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Toronto Hindu group criticizes Toronto school's Muslim prayer sessions

What is currently a field with portables behind Toronto's Valley Park Middle School will soon become a cricket oval. There is a large south Asian population in the Don Mills Rd. and Overlea Blvd area.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A Hindu group that regularly criticizes Islam is going after a Toronto school for holding prayer sessions for Muslim students on Friday afternoons, arguing that it violates principles of secularism in the public school system.

For about three years, Valley Park Middle School on Overlea Boulevard in Flemingdon Park has held the services in its cafeteria after non-Muslim students are finished lunch. An imam from a nearby mosque leads the sessions, which last 30 to 40 minutes.

According to meeting minutes on the school's website, the voluntary sessions were started because Muslim students were leaving early on Fridays to attend services.

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Canadian Hindu Advocacy says it has written a letter to the Toronto District School Board calling for the prayers to be stopped, and is prepared to hold protests when school starts up again.

"There should not be any sort of prayer sessions in school," said director Ron Banerjee.

The school said the practice helps prevent students from missing instructional time by going to pray. Gerri Gershon, the trustee for the area, said she had received some letters from members of the community who were concerned Muslim students were getting special treatment, but expressed surprise that another religious group would take issue with it.

"This is so sad," she said. "This is part of our religious accommodation policy."

Canadian Hindu Advocacy often opposes Islam and Sikhism. During a speech at a 2010 rally for right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Mr. Banerjee said Islam is less a religion than an ideology, and that Islamic civilization had contributed "less to human advancement than a pack of donkeys."



With a report from Kate Hammer

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