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“Extra vigilant”

Ontario school board issues warning about $1,000 "reward" for recordings of Muslim students "spewing hate" while praying

Ontario school board issues warning about $1,000 “reward” for recordings of Muslim students praying

An Ontario school board is warning staff to be “extra vigilant” about a video circulating online that offers a $1,000 reward for recordings of Muslim students “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.”

The video is the latest development in the controversy surrounding the accommodation of Friday prayers, which has been around in some form for nearly 20 years at the Peel District School Board, located near Toronto. 

A group of parents has been campaigning hard for the last two months to convince the board to end the accommodation of the congregational prayers, which last 15 to 20 minutes at midday, culminating in a heated meeting last week, that devolved into chaos and saw a Quran torn to shreds.

Police are now looking into a video posted on March 29 by former fringe Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston that calls on viewers to send in videos of Muslim students praying within 24 hours of filming them. Johnston, who runs a right wing blog called Freedom Report, says the person submitting the video must identify students by name and reveal the school they go to.

“I am offering $1,000 of my own money, cash reward, for any of you out there that can sneak a camera into one of these mosque-eterias or mosque-stages or mosque-gymnasiums and get me the footage.”

They’d also have to be willing to turn ownership of the footage over to Johnston, who falsely claims that sermons are delivered in Arabic and that supervisors are paid — in fact, they are conducted in English, except for verses read directly from the Quran and are supervised by volunteer staff members.

Johnston also said he had Arabic translators on hand who would help him determine if the sermons contain “anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and anti-infidel” hate speech.

In a memo, the Peel board reminded school administrators that personal devices can only be used for educational purposes, as directed by staff.

“It is important that you make staff who supervise Friday prayer at your school aware  of this challenge and ask them to be extra vigilant in their supervision and that this invasion of privacy is not appropriate,” said the memo. “We’ve also been made aware that students are currently circulating an email amongst themselves that warns them of Kevin’s video.”

Johnston encouraged people to be creative in how they hide their cameras.

“Get your cameras, hide them, hide them in the rafters, hide them behind the basketball nets, hide them in your own clothes, pretend to pray,” he said. “Whatever it takes, get that to me.”

“I am offering $1,000 of my own money, cash reward, for any of you out there that can sneak a camera into one of these mosque-eterias or mosque-stages or mosque-gymnasiums and get me the footage.”

“This is hate-filled showmanship by someone who wants attention for his ongoing attack on members of our school community.”

He also offered to let anyone collecting their cash reward from him wear a mask while doing so.

“Clearly this individual is trying to fund students as an incentive to breach privacy laws,” said Peel spokesperson Brian Woodland in an email to VICE News. “And the video itself prejudges our Muslim students in a way that is both unfair and untrue.”

“This is hate-filled showmanship by someone who wants attention for his ongoing attack on members of our school community,” he said, adding that the board wouldn’t be commenting further as it “It simply provides [Johnston] with attention for his campaign of hate.”

The debate over religious accommodation took off in September, when the school board began reviewing whether or not students should be able to write their own sermons. After initially deciding that students would only be permitted to read from board-approved sermons, the board overturned the policy following backlash from the Muslim community.

Ibrahim Hindy of the Faith Forward Committee, a committee of faith leaders in the Peel Region, which provided input to the board on crafting the procedure, said it was “appalling and shocking that kids are being targeted,” adding, however, that the board had been “incredibly responsive and are taking every step to ensure student safety.”

“The community is deeply worried,” he said. “Hate incidents have been on the rise in general and it’s horrific to think that these hate groups would show such hatred towards kids.”

 

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