Sun News columnist Ezra Levant used Remembrance Day to eviscerate an Ontario school board over a memo about students’ attendance of Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Levant accused the school board of allowing Muslim students to be exempt from Tuesday's services, referring to a memo issued by the Greater Essex County District School Board in southwestern Ontario last week.
Except that's not what the memo said. At all.
And there's no evidence any Muslim student has ever been exempted.
The memo is available in full online, and here's what it really said:
“Some families may be reluctant to have their children attend your location municipality’s ceremonies. Please note that meaningful alternate activities should be provided at the schools for those families who do not wish their children to participate in any Remembrance Day ceremonies.”
There's is no mention of the word "Muslim" in the school board's explanation. But Levant didn't let the facts get in the way.
“In case you were wondering which families they might be referring to, the school board didn’t say specifically but pointed teachers to two Muslim-themed websites, including the story about the first Muslim soldier in the Canadian Forces who wore a hijab, an Islamic head covering.”
A school board spokesman told Sun News in an email — before Levant's column was published — that the families mentioned in the memo are usually "members of faiths in which pacifism is a tenet." For the record, neither Islam nor Christianity consider pacifism as a tenet.
"Any such exemption would be granted in consideration of our religious accommodations procedure — a parent/guardian may request an exemption — which would have to be approved, after consideration, by the principal," wrote public relations officer Scott Scantlebury.
This information did not make its way into Levant's column.
"If some old bigot from a backwoods village in Pakistan or Somalia doesn’t want to respect Canada, that’s where our schools come in and teach those bigots’ kids and grandkids what it means to be Canadian," Levant wrote.
"It’s insulting that either parents or the school board thinks Remembrance Day is in any way anti-Muslim."
The school board never stated the families who might be "reluctant" for their children to attend ceremonies were Muslim.
Rather, the school board said in a statement on Tuesday that the memo was “in light of the tragic events in Ottawa and Quebec.” Officials “received some expressions of concern regarding safety for students scheduled to attend public Remembrance Day activities at municipal memorials.”
Five links were also included in the memo to staff to show students the diversity of military service members including a Remembrance Day toolkit from the Canadian War Museum and links to photos of African-Canadian, Asian-Canadian, and aboriginal soldiers.
Levant singled out two: the links about Dabbagh and Elmasry.
In a statement, Levant claims he did not cherry pick links and was forwarded a different version of the memo, one that "did not include the links to aboriginal, Asian, and African soldiers in the Canadian military."
Emails published by Sun News show a Sun producer asking Scantlebury a series of questions including, “What was the intent of including the article on the Muslim in the Canadian Forces?”
In a Tuesday interview with Sun News, the school board's superintendent said the information Levant used in his column from Scantlebury was a result of a “miscommunication.”
Sharon Pyke explained to Sun News Network host Jerry Agar that the school board did not receive any requests from parents to pull students from Remembrance Day services.
“What they did voice was safety concerns having their children there in a big, outside, perhaps, venue at the municipalities,” said Pyke.
She reiterated the memo had nothing to do with Muslims or their families.
But Agar pressed on: “There was a link to Muslim soldiers who have served. There was no link to Catholics or Presbyterians or Buddhists.”
Pyke explained the school board uses a variety of multimedia links, choosing different pictures and videos every year.
“And I'm sorry for the miscommunication. It was certainly was not our intent at all. It was to provide information to our principals so they could make the ceremony — their ceremony — the best it can be,” she said.
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