The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Intolerance cannot be tolerated

By in Opinions

The Phoenix (University of British Columbia — Okanagan)


KELOWNA (CUP) — In early January 2014, York University accepted and endorsed gender intolerance for the sake of religious toleration.

A male student requested that he not have to work with women on a group project because it violated his religious beliefs. The professor disagreed and made the call that the student should not be able to make that demand. The dean, instead, believed that the appeal was valid and granted the student’s request.

York has become a case study of the delicate balance between equality and religious tolerance.

We exist in an era where multiculturalism is both commonplace and necessary. With multiculturalism comes the necessity for understanding and empathizing towards differing belief structures, social strata and diverse traditions. Canada is a place that celebrates differences and has nurtured a secular platform upon which our country is based.

As a society uneasy with our turbulent past, we are prone to please those we have wronged. This instinct is just and earnest but in this specific case we cannot accept the marginalization of women in favor of religious beliefs. Human rights are supposed to take precedent over everything else.

We have to accept that some social structures are a progressive improvement even though we have so closely tied liberal democracies to Western society and imperialism. Equality between gender and race is simply better. That value isn’t another form of colonialism; it’s simply respect for our own humanity.

As Canadians, we are privileged enough to be able to consider these issues in detail due to our insistence on public education to foster a stronger and more robust society.

If we are to follow York University’s precedent, should we accept and charter private schools that refuse to admit women or people of color? Furthermore, do we accept the prejudices of certain socially conservative sectors that feel the need to refuse rights to LGBT couples? Of course not; prejudice is prejudice, even if it is contained within specific — and sometimes idiosyncratic — religious beliefs.

On Jan. 17, 2014, The Globe and Mail quoted a former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who said, “There’s a danger in a country that absorbs immigrants at the rate we do that if you don’t have a set of norms, a set of stories about yourself, the kind of myths and narratives that create a national identity, that you cease to be a nation.”

Putting extreme nationalism aside, let’s accept that part of our Canadian narrative is acceptance and empathy towards all shapes, sizes, colours, races or creeds — and in the case of York, we need to be firm about that.

Sometimes true equality requires a social and cultural force. Human rights are the foundation of our society, so we cannot allow intolerance to hollow out the core of compulsory tolerance.

Equality is not a natural state in our world — which is unfortunate — but that means it is a unifying and worthwhile value that must be vehemently defended.

Graphic: Chynna Howard/The Phoenix

  • J

    Please explain to me how the Harper aide quote was “extreme nationalism”? It struck me as a reasonable insistence on the endurance of a recognizable Canadian culture, not some fanatical belief in the supremacy of our society. Other than that however, I generally agreed with the piece.

    • haha

      yes mythical fantasies are much better

  • PSK

    I agree completely with “J”. The Harper aide quote is something that I completely agree with. Canada needs to accept people of all walks of life, but we must attempt to remain strong as a nation.

    And also like “J”, very good article other than the uneccessary extreme nationalism comment.

  • Laris

    I have to wonder though, although I do agree to some extent, this particular individual does not say that women should not enter into school, or that men and women should not be in groups (ie, forcing his beliefs on others), he is trying his best to live by his own beliefs which are his own. He is not hurting others, by requesting to be in an all male group. There is no attempt to develop a deeper understanding of why he has requested this, I don’t see him infringing on anybody’s human rights or marginalizing women, he does not have the power to do so. I would think you need to have power in order to do that. With Canada’s history of marginalization and prejudice, I can see the lens are skewed and quick to see this request in such a way, but we should instead try to develop a deeper understanding,

    • Tim

      In Canada, the genders work together. We are not segregated. Women have worked for how long to be equal? They’re still working to get there. Now men come from foreign countries to set this back? No!

    • cmon people

      I think this issue is being blown way out of proportion; by saying he is not able to work with women according to his religion does not mean that he is being prejudiced against women, nor is he advertising and endorsing gender segregation. He’s making a personal choice. It’s like saying that a priest doesn’t marry women, therefore he is prejudiced against women. Obviously, no one would say that about a priest, because everyone mostly thinks that Christianity doesn’t promote gender inequality. But now we have this Muslim student here–he MUST be doing it because he is prejudiced against women. Now isn’t the fact that everyone is making this assumption about this man, just because he is Muslim, demonstrating prejudice? Segregation in Islam is due to spiritual reasons, not because anyone’s being “oppressed.” As a Muslim woman, I would not want to work in a group full of men if it required that I would have to work with them constantly on my own time (of course, it depends on the nature of the project this student is to work on; does it require constant mixed interaction, or is this student just being ridiculous?). I’m not going to let an institution take over my way of life, and come on, I’m being marked on this too! As a human being, I have the right to work with who I am comfortable with, and my teachers in high school respected and understood this without an uproar; I told them I was not comfortable to go swimming with our entire mixed gender gym class, and I was able to opt out of it and do an alternate assignment. No one said I was demonstrating prejudice against men, and I wasn’t! But it’s much easier for everyone to look at it from an ignorant western perspective than to actually study the religion’s philosophy.

