Canada: Commission Releases Policy Statement On Religious Accommodation In Schools

On March 31, 2017, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the "Commission") released a Policy Statement on Religious Accommodation in Schools (the "Policy Statement") on its website. The Commission had already published a Policy on Religious Accommodation (the "Creed Policy") as part of its statutory mandate to provide guidance to the judicial interpretation of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the "Code"). The Creed Policy was last updated on September 17, 2015.

The new Policy Statement is the Commission's specific guidance for accommodating religious observances in the school setting. The Commission highlights the importance of schools as a place for healthy discussions about acceptance, as well the educator's role in fostering pluralistic environments that respect human rights.

Educators have a legal obligation under the Code to maintain a school climate that is free from harassment and discrimination. Accommodation is appropriate where it respects a person's dignity, responds to a person's individualized needs, and allows for integration and full participation. Where a student is prevented from observing a religious belief because of a rule or standard, educators have an obligation to accommodate the observance to the point of undue hardship.

The Commission reminds us that assessing undue hardship includes only three factors: cost; outside sources of funding; and health and safety requirements. It does not include other factors such as third-party preferences. Thus, the preference of anyone who is categorically opposed to any religious practices in schools is not a factor in deciding undue hardship under the Code.

Providing Muslim students with a space for Friday prayers is an appropriate accommodation. There is minimal cost or interference with health and safety at the school. Students would otherwise be forced to choose between complying with attendance rules and their religious practice.

As the Commission notes in the Policy Statement, educators should make it clear that accommodating religious practices is not a sponsored activity or an endorsement of any particular religion, but a means of accommodating religious needs. The school environment should remain free of pressure or compulsion in matters of religion.

The Commission ends the Policy Statement by calling on all Ontarians to work towards a vision of society where everyone can fully participate, no matter what their race, ancestry or religious beliefs or practices.

Although the Policy Statement does not mention what prompted the Commission to release a policy statement on the specific issue of religious accommodation in schools, its release coincided with a highly-publicized dispute about Muslim prayers in schools of the Peel District School Board (the "Board").

In March 2017, the media reported extensively on protests against Friday prayers by Muslim students at the Board.1 The Board had accommodated student prayer requirements for years; however, a recent policy change at the Board allowing students to write their own prayers, (rather than choose from a pre-approved bank of written prayers); may have raised the profile of the issue of religious accommodation.2

The media reported disruptive behaviour at various Board meetings, including an incident where pages were torn from a Qur'an, and another where participants shouted about Shariah law and Islamic indoctrination of children. Online protest activities included a petition calling accommodation too expensive and amounting to unsolicited exposure to religion.3

The Chair of the Board, as well as a local Mayor and the Minister of Education and Minister of Children and Youth Services, all spoke out publicly: condemning the protests as Islamophobic, and confirming the Board's full compliance with its religious accommodation obligations under the Code.

On March 22, 2017, the Board released a document titled "Key Facts" on religious accommodation in an effort to respond to the misinformation about religious accommodation. The Chair, Janet McDougald, made a strong statement against the anti-Muslim nature of the protests, which were not opposition to religion in public schools, but opposition to the practices of Islam. The Chair stated:

We are appalled by the anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudice we have seen on social media, read in emails, and heard first-hand at our board meetings. It has caused some of our students to feel unsafe, to feel targeted. We must not allow hatred toward any faith group to flourish. We will not stand for that. It is not consistent with our board values, with our role as trustees, or for us as Canadians.4

The Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter, told reporters that "...there's just no tolerance for discrimination of any sort...We don't tolerate issues of racism and Islamophobia."5 The Mayor of Brampton, Linda Jeffrey, published a news release stating her support for the accommodation of Friday prayer, stating that "(l)etting Muslim students pray for 20 minutes in an empty space with the supervision of volunteer staff does not cause any financial hardship." She condemned the "misinformation, fear mongering, and outright falsehoods being spread by some."6

Given that the Policy Statement was released within days of these public comments from the Chair of the Board, the Mayor and several cabinet Ministers, it is reasonable to view it as the Commission's comment on the matter. The Commission condemned the type of religious intolerance directed at the Board, and confirmed that the Board acted lawfully and appropriately in accommodating the prayer requirements of its students.

Footnotes

1 See for example Peter Goffin, "Brampton mayor condemns 'hateful' campaign against Muslim prayer in Peel schools,"The Toronto Star (13 March 2017)

2 Kate McGillivray, "Pages torn from Qur'an at Peel school board meeting over prayer issue,"CBC News (23 March 2017)

3Ibid.

4 Peel District School Board, News Release, "Peel board takes on religious accommodation misinformation with Key Facts," (22 March 2017)

5 Kristin Rushowy, "Muslim prayers in schools get provincial endorsement following intense meeting,"The Toronto Star (23 March 2017)

6 Office of the Mayor (Brampton), Media Release, "Mayor Jeffrey Supports Religious Accommodation at Peel District School Board," (9 March 2017)

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLennan Ross LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
McLennan Ross LLP
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions