MacKay, Mulcair voice criticism of York U's religious accommodation
Published Friday, January 10, 2014 7:57AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 10, 2014 2:44PM EST
In a controversy that's attracted the attention of some top politicians, Toronto's York University is defending its policies after the administration came down on the side of a male student who didn't want to do group work with his female classmates.
"A deciding factor in this case was that it was an online course where another student had previously been given permission to complete the course requirement off-campus," university's vice-president academic Rhonda Lenton said in a statement issued Thursday.
"Ultimately, a satisfactory agreement was reached between the professor and the student."
The controversy stems from an unnamed student's request, citing unspecified religious grounds, that sociology professor Paul Grayson excuse him from the group project that's part of the otherwise online course.
Grayson originally rejected the request, and the student participated in the group work as scheduled. But the dean of York University's faculty of arts later weighed in, telling Grayson that, because the student's request would not have a "substantial impact" on the rest of the class, it should have been accommodated.
But Grayson disagrees.
"I thought the university should have a principled stance on this kind of occurrence,” he said in an interview with Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010 on Thursday.
"I've repeatedly said if we allow this kind of exclusion, we also have to allow the exclusion of Jews, blacks, gays and so on if there is a religious belief backing up a request for accommodation."
As the story made headlines across Canada, the professor's standpoint found some high-level support.
“It is Canada’s uncompromising commitment to gender equity and inclusivity which makes us proud to call ourselves Canadian," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement to CTV News.
"As I’ve said, we did not send soldiers to Afghanistan to protect the rights of women to only see those same rights eroded here at home. Canada is internationally recognized as being one of the most diverse and peaceful nations in the world. Canadians expect that post-secondary institutions will always respect such fundamental principles as equal participation in society for women.”
In his own remarks, Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair told CTV News he sided with the professor.
"The professor made the right call. In terms of reasonable accommodation, this specific demand is not at all reasonable and, therefore, should not be accommodated," he said.
In her written statement, York's Lenton noted that the, "Taylor‐Bouchard Commission of 2007‐8 recommended accommodation as a guiding principle, recognizing that the duty to accommodate is not limitless."
Such limits include circumstances, she added, where accommodation "infringes on the rights of other individuals or compromises the academic integrity of a course."
While the university welcomes the public debate now focused on the issues raised by this case, employment lawyer Natalie MacDonald says, in her view, the student's request was inherently discriminatory.
"Really, what the gentleman was asking for was to not be in a room with women," MacDonald told CTV's Canada AM Friday. "and of course that unto itself was discriminatory in the sense it marginalizes women... And this type of situation is not what happens in Canada, nor should it."
With files from The Canadian Press