Thanks to York U’s absurd policy, Canadians know where the line is drawn on human rights

Editorial: Why the publicity is a good thing


Photograph by Jessica Darmanin

The religious accommodation controversy at Toronto’s York University, while fully deserving of the outrage it has generated, ought to be considered a (mostly) good news story. It has a happy ending that was achieved rather quickly. And the experience suggests Canadians have a clear sense of where lines need to be drawn when it comes to human rights, even if officialdom does not.

To recap for the benefit of anyone who missed the story until now: in September a male student in professor J. Paul Grayson’s online sociology course at York requested that he be excused from participating in a group assignment so he wouldn’t have to interact with women, which, he claimed, would violate his religious beliefs. (His religion is unknown, for privacy reasons.)

Professor Grayson felt he could not accede to such a request as it violated his sense of equity between men and women. To give his decision official imprimatur, he asked for guidance from the dean’s office and the school’s human rights body. Both sided with the student and told Grayson to make the necessary accommodation.

Nevertheless, the professor sought and received backing for his original position from his department and turned down the student’s request. After hearing the professor’s decision, the student accepted the outcome, writing to Graydon that: “I cannot expect that everything will perfectly suit what I would consider an ideal situation. I will respect the final decision.” He participated in the group assignment, women and all.

Up to this point, a potentially explosive issue of competing rights has been turned into a non-issue, and for principled reasons. Further, the decision was recognized as reasonable by all parties directly involved. Left to their own devices, Canadians have ample ability to find common ground amid common sense.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. Regardless of the fact the student accepted Grayson’s decision, the dean’s office steadfastly argues it was the wrong outcome; the request should have been accepted. In a subsequent letter to York faculty, dean of arts Martin Singer says, “I was obliged to conclude that the student’s request had to be accommodated. I wish I had had another choice.” According to Singer, the issue turns on “the professor’s disapproval of the student’s beliefs. But that disapproval of belief is precisely the way that discrimination on the grounds of creed is defined.”

The disapproval Grayson expressed at segregating his class’s group work by gender is not merely a personal belief. Equality for all citizens is a core concept of modern Canada.

Canadian society readily provides numerous religious accommodations—ranging from allowing Sikhs in the RCMP to wear alternate headgear to recognizing a multiplicity of religious holidays—in order to permit diversity of opportunity and observance. In this case, however, the objective is not to facilitate the participation of religious belief within mainstream Canadian society; rather it seeks to exclude and discriminate for religious reasons. This attitude toward women is as unacceptable as it would be for another student to request to be excused, for whatever reason, from contact with black people, gays or bearded men.

While it apparently remains official policy at York to indulge every request for special religious treatment regardless of implication or precedent, such blind adherence to patently absurd policy may ultimately prove to be a good thing. The massive publicity given this story—it dominated national news media and online forums and has been reported everywhere from Europe to Japan to Australia—and the universal disapproval of York’s administrative position may serve as a wake-up call for Canadians, highlighting the extent to which the bureaucratic concept of human rights has lost contact with common sense.

It is a familiar scenario for us at Maclean’s, given our long and difficult entanglement with federal and provincial human rights commissions over stories we published on radical Islam. While we were exonerated in all cases, the sight of state tribunals investigating our work was such an obvious threat to freedom of the press that it mobilized Canadians to demand change. The end result was the 2012 repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, an ill-considered piece of federal law that allowed complainants to seek redress from media organizations whenever their feelings were hurt.

Hopefully the attention focused on York’s outrageous claim that it had “no choice” but to promote institutionalized gender segregation will serve as a similar catalyst, leading to further changes in how human rights are defined and considered across Canada. And that would be very good news indeed.


Thanks to York U’s absurd policy, Canadians know where the line is drawn on human rights

  1. If one wants to highlight the reason Sect. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was eliminated……they need to thank Mark Steyn, and Ezra Levant.
    Macleans does get marks for backing them, but the legwork was done by the two gentlemen mentioned above.
    Now…..we need to get rid of the Human Rights Commissions currently infesting the country with their dictatorial views on what a HUMAN RIGHT actually is.