    • Nonono


    • Tim

      Uh, no. If he can’t handle working with women, he’d better find a more appropriate country to cater to his beliefs.

    • cmon people

      Working with the opposite gender is a reality in this society, and one should always be loyal to his or her homeland. To these ideas, I concur.

      However, making false assumptions about people’s choices based on their belief or unique practice, and illegitimately forcing them out of their comfort zone should not be a norm. I am a Canadian-born citizen and I do not conform to this norm. If you can’t respect that, then maybe you should move to Quebec or France. A lot of people would agree with you there :) .

    • Tim

      I don’t care what his reasons are, any more than I would if someone quoted the Bible to justify refusing to work with a gay person. It’s discrimination, pure and simple.

    • cmon people

      The idea that this is discrimination is your assumption. Let’s say in gym class, I refuse to participate in the dancing unit because it involves physical contact with the opposite gender, and simply put, I’m not comfortable with that. Does that make me prejudiced against men? No way (and I’ve opted out of things like this numerous times because I wasn’t comfortable. For example, I told my principal I could not shake hands with him for reasons of modesty in my faith and therefore I was not used to it and didn’t feel comfortable, and that it was nothing personal, and he was so welcoming and open-hearted about it. How come no one cared then? (maybe because he was more educated about Islam, or because I’m a girl?)). If I’m being forced to participate in something that makes me physically and mentally uncomfortable, then where’s the freedom in that? I’m not going to accommodate an institution at the expense of my human rights, nor am I violating anyone else’s by choosing to opt out of something that is outside of my comfort zone. I have not, and am not quoting the Bible or the Qur’an (interesting how you brought that into this and not me), I’m just talking about the “universal human rights” which this article is speaking of. I wholeheartedly believe in gender equality, and I am by no means endorsing gender apartheid, I’m just staying within my comfort zone (which is what I’m used to, not harboring any kind of hatred) and keeping my choice to myself; it’s not like I’m going to go advertise it to everyone and go start a revolution tomorrow. The rational point is that I don’t feel fully physically or mentally comfortable working closely with the opposite gender, and that’s something many unprejudiced religious AND non-religious people can relate to (and yes, the reason for not working with someone DOES matter, because it has to be based on something moral and legitimate for it to be not discrimination; like what if someone had been raped and therefore did not feel comfortable with the opposite gender? That reason is not demonstrating prejudice, so you can’t just dumb it down to black and white and say “I don’t care what his reasons are.” You also can’t compare it to discrimination against a gay person, because this guy doesn’t even have a discriminatory base in the first place, which I will explain.). As long as I’m not making my choice based on hatred and forcing my decision on to other people, I am justly exercising my freedom. This guy was not expressing hatred towards women by saying he isn’t comfortable working with them due to his religion, because Islam does not promote prejudice against women (and if you think that then I will spend another hour ranting about how you should get real education, and you’re probably already tired reading this long comment). Islam promotes segregation (which is why he’s not used to gender intermingling and feels a bit awkward about it), yes, but like I already said, that has no connection with women being “impure” or “evil” like uneducated people would assume, as it is due to spiritual reasons, kind of like how women in Aboriginal cultures take a rest from going to the sweat lodge when they’re menstruating; women and men are recognized as different and special in their own way, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t equal. Answer this single question: Did anyone extract a single piece of evidence to prove that he is discriminating against all women (for example, did he even say a word that would demonstrate prejudice?)? The truth isn’t as shallow as it seems. He said he didn’t want to work with women because of his RELIGION, not because he hated women; the fact that we’ve managed to associate women-hating with Islam (or even with just the broad, yet vague idea of gender segregation, which has a million interpretations if you’re not sheltered and have an adequate knowledge base on cultures across the world) shows just how much of a sham our so called “multiculturalism” is; pointing fingers at someone else’s way of life is easy, but learning what true freedom means (which entails being EDUCATED about different groups, not simply acknowledging them) and living with it isn’t.

