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Ontario tackles Islamophobia in schools as questions linger regarding Indigenous learning

The Ontario government is teaming up with the Muslim Association of Canada and the National Council of Canadian Muslims to fight Islamophobia before it takes root.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced $225,000 to create digital resources for teachers, students, and parents. The Muslim Association of Canada would create resources focused on Islamic practices, values, and misconceptions. He said children will learn what causes Islamophobia and how to end it and all racism.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims will get $75,000 to engage Muslim families who are new to Canada. It will provide them with information about culturally relevant resources to help their children prepare to return to school in September.

The money is coming from the province’s Safe Return to Class fund.

“It is unacceptable that many Muslim students continue to face discrimination in our schools, on our playgrounds, and in communities,” said Lecce. “We believe every student deserves to feel safe, respected and engaged in learning in inclusive classrooms.”

Statistics Canada reported a spike in hate crimes in 2019 compared to the year before. Attacks on Muslims rose nine per cent. However, the announcement comes after a deadly attack on a Muslim family in London earlier this month.

For Sharaf Sharafeldin, the executive director of the Muslim Association of Canada, those acts need to be answered with initiatives that promote tolerance.

Executive Director of The Muslim Association of Canada, Sharaf Sharafeldin on June 29, 2021 (Screen shot from Ontario government announcement)

“So many people, including Muslims, came here for a better life for themselves and for their kids, only to face discrimination and even violence in their workplaces, schools, and their neighbourhoods,” he said.

Lecce admitted the fight against racism is an ongoing process.

“We still have work to do to ensure our school system is free from discrimination and bias,” he said. “And, we are working in partnership with Muslim Canadian leaders to drive the change, the positive change, I think students deserve in 2021.”

Many of the questions from media actually pressed Lecce on another matter of racial reconciliation, the curriculum teaching Ontario students about the residential school system.

Related story: Broadcasters unite to amplify Indigenous voices

On Monday, Ford admitted students in the province need to learn more about it, a comment that left many advocates scratching their heads because his government scrapped consultations with Indigenous leaders on that matter in 2018.

Lecce admitted his government has more work to do, but said his government picked up talks again earlier this year with Indigenous Elders.

“In Ontario, there is currently mandatory learning between grades four and eight, as well as in the high school curriculum,” he explained. “We think we’ve got to go further here — we want them to very much lead this process.”

Attention to Indigenous contributions to Canadian society has grown in recent weeks with the discovery of unmarked graves outside residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan.
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