NCCM: Appeal of Muslim prayer decision delays human rights justice

Decision means complainants must re-litigate reasonable accommodation case after 7 years

(Ottawa – June 22, 2018) The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a prominent civil liberties and advocacy organization, is disappointed by a new delay of justice in the case of two Muslim students who were prevented from praying at Webber Academy, a non-denominational private school in Calgary.

At the time of their enrollment at Webber, the families of the two Muslim students expressly requested permission for their sons, Sarmad Amir and Naman Siddiqui, to be able to pray at school when required. This request was granted initially, but was reversed by the Academy in January 2012.

Later, the students were asked to pray outside in the snow so as not to make other students “uncomfortable” despite previously praying in an empty classroom without the presence of other students.

The two students – who were both 14 years old at the time – were deeply hurt and humiliated by the treatment they experienced at the school, leading their parents to file a human rights complaint under the Alberta Human Rights Act. In a 2015 decision, the Human Rights Tribunal found that Webber Academy had failed to uphold the human rights of the students by preventing them from privately observing their prayers anywhere on campus. It ordered the school to pay the two students a total of $26,000 for “distress, injury and loss of dignity”.

Earlier this month, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that the original decision by the Tribunal included several errors and that new issues raised by Webber under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be examined. No date has been set for the new hearing.

“The NCCM is very disappointed by this recent decision which effectively requires these two young men to return to ‘step one’ in their search for justice, some seven years after they first sought reasonable accommodation of their constitutionally-protected religious rights at their school,” says NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee.

“After investing considerable time, energy and resources – emotional and financial – they will have to re-litigate their case before a new Tribunal panel on the basis of constitutional questions that could and should have been raised by Webber in the first instance,” adds Gardee.

“We feel unsettled and disappointed by this decision. The incident happened when we were just 14 years old, and we are both now 21. To have to relive the experience again through another hearing is painful and exhausting for us and our families. Nonetheless, we remain hopeful these new proceedings will conclude positively to reassure other Muslim students – at Webber and at other educational institutions across Canada – that their religious beliefs matter and deserve the same accommodation as those already afforded to other students of different faiths, or no faith,” say Sarmad Amir and Naman Siddiqui.

The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization that is a leading voice for Muslim civic engagement and the promotion of human rights.