      And FYI, the religious person in this scenario was even described by the professor as being “decent and polite”; understanding that his instructor would not allow him an alternative, he kindly gave in and cooperated with him. It wasn’t like he was demonstrating some kind of burning hate (nor was the university which gave him the option to opt out paving an open pathway for inequality); he was just trying to be reasonable in expressing what he would be most comfortable with. He didn’t want to make himself look like a prejudiced jerk and did not want to cause any unrest.

      But the truth wouldn’t make as good of a story for the media, eh?

    • Tim

      You know, taken alone, perhaps this one case isn’t that big of a deal. However, it’s the door has been opened that bothers me. Don’t try to tell me that it’s just my ignorance about other cultures that causes me to perceive great inequalities and intolerance of women in certain countries around the world. That just doesn’t wash. Don’t insult my intelligence. Or that this problem is limited to shy, sweet boys who just aren’t comfortable around the opposite sex. I don’t typically shake hands with people, either, because it’s a fantastic way to pick up a flu bug. No one usually minds, but First Nations friends of mine do a lot of hand shaking as a way of greeting. So you know what? I shake their hands. And I don’t shake hands with the males and tell the women, “No, not you. I’m not comfortable shaking hands with a woman.” Because that would be absurd. It would be discriminatory. I don’t ask my professors, “Gee, I’m not comfortable working with the Jewish students among this class, or the differently able.” I don’t think that would work out for me very well. I least, I would certainly hope not. So why is it different when the group that someone doesn’t want to work with is women? Because it’s tolerated, that’s why!! What we don’t want here in Canada is an attitude that whatever beliefs people bring with them while they study here, or live here are just going to become the way it is. No other countries do that! We do have a Canadian identity, and again, it does not include people deciding what segments of the population they will and will not work with.

    • cmon people

      “my ignorance about other cultures that causes me to perceive great inequalities and intolerance of women in certain countries around the world.” Haha, this is funny; your IGNORANCE causes you to see how things really are? Do you honestly think that I, a person of South-Asian heritage, can’t clearly understand the way things really are in my country and from other Muslim countries? Okay, yes, discrimination does exist in those countries, but just like they exist in other countries around the world too. And they are NOT for religious reasons (again, this is hard to believe if your source of information is from biased media, and this is what I was trying to tell you before, I did not mean to insult your intelligence), it is due to sexist traditions and cultures being passed on through the generations that people have tried to excuse with religion (when in fact, the religion has no teachings which correspond with such hate, they’ve just twisted it so they can brainwash the weak and impoverished). Otherwise, religion is what saves women in these Muslim countries; Islam is what allows them to seek educational aspirations just like men, and the segregation allows women to do it comfortably without having to worry about how the opposite sex will judge them. Discrimination is completely out of the question. In Islam, segregation allows for each gender to succeed independently, and the getting together of men and women is reserved for family and marriage, two things which are given ten times more importance than in individualistic societies such as North America. Islam puts the natural harmony between men and women on a pedestal, which is why it is very careful in limiting their interaction only to serious commitments to avoid desensitization to this sacred bond in a society (leading to self-esteem issues such as eating disorders, which ironically only exist in Western societies).

      So again, you can’t compare this to discrimination against a Jewish person, because someone such as myself believing in gender segregation does not connote discrimination against anyone! And you will never agree with me if you keep looking at it through your own cultural lens!

      And I completely agree that we have a Canadian identity, and I believe I am fully a part of that; as a Canadian, I believe in freedom of thought and conscious, as long as I don’t infringe upon the human rights of others. You criticizing my way of life and deeming it unacceptable when I am NOT forcing it on to others is just like discrimination against homosexuals who do not wish to marry those of the opposite gender. So part of the Canadian identity is living your life according to what you believe in, and also respecting the beliefs of others. I am doing both, and if you don’t realize that this is what makes Canada so special and humanitarian, you should research what multiculturalism is like in Britain, France, or Australia, including interviewing the people who live there. You won’t get as kind or clean answers as Canada about what discrimination and multiculturalism is like over there.

    • It’s Not Okay

      “Segregation in Islam is due to spiritual reasons”

      That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t make it okay or something that should ever occur in Canada. This country is a tolerant one rooted in liberal thinking. It is abhorrent that religious extremism is being accommodated.

      The Qur’an stipulates how one should treat a slave, as well. But, that’s okay, right? Because religion.

      I don’t buy it.

      We shouldn’t stand for it. We don’t have to stand for it.

    • Jason

      It does matter, actually. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically allows for the right to religious freedom. As long as we all enjoy freedoms under the Charter, we should stand for it. To paraphrase, I may not agree with what you say, or what you believe, but I will fight to the death for your right to.

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