STEWART: I’m looking to install an ablution station

What does it mean to be a Canadian living in Canada? Sometimes it feels being a second- or third-class citizen, where some can live by different rules.

Over the last few weeks with the SNC-Lavalin scandal, we have seen just how much the mega-wealthy businesses in Canada can lobby their way out of penalties. With SNC-Lavalin, a company which fills up the world bank’s banned list, likely skirting all serious punishment for a criminal offence. Now it seems, foreign groups also may cruise by a different path than that provided to most Canadians.

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For example multiple families have accused a Toronto District School Board of banning 21 preschoolers at a downtown daycare and they have to move across the hall to a junior kindergarten classroom this fall to make space for the children of incoming foreign doctors and researchers.

The preschoolers were to graduate and move onto a junior kindergarten class in the same building later this year, and the school had assured them that their kids could stay even though some of the families did not live within the boundaries of the school.

However,  families received a letter earlier last week from the school’s principal noting that the school was now full, and therefore their kids would have to move.

For example, as early as February, multiple daycare directors who met with school board planners were told doctors and academics from overseas were expected to arrive in the school district and that they would be given multiple places in the school.

If true, this story could seriously shake up the foundation of what it means to be a Canadian citizen, right as we enter the 2019 election.

Already Canadian sentiments against immigration are reaching records highs precisely at a time when Canada needs qualified and well vetted immigrants most.

Our social safety net is vastly over-extended, and if we do not keep adding in young people who have children, we will be left with a wholly broken welfare state, alongside a languishing economy.

At the same time, homes in the downtown core remain extremely expensive, mostly unaffordable, while all time  the newcomer  immigrants  cause the  food banks to  remain resource-strapped, and shelters remain full. This economic and social pressure is precisely why all governments must work together to provide smooth, integrative immigration which reduces the chances of social strife or competition for limited services.

The first aspect of doing that involves ensuring a fair playing field, where new entrants are not provided excessive benefits in comparison to those already here. We should not be replacing ourselves in the Canadian economy.

Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary, Alberta recently announced the opening of a new facility on campus: two ablution stations for Muslim students to perform “wudu”, a pre-prayer cleansing ritual.

A handful of Canadian universities already have ablution stations available, and little fanfare was involved in their installation.

However, MRU held an entire event to “celebrate” the new washing stations, and gushed about how Muslim students will no longer have to feel “awkward and uncomfortable” as they get water on the floor while washing their feet in hand sinks. The cost of installing the ablution stations was $115,000.

MRU’s human rights advisor, Khaula Bhutta, stated that the university has “a duty to provide these facilities under Alberta’s Human Rights Act.”

A duty? It is unclear how Bhutta came to the conclusion that universities in Alberta are required to use their funding to build nonessential facilities for one particular religious group. Under the section “Discrimination re goods, services, accommodation, facilities”.

However, other universities have made the same case: in 2015, the University of Ottawa Muslim Students Association won “a small victory in a fight to acquire more religious space on campus” after the University of Ottawa agreed to build ablution stations.

The Student Federation president at the time stated that they had been pressuring the university to build these stations for years, and that we  have to recognize that the University of Ottawa is lacking and not respecting the Ontario Human Rights Code when it comes to religious accommodations.”

It is quite a stretch to say it is actively discriminatory if Ontario universities do not direct their money towards nonessential facilities for one particular religious group.

Non-Muslim Canadians who see themselves as tolerant individuals have a mixed reaction upon hearing about these campus ablution stations and  they may feel initially perplexed, but figure that building the ablution stations doesn’t really hurt anybody.

Pinning down Canadian identity has always proven to be elusive, but we can probably at least agree on what Canadian identity is not: Islamic. And while I don’t want to be presumptuous, I reckon that most Muslim students living in Canada understand that our universities will not offer the same facilities they would receive in an Islamic country, and figured they would work around that.

Don’t get me wrong: I do not fault Muslim students for taking advantage of these ablution stations. The people who are undermining Canadian culture, in this situation, are the university administration and bureaucrats that make a living by spending other peoples’ money to signal some sort of virtue.

Carl Stewart - Columnist

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