We’re Afraid To Say No: Teachers

We're Afraid To Say No: Teachers

Want rules for health, schools. Officials fear ostracism if requests are turned down

The Gazette
Published: Tuesday, November 27

Quebec schools and health-care institutions are afraid of being sued or condemned in the media over religious accommodations they'd rather not make and need government guidelines to help them decide which demands are legitimate and which are not, the Bouchard-Taylor commission heard yesterday.

A delegation of unionized teachers from a French-language school board on the West Island, as well as a former director of a CLSC in the Laurentians, told the commission that administrators face a bevy of demands they're afraid to say “no” to out of fear of legal action or media exposure.

“It's not easy to manage all this, because it's all case-by-case,” said Nicole Frascadore, ex-president of the Syndicat de l'enseignement de l'ouest de Montrl, representing teachers in the Marguerite Bourgeoys school board, which last year lost a much-publicized Supreme Court case against a Sikh student who wanted to wear his ceremonial dagger, called a kirpan, to school.

Sikhs who want to wear ceremonial bracelets on their wrist in gym class, other kirpan-toting Sikhs who ask to go on a field trip to Parliament Hill or the National Assembly, and Muslim girls who want to be exempted from swim class because there are boys there – all are problematic for schools, Frascadore said.

Administrators usually balk at denying such requests “because they're scared they'll wind up in the media or in the courts and be ostracized,” she said. Frascadore is calling on the Quebec government to establish guidelines for school officials to better gauge the merit of religious-based demands. The need is urgent, because schools are getting more and more immigrant students, said Andr Aubut, the union's president.

The phenomenon of “geo-ethnic concentration” in the school system leads to more demands for accommodations, and teachers and administrators are ill-equipped to know which ones to favour, Aubut said.

In the health-care sector, administrators face the same problem, said Georges Le Gal, a former head of the CLSC in St. J?e, north of Montreal.

Administrators tend to favour accommodations to avoid trouble from “powerful lobbies,” he said. “If you make the wrong decision, whose head falls? Yours – the director-general of the institution. And you want to keep your job,” so in the end, the accommodation is made.

Zainab Diab, spokesperson for a Montreal Muslim-Lebanese association called Al-Rissaleh, said Quebecers have nothing to fear.

“We don't want to impose our presence in opposition to the laws and institutions of Canada and Quebec,” said Diab, who wore a hijab to the hearing and was flanked by two male colleagues.