If yes, the government had no business getting involved and burning up taxpayers’ money on the project. In this case, we could proceed to demand that pertinent expenditures and efforts be cancelled and that an inquiry be led into circumstances surrounding the needless expense. (Our demands could include questions about whether there were insider manoeuvrings by people with certain fellow-travelling tendencies, or whether CC bureaucrats decided to head off any possible career-inhibiting protests, through the generous expenditure of Other People’s Money.)

But things got more interesting.

According to reports, once the Muslim recruit was entitled to wear a headcovering of a certain type, a further requirement popped up: a special respirator had to be designed to provide an airtight fit over the face and overlapping veil-fabric. If one applies the logic, above, it seems to me that CC might have had some tough sledding to justify the scale of developmental and other costs that I’m guessing attached to the respirator project. One could very credibly have argued that the bounds of reasonable accommodation had been exceeded, and those arguing this would have looked, in my view, like the responsible, budget-conscious citizens that they would have been.

In all of this, there would be ample room to demand an accounting of pertinent costs, from CC. Access to Information would provide a useful avenue, in this regard, and the very fact of making ATI enquiries would send messages to future bureaucrats and pols who might otherwise be tempted to consider that surrender is the easiest form of career advancement.

All of this to say that I’d be challenging blithe, debate-ending assurances that RA is necessary.

There is also a related matter, where the balancing of interests of the VPMS sort, is concerned.

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Anselem (para 178), wrote of

… the three conditions adopted by this Court in Big M Drug Mart, supra, and approved in Ross, supra, that is, that freedom of religion must be exercised (1) within reasonable limits, (2) with respect for the rights of others and (3) bearing in mind such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order and health and the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. The right of co-ownership, in its essence, is exercised in harmony with the rights of all the co-owners. This does not amount to repudiating freedom of religion, but rather to facilitating the exercise thereof in a way that takes the rights of others and the general well-being into account. [Italics added.]

So, apart from any number of other, important questions raised by the Valley Park situation, we can brandish everything I’ve mentioned above – and be on, and be seen to be on – the constitutional side of the angels. What are the costs of this prayer-room RA inflicted on the school system, including in terms of money, disruption of school personnel, opportunities foregone, and so on? And could it not be argued that such costs could potentially be as endless as the possible number of religions and ideologies that could ultimately be seeking similar accommodation? How nearly does any and all this approximate “undue hardship”? Had the school board done a formal assessment of these costs and hardships before venturing forth? Let’s demand to see it. And, if not, would the result constitute professional negligence involving needless liabilities? Who are the elected and appointed officials who were responsible for such unnecessary expenditures?

As you can see, even before we get near the huge public policy questions that must be asked, citizens might well have the school board dead to rights on the only ground that will count in the end: the constitution. We must encourage our allies to think, and to argue, in these productive terms. Bureaucrat Blogs says reasonable accommodation was unavoidable? Fine. Show me the study that measures its costs and hardship against the constitutional requirement.

Best,

Food for thought.

More…Kelly McParland gets his Ass Kicked – as always the real story is in the comments. More here.

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