|Webber Academy, Calgary|
A private school in Calgary has been ordered by the Alberta Human Rights Commission to pay two Muslim students a total of $26,000 in damages for "distress" and "loss of dignity," after the teens were told they couldn't conduct their daily prayers on school grounds.
The two human rights complaints were filed against Webber Academy in February 2012 by Shabnam Nazar and Farhat Amir on behalf of their 14-year-old sons.
Nazer and Amir told the Alberta human rights tribunal that at first their sons prayed openly on Webber Academy school grounds with the permission of their teachers, but it didn't last.
After two-and-a-half weeks of classes, Webber Academy notified them through phone calls and a letter the prayers were against the school's non-denominational policy.
The tribunal heard the two students ended up praying outside in the winter.
In Calgary, winter is not a trivial matter. Average January daily high temperatures are −3 °C (27 °F). And Calgary is a very windy city.
'We are a non-denominational school. We've operated on that basis for the last 18 years'
- Neil Webber, president of Webber Academy.
One of them, Naman Siddique, testified if it was too cold, he would find a nook or cranny in the school and pray in secret. He said he found it humiliating.
Siddique also told the tribunal a staff member interrupted his prayers in the school library to ask him what he was doing.
He said the experience left a "deep fear" in his heart and he still feels the need to look over his shoulder when he's praying in public spaces.
Webber Academy is appealing the tribunal's decision.
"We're not discriminating against anybody at the school on the basis of religion," said Neil Webber, the president of Webber Academy.
"We are a non-denominational school. We've operated on that basis for the last 18 years."
I can't wait until the Supreme Court of Canada tells them they cannot prostrate themselves on school property. But, of course, that won't happen because they are not Christians.
So, I'm expecting a large Christian prayer group to emerge in Webber Academy and to practice praying in the most obvious spot on campus.
At the tribunal, the school argued prayer that requires bowing or kneeling is "too obvious" and may make other students uncomfortable.
It said it only wants to create a learning environment that is "free of religious influences."
You'll have to move to city council chambers for that!
The human rights tribunal found otherwise.
|Calgary, Alberta, Canada|
"If you're a private school, what you should be taking from it is that the Human Rights Act applies to you," said Sarah Burton, a human right's lawyer at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre in Calgary.
"I think we should watch this case. I wouldn't be surprised if it got to the Supreme Court of Canada or at least to the Alberta Court of Appeal to have some of these issues hashed out," she said.
And then the fun will start!