To have freedom from discrimination and be treated equally may be a pipe dream for some. There are countries where these rights are not consistently upheld, and others where it’s a continuous struggle to have these rights consistently upheld. In Canada, we sporadically hear stories on the news or on social media about violations and the long, drawn out court battles that ensue.
One of our rights in Canada is to live free of discrimination. Under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms racial equality, sexual equality, mental disability, and physical disability are included. In addition, Section 15 contains guaranteed equality rights. As part of the Constitution, the section prohibits certain forms of discrimination carried out by the government of Canada. Exceptions do exist such as affirmative action and rights or privileges guaranteed with respect to denominational, separate or dissentient schools (religious education).
Recently in the news, two Grade 9 and 10 students in a non-denominational school, back in 2011, were told their praying—which requires bowing and kneeling—was “too obvious”. The teens continued to hold their prayers in secret in the school or outside, but were refused enrollment for the following school year. The case was brought forth as a Human Rights violation. The families of the students who won damages after a private Calgary school didn't allow them to pray on campus grounds, and wouldn't let them re-enroll, stated feeling that there are “misconceptions” related to the case.
A human rights coordinator from the National Council of Canadian Muslims said there’s a difference between running a non-denominational school and discriminating against individual citizens on the basis of religious beliefs.
The school is a non-denominational setting and the family was not asking for it to hold any type of religious service. They were asking for a place for students to be able to pray without fear of harm or ridicule.
Freedom of religion in Canada is a constitutionally protected right. Finding the balance of when and where, rather than if, one may practice their religious beliefs may be the current challenge. What are your thoughts on finding this balance when it comes to living in a society as diverse as ours?
Several authors contribute to the CAN Blog.