In Mississauga, Ontario, the sixth largest city of Canada is allowing Muslim students attending public schools to deliver sermons on Fridays at school without prior screening by school authorities. Mississauga is a suburb of Toronto. This is a reversal of policy, which was enforced heretofore because previous sermons written by students were found to be problematic. Until the policy change was made, students could choose from six pre-approved sermons in English, except for verses from the Koran.
The educational director is also allowing Muslim students to gather for daily prayer in schools. Mosque rules apply at prayer times, which means that the sexes are separated. Menstruating girls and women are only allowed to watch but not participate. Menstruating females are not allowed to touch the Koran, Islam’s holy book.
Education Director explained to the Peel District School Board: “The board has always been committed to an inclusive approach in all activities related to religious accommodation.” The rule change came after months of lobbying and protests by Muslim parents, student activists, and imams.
Pontes said he will consult leaders of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, which is the Canadian branch of the controversial Council on American-Islamic Relations. The latter was once categorized by a spokesperson for the previous Canadian government as “an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.” Hamas is a terrorist organization.
There was at least one voice in opposition. Sandra Solomon, a former Muslim who was born in Palestine, shouted at a board meeting, “I ran away from sharia law, they wanted to kill me. Canadian law, not sharia law!” She was escorted by police from the building. Local media described her criticism as a “racially charged outburst.”
The recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which was once required in Canada’s public schools, has been abolished by various court decisions.
However, in the Peel School District, individual prayer for Muslim students and no group prayers were permitted as of 2012. Later, when school administrators found that some schools were allowing congregational prayer on Fridays when students delivered their own sermons, Pontes sought advice. Lawyers argued that on the basis of the Ontario Education Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code, that group prayer should not be allowed. Six local imams advocated Friday congregational prayer featuring sermons led by students.
In June 2016, Pontes allowed Friday prayer in all public schools but stipulated that the imams should write the sermons, because student sermons had proved to be a problem. “(There were) a few situations where staff had to intervene,” board spokesperson Ryan Reyes said. Activists mounted protests and called the policy “discrimination,” “Islamophobia,” and “colonialism,” and demanded group daily prayers. Muslim activists said that school reviews of sermons had “colonial implications.”
After school board chair Janet McDougald was re-elected in 2016, she said equity and inclusion remain her highest priorities. She and Pontes held a closed-door meeting with Muslim imams, students, and parents to listen to their complaints. McDougald told a Hindu parent who asked why the meeting was closed that it was actually “a public meeting by invitation.”
"The board has always been committed to an inclusive approach in all activities related to religious accommodation for students and staff of all faiths," director of education Tony Pontes said in a statement released Tuesday night.
Non-Muslim citizens expressed their disapproval of what some called favoritism for Muslims. Eric Brazau greeting the meeting in Arabic and then criticized the practice of Islam and what he called the "exclusive accommodation for Muslims" in the board report, written by Pontes. Police were on hand during the tense meeting. Video of the event showed that parents were shouting during the proceedings.