The Peel District School Board (PDSB) has been dealing with recent issues surrounding Friday prayers for Muslim students, particularly in light of the board’s decision to allow children to say their own sermons. Needless to say, there have been vocal and loud responses during PDSB meetings, ranging from disruptive to borderline threatening, with one man actually tearing off pages of the Qu’ran while he was speaking in front of the Board.
Most of the people who have gone to speak before the Board have been polite, and what they said fell within the guidelines of what was acceptable according to Board policy. However, as mentioned, a number of other presenters were described as disruptive in the sense that their deputations amounted to nothing substantial for the Board’s deliberations. Some spewed speech that could be considered hateful.
This has led to the somewhat unprecedented action of amending PDSB procedures that would, in effect, allow the Chair of the Board to remove speakers from PDSB property. Inbrampton reached out to all the trustees on the PDSB for comment, and we received this email from the Board Chair, Trustee Janet McDougald:
I am responding on behalf of trustees. The addition to section G3 formalizes the current practice of the Board. The Board’s meeting bylaws have always expected respectful behaviour from delegations. This past spring, the board encountered several delegations and visitor disruptions, to the point that recesses and adjournments had to be called by the Chair.
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The addition simply clarifies and standardizes the ability of the Chair to consequence disruptions that impede discussion, the business of the Board or violate the Ontario Human Rights Code as it relates to hate speech, human rights and privacy.
The Board unanimously voted in favour of the amended by-law this week at their regular meeting. Below is the text of the amended by-law:
Delegations who use offensive language, make any disorderly noise or disturbance, resist the rules of the board, disobey the decision of the chair or of the board, or behave in a manner that is not consistent with board policies and the Ontario Human Rights Code, may be ordered by the chair to discontinue the presentation and/or leave the boardroom or meeting room or premises.
I’ve observed PDSB meetings and while they may be somewhat dull affairs, what is noticeable is that there is a consensus on procedure and orderly completion of business, and underlying the decision may be the desire to make sure things run more smoothly without disruption. But the wider ideals of free speech should also be at play. Free speech is meant to make people uncomfortable, for if we agreed with each other all the time collegially then it wouldn’t be much free speech at all. But there are lines that can certainly be crossed.
Say if you’re posting a video talking about how you disagree with the recent parliamentary motion condemning Islamophobia and you can provide good rational points, then you should have the right to do so.
But when your video careens into 20 minutes of focus on a particular MP who brought it forward and basically insults her, as done by one particular individual in Peel who is known for ‘anti-Muslim rhetoric’ who has attended PDSB meetings to demonstrate that, then you’re not really contributing to the debate and perhaps should be removed from School Board property.
The only detriment to the proper implementation and usage of this amended by-law would be the interpretation of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC). As far as I know, Chair McDougald is not a lawyer and does not have a legal background, so her knowledge of the OHRC would have to be relied on from the Board’s legal department. And that should be how the enforcement of this by-law be determined; sound legal opinion. Even if a future Board Chair does have a legal background, the formulation of the Chair’s decision shouldn’t be in the hands of one person alone without sound legal judgment behind it.