The Toronto District School Board agreed to revise an online resource guide developed for Islamic Heritage Month hours after B’nai Brith Canada raised concerns that its definition of Islamophobia would muzzle staff and students.
In an Oct. 2 letter to B’nai Brith, TDSB chair Robin Pilkey said the definition would be changed to conform to the one used by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
“We will make this edit in the interest of moving forward in a positive way and trust that this change will address your concerns,” Pilkey’s letter stated.
The original Islamic Heritage Month Resource Guidebook for Educators defined Islamophobia as “fear, prejudice, hatred or dislike directed against Islam or Muslims, or towards Islamic politics or culture.”
B’nai Brith called that “absurdly overbroad,” and said it would prohibit staff and students from criticizing Islamic politics.
If enforced, it would have punished those who oppose the persecution of LGBTQ people in Iran, harsh restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia and Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, “all of which are examples of ‘Islamic politics,’ ” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said in an Oct. 2 statement.
“Fighting bigotry against Muslims can’t become a pretext for tolerating or whitewashing human rights violations in Muslim countries, but that’s exactly what this definition does,” Mostyn added.
The 180-page guide was taken offline on the afternoon of Oct. 2. There are no printed copies, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told The CJN.
Later that day, Mostyn issued a statement thanking the TDSB “for acting swiftly to correct this serious problem.”
Pilkey said the new definition of Islamophobia would be: “Racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.” The revision will further state that “In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”
Even though the board changed the definition, Pilkey said the original wording was not a directive and not enforceable. She denied it would have silenced students or staff.
“To suggest that the TDSB is encouraging students to stay silent about what they experienced in their countries of birth or that the TDSB is somehow banning students and educators from criticizing executions and other human rights abuses around the world is categorically untrue,” she said.
B’nai Brith said it was told by a TDSB representative that the first definition was included in the guidebook “in error,” but declined to divulge to The CJN who that representative was, saying only it was a “highly placed person” at the board.
The TDSB’s new definition of Islamophobia “is certainly a significant improvement over the inappropriate definition that was initially provided,” Mostyn told The CJN in an email.
“However, we are surprised and disappointed to see the TDSB lashing out at B’nai Brith for pointing out its original mistake. The TDSB should be thanking whistleblowers for helping to ensure the accuracy of its materials, rather than expressing such misplaced anger.”
B’nai Brith representatives are scheduled to appear before a parliamentary committee on Oct. 18 to give their views on motion M-103, passed by the House of Commons last spring. The motion condemns all forms of Islamophobia and other examples of systemic racism. Critics have charged that “Islamophobia” is not defined in the motion and that such a measure could lead to the squelching of free speech.