A community divided

Rooted in a very public dispute over the place of religious practice in public schools, disagreement on the fundamental essence of ‘Canadian’ identity and the virtue of tolerance threatens to boil over in Peel.

By Dakshana Bascaramurty and Caroline Alphonso
The Globe and Mail | May 1, 2017

Two large paintings of the Hindu god Krishna are mounted on the wall of Ram Subrahmanian’s living room, but he doesn’t want to be labelled as a Hindu.

What’s his religion? “Canadian!” he says, his eyes lit up behind his glasses, punctuating his pride with a fist pump. It’s Tuesday evening, and many of the dozens of South Asians he’s standing with outside of the Peel District School Board offices in Mississauga also worship at the altar of the maple leaf and love singing that ancient hymn, O Canada.

Someone begins a call-and-response chant through a megaphone: “No religious practice!” A group of protesters reply: “In public schools!”

Mr. Subrahmanian is touting a sign that says “There is no such thing as ‘religious accommodation’ in the Ontario Human Rights Code.” For months, Mr. Subrahmanian and his cohorts have protested the school board’s policy on religious accommodation. Muslim Friday prayer, called Jummah, has had a place in Peel schools for decades, but the issue became a point of contention in the wider community late last year when the board revisited how the service was conducted and tried to provide more consistent guidelines to schools.

Last month, a meeting to discuss the matter devolved into chaos when protesters shouted anti-Muslim remarks and tore up a copy of the Koran. Later, an inflammatory video posted to YouTube offered a cash reward for a recording of Muslim students using hate speech in Friday prayers.

. . .

Amira Elghawaby, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, says it’s disheartening to watch sectarian strains play out. “Here in Canada, we hope people can put aside their prejudices and biases from these experiences to find common ground. It’s unfortunate that not everyone is able to do that,” she said. “Issues like this one can be manipulated in order to drive wedges between communities instead of bringing them together.”

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