Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

Ezra Levant

David Matas

Alan Levy


by Rhonda Spivak, November 16, 2011

[Editor’s note: Thank you to several readers for asking me to write an article on this subject several months ago. I have a tremendous backlog and though the incident discussed herein occurred last February, the discussion is still relevant today]
According to media reports from February 2011, a dozen Muslim families who had recently arrived in Canada told Winnipeg’s Louis Riel School Division that they want their children excused from compulsory elementary school music and co-ed physical education programs for religious and cultural reasons.
Music and phys-ed are compulsory in the province’s elementary schools.
The families accept physical education, as long as the boys and girls have separate classes, but do not want their children exposed to singing or the playing musical instruments. The school division suggested they could instead do a writing project to satisfy the music requirements of the arts curriculum.
Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services told the National Post that in her view there is no problem with elementary-school children taking coed phys-ed, at least “not with little kids under the age of puberty.”
She said when some middle-school and high-school students have asked not to mix genders, they have been accommodated by schools.
According to the National Post, Siddiqui said that music can be an issue for a minority of Muslims.
“Music is controversial in our community; this is a North American phenomenon,” she said. “There is a minority view that music is forbidden. (That view) is not accepted by the majority,” she said.
The school division will also have to consider these issues when the children enter junior high or high school. Music is optional beyond Grade 6, but phys-ed is coed right through Grade 12.
 When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review to comment about this case, David Matas, human rights lawyer and senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada said “ B'nai Brith has not developed a position on this specific issue. My own view is that the touchstone should be the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a party. That Convention provides that in any action concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. That Convention also provides that states parties shall respect the rights of parents to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right to freedom of religion. Where the two conflict, then, as the Convention states, the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration. While I recognize that removing children from music and co-ed physical education is the expression of a right to freedom of religion, in my view, this removal would not be done in the best interests of the children involved. So the schools should not allow it to happen.”
In an article in the Sun media, conservative pundit Ezra Levant sided against the demands of the Muslim Families suggesting he disagreed with the ruling by an Ontario Court of Appeal that “ Muslim women can ask for a court order to clear men out of a courtroom - court staff, lawyers, even the judge -before taking off their veils to testify.”
Levant advocates “promoting Canadian values” otherwise Canada will look like the United Kingdom.
 As Levant wrote:
“In 2007, some schools [in the U.K.] stopped teaching the Holocaust because it contradicted the anti-Semitic views held by "adamant" families there.
‘The history of the Crusades was dropped too, because the "balanced" approach taken by schools contradicted what the local mosques were teaching.
“And in 2008, schools in Bristol yanked gay-friendly books out of libraries when Muslim parents complained.’
In an article in, Robyn Urback wrote:
“…I understand why girls and boys are sometimes separated for physical education in upper years; no one really wants to be going through puberty and doing squats beside a pal of theo opposite gender, after all. Plus, as boys and girls develop they diverge in terms of strengths and physical abilities. It makes sense that they would be separated when playing sports, competing in races, relays, etc. But the same isn’t true for little boys and girls… Separating girls and boys for physical education during the elementary years sends the wrong message about gender equality; at that age….”
“Allowing students to opt out of music class, … does undermine the self-professed value of public education. The Winnipeg school board believes learning music is an integral aspect of a well-rounded education… To allow students to opt out for religious reasons is to forfeit the contention that music is important for growth… If the Winnipeg board wants to maintain confidence in its program, it should stand by its curriculum.”
In an article in the Calgary Herald, Licia Corbella interviewed Mahfooz Kanwar, a member of the Muslim Canadian Congress and a professor emeritus of sociology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, who told her "I'd tell them [these Muslim families], this is Canada , and in Canada , we teach music and physical education in our schools. If you don't like it, leave. If you want to live under sharia law, go back to the hellhole country you came from or go to another hellhole country that lives under sharia law".  
Corbella wrote “that might be putting things a little more forcefully than most of us would be comfortable with”, but Kanwar says… ‘Immigrants to Canada should adjust to Canada , not the other way around.’
When asked for his comments on the case, Associate Prof Alan Levy, who teaches diversity courses at Bandon University, wrote in an email to the Winnipeg Jewish Review:
“Unlike the U.S., we do not believe in the Melting Pot Model in Canada; “that you are now American and you leave the trappings of your homeland at the American door”. In Canada, thanks to former Prime Minister Trudeau, we have the multicultural model offered to all immigrants; which means you keep many of the trappings of your homeland when you enter the Canadian door. This does not mean you do not have to assimilate within Canadian style of life. It means you have freedoms pursuant to the Human Rights Code in each Province and federally where one enjoys the freedoms as prescribed in the Canadian Charter.
“Where foreign customs are in conflict with Canadian laws it is the Canadian law which must always supersede any religious law. Whether it is Sharia/Halachic Law. Should family members put a complaint in concerning Sharia Law with the police, it is only the Canadian legal standards that matter in this case.
“We should be accommodating all groups concerning their religious beliefs to practice their religion in a free and democratic fashion, but when any religion comes into conflict with the Canadian legal system, it is the Canadian legal system that must be followed.

‘The argument that is being made here is that in all of our public institutions, such as public schools, universities, and hospitals, which are publicly funded, there should be no religious symbols, affiliation, pictures of any kind. These institutions are civil/pluralistic institutions which beyond their central purpose also represent Canadian society. They must be civil institutions which will accommodate the limits of multiculturalism that makes Canada the greatest diversity experiment in the worldld.”

 As for Levant's views, Levy says   Levant  's views are " certainly not the views of most Jewish communities or Canadians. Although he is coming from Conservative Alberta most Albertans would not agree with him. ... As Jews we must be at the front of the line advocating for immigrants and anti discrimination laws not the back of the line as Mr Levant would have us do."

<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • Royal Bank
  • Fillmore Riley
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • JNF Manitoba / Saskatchewan
  • JCFS
  • JCFS Winnipeg
  • Orthodox Union
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Sobey's
  • Coughlin Insurance
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Tel Aviv University Canada
  • Safeway Tuxedo
  • Daniel Friedman and Rob Dalgleish
  • Lipkin Family
  • Booke + Partners
  • Red River Coop
  • Gislason Targownik
  • Janice Morley-Lecomte
  • James Teitsma
  • Obby Khan
  • Jon Reyes
  • James Bezan
  • Markus Chambers
  • Ross Eadie
  • Ted Falk
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Chisick Family
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Bob and Shirley Freedman
  • Shinewald Family
  • MLT Aikins
  • MLT Aikins
  • Myers LLP
  • Levene Tadman Golub
  • Equitable Solutions
  • Charach Family
  • Munroe Dental Centre
  • MCW Consultants Ltd.
  • Preventative Health First
  • Lanny Silver
  • Josef Ryan
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Bruce Shefrin Interior Design
  • PFK Lawyers
  • Commercial Pool
  • Simmonds and Associates
  • CVA Systems
  • CdnVISA Immigration Consultants
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Dr. Brent Schachter and Sora Ludwig
  • Clear Care Periodontal
  • Shindico
  • Doheny Securities Limited
  • Lazar Family
  • Superlite
  • Chochy's
  • Nick's Inn
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Global Philanthropic
  • Abe and Toni Berenhaut
  • Peerless Garments
  • Cavalier Candies
  • Roseman Corp
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • Broadway Law Group
  • West Kildonan Auto Service
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.