  2. These types of ‘human rights’ offences are being fueled by new Canadians entrenched in positions of power in Canada. This is evidenced by the recent Tamil refugees who were first denied landing, then, all rights to Health Care removed from all new immigrants. This is due to the Tamil haters who have been here long enough to establish political power.

    • It has nothing to do with hating Tamils….or any other refugees / immigrants.
      It has to do with Canadians being forced to pay the health care (and other costs) for people who have never made a contribution to the country; and who will, for many of them, be relying on welfare for years after they arrrive.
      We are not the worlds “do gooders” no matter how much the NDP types would have you believe. We simply can’t afford to keep paying for folks who have never ( or never will) pay taxes.

      • Refugees, boy, and maybe your dad never taught you the difference, between a refugee and an immigrant. Let me. A refugee is someone escaping imminent death. An immigrant is someone who doesn’t bother to stay in their own country and build it up into a functioning democracy.
        As to the ‘not hating Tamils’, explain then the coincidence of our refusal of Tamils in Vancouver, overturned, and then almost immediately the removal of Health Care from refugees.

        • Agreed, hardly a coincidence, but I’m more inclined to believe one driven by visions of political gain, rather then a targeted attack on a specific ethnicity…

          • “Implementation of the Sharia law in Canada”
            I disagree.

          • Did you reply to the wrong post…? I am unsure what you mean… other than the disagree part I guess…

          • The quotes are in regards to how a contingent in Canada can reshape our society, Sharia law as an example. If there is enough of a ‘lobby’ to have the issue raised. A large enough lobby is able to politically influence decision making in the government.

        • I was well aware of what a refugee is……..but you must also be aware that simply claiming to be one….does not make you one. We have had quite a few people enter the country from Western nations, who claim to be refugees. Doesn’t mean they are telling the truth.
          As for the Tamils you mention….you failed to mention that we had to sort out those tamils…of the Tiger variety. We don’t need any more terrorists in Canada….we have enough of them already.

          • We’re finding out now about the ‘genocide’, just deciding now it was a genocide, so, ‘terrorists’ now become somewhat of a moot point because, those who perpetrated the genocide also had a hand in having them declared terrorists. The issue wasn’t whether they were terrorists, it was they were simply refugees, the ‘terrorist’ part wasn’t immediately brought up, and someone here was well ahead of the curve and attempted to have them drown in the open ocean.and is now resolving to have them die for lack of simple healthcare rather than die horrible deaths off the coast of a country which used to be a safe harbour for all.

          • Your dad never taught you the meaning of the word ‘genocide’ obviously.

            Or the difference between a ‘refugee’, ‘legal immigrant’ and ‘illegal immigrant’.

  3. Far from being an impediment getting in the way of “common sense” human and equality rights have shown themselves to an important bulwark of preserving the Canadian fabric. It’s never a surprise when the majority sides with the majority.

    And this case was not as open and shut as one might think, esp. considering the extent to which it was advertised as an online course. The ease with which the student could have been accommodated was also a new issue – it was less of a thing than forcing fundamentalists to give marriage licenses to gay couples, because all the guy had to do was not show up (the teacher of course, scuttled this with his grandstanding “survey” of the class).

    • Would you be so accomodating if the student (most certainly a Muslim) didn’t want to work with a gay man, or god forbid…a Jew!

      • To the extent that the religious belief is a bona fide one (which we must, for the sake of argument), then it would not be an open and shut case to the same extent it is currently not an open and shut case. Why are jews and gays less than women to you? (Don’t answer that. I don’t see much use conducting a discussion with you,

        • The religious belief was NOT a bona fide one…..why would you insist it is for the sake of argument? I could give a damn if it was bona-fide or not. This is Canada…if you don’t like the rules…..go somewhere else.
          As for jews and gays being less valuable than anyone….sorry…those are your words, not mine.

          • Very well said ..GOOD POST!

        • Think you read a bit more into James’ words than were actually there. I took them to mean discrimination against women is no different than discrimination against gays or Jews – but that many (and he was, I think, including you as potentially being among the many; based on your comment history, I’d say he is wrong on that account) would be more likely to kick up a fuss about discrimination against the latter two groups.

