Families release statement about human rights win against Calgary private school

-For Immediate Release-

(Vancouver– April 20, 2015) The families of two Canadian Muslim students who were prevented from privately observing prayers at a prestigious Calgary school have released a statement about the recent finding of discrimination by a human rights tribunal.

The family’s statement comes in response to the decision rendered by the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal in their case earlier this month. The tribunal found that the Webber Academy Foundation failed to uphold the human rights of the high school students who wanted to privately observe their Islamic prayer at school by preventing them from doing so anywhere on campus. They often had to pray off of school property and in the snow (as pictured below).

Prayer in Snow

The boys, Naman Siddiqui and Sarmad Amir, were 14 years old at the time of the discrimination, though attending grades 9 and 10 respectively. The human rights complaints were filed by their parents, Dr. Shabnam Nazar and Mrs. Farhat Amir.

The following is the full joint statement of the families, who now reside in Vancouver where the two students are currently pursuing post-secondary education:

“First, we would like to take this opportunity to express our relief and satisfaction with the judgement delivered by the tribunal.  It has affirmed our confidence in the Canadian justice system and we are proud to live in a country where the values of mutual acceptance and tolerance for people of all faith traditions and backgrounds are respected as a matter of law.

“We understand that Dr. Neil Webber has expressed his intention to appeal the ruling.  While we were hoping that this would be the end of a very emotional journey for us, we respect Dr. Webber’s right to appeal the decision.  We are confident however, that the judgement issued by the tribunal will be upheld.

“Second, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends, family, teachers at Webber Academy and the entire staff at Rundle College as well as others who supported us through this arduous and emotional process in seeking justice.  We cannot think of better role models for our children and we would like to wish them well.  We would also like to thank the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC); in particular, we would like to thank the Legal Counsel for the Director, Mr. Jim Foster who worked tirelessly and diligently to help us in presenting our case to the tribunal.  His sincerity and empathy really moved us and we would like to single him out in gratitude.  He is an irreplaceable credit to the Commission.

“We would also like to thank Mr. Mahdi Qasqas of Calgary Muslim Youth Services, Ms. Amna Qureshi, a Calgary-based lawyer and Mr. Birju M Dattani, a Legal Academic who assisted us with all facets of the complaints process procedurally, emotionally and spiritually.  We would also like to thank the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) which advocates on behalf of Canadian Muslims across the country on discrimination issues and supports our diverse communities through the promotion of civic engagement and human rights.

“Third, we would like to briefly address some of the misconceptions that many people across this country may hold in relation to our case.  When we enrolled in the school, we expressly asked, on behalf of our boys, for our children to pray discreetly for a period of approximately five minutes when required.  We were given permission to do so and for two and a half weeks, our children prayed discreetly, quietly and alone in an empty classroom without any students or teachers every seeing them do so.

“The school administration later reversed their decision, which is what prompted the impasse between our families and the Webber Academy administration.  We were never pointed to any specific policy prohibiting religious activity and indeed, no such putative policy was ever admitted into evidence before the tribunal.  We were simply told that the school was non-denominational.  However, the school ascribes to an unusual meaning of that word and this was affirmed by the tribunal.  Therefore, we could not have anticipated Dr. Webber’s directive, especially considering that overt religious practices such as wearing religious attire is allowed and is indeed ubiquitous on Webber Academy’s website and literature.

“We would also like to emphasize that filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission was an action of last resort.  We attempted to resolve this matter in a number of alternative ways going so far as to offer to pay for any expense that the school would incur in accommodating us, despite the fact that the law requires the school to accommodate religious practice to the point of undue hardship.  Once we were effectively expelled, we felt that we had no choice but to file human rights complaints and this was the advice that we received from many individuals and organizations including the Human Rights Commission itself.

“Finally, we hope to donate the damages that we were awarded to the Calgary Humane Society, as well as towards the promotion and defence of human rights in Canada.”

To read the full judgement, click here.

Media Contacts:

Mr. Birju M. Dattani, Legal Academic & Representative of the Complainant families

Email – bd13@soas.ac.uk

Ms. Amna Qureshi, Lawyer & Representative of the Complainant families

Email – amnamqureshi@gmail.com

Mahdi Qasqas, Calgary Muslim Youth Services

Email – Mahdi@3own.ca

Amira Elghawaby, NCCM Human Rights Coordinator

Email – aelghawaby@nccm.ca