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Canadian Ministers Endorse Muslim Prayer in Schools

TORONTO – Two Canadian ministers endorsed on Thursday, March 23, Muslim weekly Friday prayer at schools, commending Peel municipality, Ontario, for allowing it and putting an end to brawling debate in which Islamophobic comments were yelled.

“I have met with the leadership of Peel and have obviously been very concerned about what I’ve seen and heard,” said Education Minister Mitzie Hunter who, along with Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau, issued a written statement backing the board, Toronto Star reported.

“… It felt important to Minister Coteau and I to really reinforce our expectations … there’s just no tolerance for discrimination of any sort,” she told reporters at Queen’s Park.

“We don’t tolerate issues of racism and Islamophobia.”

The past days have witnessed a brawling debate after it was revealed that Peel public board is providing space for Muslim students to pray as a group, on Fridays.

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The practice has been going on for two decades, as it has in some Toronto public schools, but only recently been targeted by critics by way of protest and petitions demanding the 20 minutes of group prayer, called Jumu`ah, be banned.

Critics believe it leads to segregation among students and inappropriate exposure to religion in a secular school system.

But, Hunter and Coteau said allowing such prayers are in full compliance with the human rights code and mandatory board religious accommodation guidelines.

“We encourage parents and students to have an ongoing dialogue with their schools if an accommodation is required or whether there are concerns,” they wrote.

“While it is our expectation that all public school boards comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, we know that hate continues to spread, even in the most diverse regions of our province.”

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association issued a statement saying “the schools of Ontario welcome and provide a safe place for students who practice the very broadest range of religions and beliefs.”

Hunter and Coteau say the Peel board “has been working closely with their students and the community for more than a decade on religious accommodation in their schools and we are pleased to see their commitment to inclusion.

“… Realizing the promise of Ontario’s diversity is a continuous process grounded in actively respecting and valuing the full range of our differences.”