          • Really? Because what I read was ” or god forbid…a Jew!” Why was a Jew being emphasized here? Just asking?

          • I would assume he phrased it that way because he believes the student is Muslim and so would be disinclined to want to work with a Jew or a gay person because of his faith. There are some Muslims who especially would want nothing to do with a Jewish person. Hence the “god forbid”.

            That’s how it sounds to me – but if you want to know for sure what he meant, you’d be better off asking James.

    • Right you are……This is why Government employees everywhere SHOULD NOT wear OBVIOUS tokens or religious garb .. when interacting with those who might feel intimidated when having to cope with their authority.
      (Not just Moslems ect) ..There is little love between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland for example.
      Old world hatreds (as with noxious weeds) should NOT be allowed to permeate Canadian society.
      Immigrants to Canada are FREE to practice , discuss and wear ,within reason. (no Ha jibs or face coverings) their choices when practicing their religions

  4. This story is alarming, regardless of how it ended. It is a warning for all of us. The authorities who insist on catering to the demand of a student for segregation between the sexes, in a secular school, demonstrate a serious inability or an unwillingness to adhere to the fundamental principles of democracy. This attitude makes us question the integrity and intelligence of the people involved. Blind adherence to rules, whether or not these rules are sensible, makes us less humane.

  5. As a lifelong American who has never been to Canada yet and one who is only just noticing this news report today, I must say I’m puzzled, or perhaps I am merely misinformed, so perhaps some of our friends up north can help me out here. Isn’t our friend and neighbor Canada the place where it has been made illegal and criminalized to make statements against homosexuality, for example, and even throw people in jail who repeat quotes against homosexuality from the Bible, for instance? How then is any institution of this kind in Canada even considering for one moment tolerating something so “politically incorrect” and shocking as an anti-gender religious accommodation of this kind? Or am I simply very misinformed, and there is no occasion for “cognitive dissonance” here? Well, as someone not so familiar with the ways and customs up north, any clarification on that apparently extremely huge contradiction would be appreciated. P.S. FYI, contrary to my moniker here, I’m not “outraged” over this (it was made for something unrelated), but I sure am curious.

    • Canadians want very much to be fair. We’d like to accommodate everyone if we can. However, this desire often leaves some with boots stuck in their mouths. Particularly when one right comes up against another. The reason the surprise and anger of many Canadians at York University’s foolish decision is because the Dean is deciding that one right trumps another – in this case religious rights trumping gender rights. With over 50% of the population female that is an unacceptable conclusion on the Dean’s part. So unacceptable it’s shocking the world.

  6. Equality of gender, race,ethnicity, age and disabilities physical or mental are not choices are therefore should always take precedence over the second tier composed of religious or other beliefs, language, dress and sexual orientation which are either choices or acquired beliefs and customs. Accommodation for the acquired beliefs or lifestyles should never restrict the first groups rights for equality. Homosexuality, I believe, is a conscious choice made at some point in your life, and not an accident of birth, but I could be wrong here. In our society, unmodifiable states of being should trump modifiable ones. In addition, learned or modifiable ones should be open to civil criticism and/or differing opinion. Hatred and threats of physical harm are never acceptable towards anyone at any time. Often, civil criticism is viewed as intolerance, hatred and racism (ex: islamophobia or antisemitism) when in fact they may be expressing a valid point of view. Hurt feelings are not racism nor is the criticism an expression of a mental illness (phobia). The York U. administration was wrong and Professor Grayson took the right decision. I wonder what would have happened had the student been insistent!

    • You make some nice points, Jack, but for one of them if you expressed it here in the US you would find yourself in the middle of a huge raging battle, and that is at the heart of the issue here. That is the issue of choice, acquired, modifiable, etc. vs. the opposite. I don’t know much about and can’t speak for what’s happening in Canada, but here, for example, you will find supporters battling furiously to contend that the “sexual orientation” part is not by choice at all and must be placed squarely in the category of the other types of non-choice and non-modifiable categories you mentioned. And yes indeed, if you dare do something so “intolerable” as to disagree with that or the subject itself even in a civil or even a loving way, you can expect yourself to be furiously villified and “viewed as intolerance, hatred” (and the like) as you put it.

