A school board in southwestern Ontario is trying to correct the record after Sun Media personality Ezra Levant incorrectly accused it of kowtowing to Muslim students who wanted to avoid commemorating Remembrance Day
In a column published Tuesday in Sun newspapers, Mr. Levant writes that the Greater Essex County District School Board, which includes Windsor and Leamington, Ont., instructed principals "to be prepared to exempt Muslim students from Remembrance Day."
He points to a memo issued last week in which Superintendent Sharon Pyke suggests accommodations may be made for some children. "Some families may be reluctant to have their children attend your location municipality's ceremonies. Please note that meaningful alternate activities should be provided at the schools for those families who do not wish their children to participate in any Remembrance Day ceremonies."
In his column, Levant says: "It's a disgrace that any family would object to it – especially an immigrant family who came here to benefit from our country. It would call into question the basis on which they applied for and were granted citizenship.
"And even if some old bigot from a backwoods village in Pakistan or Somalia doesn't want to respect Canada, that's where our schools come in and teach those bigots' kids and grandkids what it means to be Canadian.
"It's insulting that either parents or the school board thinks Remembrance Day is in any way anti-Muslim."
He adds: "Could you imagine if a German or Japanese family objected? The obvious question would be: Do you think Hitler or Mussolini or Hirohito were right? That's the implication of Muslim families objecting to Remembrance Day – that we were wrong."
He voiced similar sentiments in a segment that aired Monday during his nightly show on the Sun News Network.
In fact, the school board says, its memo had nothing to do with Muslim families. Rather, it was a response in part to safety concerns raised by parents whose children might be attending public memorial events. On Tuesday, about 300 students participated in a memorial at the Windsor Cenotaph that included dozens of veterans in uniform.
"It's because of the attack that happened at the Cenotaph in Ottawa, and the fact that it's apparent that ISIL or ISIS has targeted individuals in uniform, and there would be individuals in uniform in attendance at public ceremonies," said Scott Scantlebury, a public-relations officer with the board, in an interview. Last month, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot while serving as honour guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. In a separate incident, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was run down in a parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
The school board memo, which was primarily about the significance of Remembrance Day, included a series of six links directing teachers to online resources.
It was accompanied by 10 photographs, including pictures of Sikh soldiers and veterans, an Ojibwa Canadian veteran of the Korean War, a Mennonite veteran and a Jewish soldier in a prayer shawl carrying a Torah.
"Remembrance Day is a wonderful 'teachable moment' – and the Canadian War Museum has lots to offer with resources that are reflective of our Canadian nation – and our equally diverse local population," read the memo, with a link to a page on the National War Museum site.
Other links included a memorial about the first Canadian Muslim woman to wear a hijab in uniform. There are also links to Google Image search results featuring aboriginal Canadian soldiers, African Canadian soldiers, and Asian Canadian soldiers.
"There were some links included on the memo that were provided for principals and schools doing Remembrance Day ceremonies that helped reinforce the diversity of our armed forces, because that's sometimes a forgotten element," said Mr. Scantlebury, who noted that the Greater Essex County is one of the most diverse in Canada.
Mr. Scantlebury said on Tuesday that he was not aware of any student that had requested any special accommodation. He added that he had been receiving calls on the matter for much of the day.
"We feel it's very unfortunate that this has taken away, somewhat, from what is a very solemn occasion in our schools," he said.
Mr. Levant's column ends with a call to sign a petition protesting the school board at LoveItOrLeave.ca. There, Levant's supporters can purchase T-shirts sporting a Canadian flag design and the statement "If you don't love it, leave."
They can also buy tickets to a three-night "Free Speech" tour featuring Levant and Sun Media's Brian Lilley. VIP seats for the stop in Red Deer, Alta., are priced at $109.85.
This is the text of the memo sent out by Superintendent Sharon Pyke of the Greater Essex County School Board:
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 is Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember those who have served and sacrificed as a member of the armed forces. The 11 day of November recalls the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918 "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month".
The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar symbol of Remembrance Day due to the poem "In Flanders Fields". Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I; their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war. Veterans Affairs Canada states that the date is of "remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace"; specifically, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and all conflicts since then in which members of the Canadian Forces have participated, including international peace-keeping missions.
Some schools may have their own school assemblies while others may choose to participate in the ceremonies of their local municipalities such as the Windsor Cenotaph. Please be mindful that some families may be reluctant to have their children attend your location municipality's ceremonies. Please note that meaningful alternate activities should be provided at the schools for those families who do not wish their children to participate in any Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Please find attached some images that reflect Canada's diverse military and to honour those families who are, and have been our allies in conflicts that we as a nation, have participated.
There is also a DVD created by Mary Catherine Langlois that was sent out last week for your consideration.
Remembrance Day is a wonderful 'teachable moment' – and the Canadian War Museum has lots to offer with resources that are reflective of our Canadian nation – and our equally diverse local population. http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/education/toolkit/kitcollections_e.shtml
http://madpadre.blogspot.ca/2009/05/canadian-muslim-soldier-guides-faithful.htm [Editor's note: This is a dead link. Cached version of the page is available here.]
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.