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Forty years ago, Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made multiculturalism Canada’s official policy with the Canadian Multicultural Act. To many Canadians, no government policy in their country’s history has had a more profound and irrevocable effect on their society and way of life than this un-voted on Liberal initiative. Trudeau was the most leftist prime minister in Canadian history and, due to his far left leanings, was once blacklisted from entering the United States.
While there were already many cultures in Canada in 1971, those of the country’s two founding peoples, English and French, were foremost. But that was to end with the Multicultural Act, which radically changed Canadian society (mainly the dominant English part) from being primarily an assimilative one to a mosaic, in which immigrants could now retain the cultures they brought with them. According to the policy’s socialist originators in the Liberal Party, Canada was to become a brilliant rainbow of peoples and cultures who would be naturally tolerant of one another (not like those racist white people who pioneered the country) and who would also enrich society with their diversity. And perhaps of equal importance to the Liberals’ leftist and anti-American social engineers, Canada would not be like America’s melting pot.
But forty years after multiculturalism’s adoption, its success remains debatable. The supposed intolerance existing in pre-multicultural Canada, which multiculturalism would eliminate, seems to have been replaced by other hatreds and prejudices the new ethnic groups have brought with them from around the world.
The latest multicultural collision concerns a confrontation between Hindu and Muslim communities in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The Canadian Hindu Advocacy, a multicultural group, is upset that Muslim students at a public school are allowed to hold a prayer service, led by an imam from a local mosque, every Friday afternoon in the school’s cafeteria from November to March. During the service, it is reported male students sit in front of the female students.
The imam was selected by the parents, and the school pays no money for the service but does supervise the event, which about 400 students attend. The school, Valley Park Middle School, is about 80 percent Muslim and is the only public school in Toronto with such an event.
Canadian courts banned religious practices from the public school systems in the 1980s. The 1980s was also the decade that saw the saying of the Lord’s Prayer prohibited in public school classrooms. It was viewed as too indoctrinating as well a stigmatization of those who did not take part. From that time on, legally, education was to be secular. But University of Toronto law professor Ed Morgan believes the Valley Park situation may exceed legal boundaries.
“I think this looks like a school practising religion,” Morgan said. “The school may be conveying a message that they endorse religion and that’s not what the school is allowed to do.”
Besides the appearance one religion is receiving preferential treatment over another, the Hindus are also concerned that the Muslim students may be subjected to “inflammatory preaching against their faith.” A Canadian Hindu Advocacy director, Ron Banerjee, said Hindu parents had complained about this, although “there has been no evidence this has occurred.” Nevertheless, the Hindu organization is planning protests at the school until the prayer service is ended.
“This is alarming and unacceptable,” said Banerjee. “We respect the separation of church and state.”
To their credit, not all Muslims agree with holding an Islamic religious service in a public school. The Muslim Canadian Congress, a large Canadian Muslim group, has joined the Canadian Hindu Advocacy in calling for its end. Besides a concern it could foster hard feelings with other religious groups, the Muslim Canadian Congress also believes some Muslims, such as Ismailis and Ahmadiyyas, would face discrimination and not be allowed to take part. The Jewish Defense League is also supporting the Canadian Hindu Advocacy’s efforts to end the prayer service.
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