    • Think you placed sexual orientation in the wrong group…

      You can believe what you like, but I have yet to see any evidence to support your argument. Got any? Have you yourself chosen to switch sides at some point?

      • I categorize homosexuality as a choice in my hierarchy because if it was a genetic predisposition, natural selection would have eliminated it for its lack of reproductive ability. Repressed homosexuality in heterosexual relationships would be the only way to explain its survival through the ages. However it remains unproven, as far as I know, that there is a genetic link to homosexuality. Believing homosexuality is a choice doesn’t make me a homophobe. I’m not. I have no objection to homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. It harms no one and restricts no one freedom contrary to many religions which always seems to attempt to impose their belief structure on others. People can believe what they want,or choose to behave any way they wish, as long as they fully respect the beliefs and behavior of other individuals in the society they choose to live in. It all boils down to the Golden Rule at the end of the day.

  7. Will just say ..this is WHY I SUPPORT the “Quebec charter” for their government employees. A Government official should display complete impartiality when servicing the public.
    Any Government employee wearing religious adornment OF ANY KIND tends to arouse old world hatreds ,and insecurity in many members of the Canadian public, and should NOT BE IMPOSED on ANYONE,who might be COMPELLED to transact with that particular Department

    Canada respects ALL races and religions

    What the employee wears on his/her OWN TIME is THEIR freedom

    Those “politically correct “who spout otherwise are damaging Canada a a whole with this questionably viewpoint (against the Charter)

    • Think you’re on the wrong thread; there are articles on this site about the Charter but this ain’t one of them.

      • Great little hair splitter there(you)..but it IS (the idea of the charter)very much a factor in the concern for human rights as much as this Idiots (the students) disdain for” associating with human females”.
        Think about it…If YOU CANNOT see the point forget it,
        and have a pleasant week ahead.

  8. Most thinking Canadians do not approve of this kind of fundamentalism, and shudder at the neurosis it represents. However, many can still distinguish between good and bad intentions; and also, between private rights and collective ones. In this case, the student
    was right and the prof was wrong.

    It was an online course with a student not known to anyone in the virtual class.
    It was a private request made by an anonymous student in private. The student’s legitimate aim was to keep on taking the course according to the dictates of his conscience.

    The institution found, upon examination, that no learning was impeded by the request and no rights of any other student infringed. Therefore, the prof was wrong.

    The thing to condemn is a politicized prof, stoking his pet peeves, going overboard to publicize the incident, politicizing it, enflaming the rest of the class, and embarassing the student. All for politics.

  9. Just saw fabuloso’s post below and his use of the term “fundamentalism.” You know, there used to be a time when you knew what was meant by a word like “fundamentalism,” but not any more, at least not with your friends and neighbors here down south. So look at what we’ve got going on just under your border now on this topic of “gender”: And if you dare disagree with this kind of thing, you can expect to be villified as the one who is the “hater” and an intolerant bigot and so forth, not to mention the occasional death threat. Can anyone tell me how your female students up at York University would like it when a bunch of naked college guys decide that they are female and start using the women’s sports locker room and showers, as well as at the high school and grade school level? How would your parents like it, too? How about if they only decide they are female on Mondays and Wednesdays? After all, you wouldn’t want to be less enlightened about gender than what we have going on down here, would you?

  10. How dare MacLeans title such an article ! Leave your religion at home and don’t come into this country thinking you can force your region into the educational institutions of this country !!!

  11. thats religion, not region

  12. The Charter of Rights was designed to guarantee certain political and civil rights for us Canadians. It was meant to unify us around a set of principles that embody those rights.

    Somehow York decided that faith, regardless of how ludicrous it sounds, should trump this. I have to wonder where their line in the sand is. Obviously stepping on women’s rights is not at their line. I wonder if the faith based believes of CHURCH OF THE NATIONAL KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN INC. ( is?