Last week, the Greater Essex County District School Board cancelled school trips into the United States.
The school board said it was concerned that some of its students might not be safe at the border crossing. They also expressed a concern about "equity." What did they mean by this statement?
Windsor, Ontario, which is served by the GECDSB, is a city that has welcomed immigrants and refugees from Islamic countries for many years. In fact, this school board houses Ontario's only bilingual English/Arabic program in a public elementary school. There is only one other in all of Canada. It was not easy for the school to open. It faced a long, protracted and, at times, unpleasant struggle.
(Photo: Janifest via Getty Images)
There were community members who expressed fears that the school would be training Islamic terrorists. Others objected to a public school teaching in a language other than French or English. Even though significant numbers of the Arabic-speaking community in Windsor are Chaldean Christians, there was a great deal of anti-Islamic sentiment expressed. The GECDSB pressed on and the FW Begley School opened its Arabic transition program in 2007.
Windsor is a border city. Much of the political focus of the community is on the country across the river (unlike in most of Canada, in Windsor, this is to the north). If you were to ask a classroom full of students in Windsor about their views of an election, even in a high school Canadian civics class, they would assume you were speaking about an American election.
They root for Detroit sports teams and dance to popular music from Detroit. If they want to visit a major museum, culture centre or hear a symphony orchestra, they are off across the border. It would be an odd Windsorite who is unaware of what is happening these days at that border, just a bridge or tunnel away.
The whole community feels the fear.
If Canadians, whose origins are in majority Muslim countries, are being turned away at the U.S. border, people in Windsor and Essex County know about it right away. They also know about Americans from the same countries of origin who worry that if they visit their friends and family in Canada, they may not be able to return to their homes in the U.S. And the whole community feels the fear.
Some have asked whether schools should be making this decision. Aren't parents and guardians the ones who usually sign the trip permission forms? Shouldn't the adults in the family be the ones to decide whether to let their children travel? Can't families be relied upon to keep their children safe? Families are responsible for each of their individual members. But schools are meant to protect the best interests of all their students. The school board is not looking at each student separately. It is concerned with the schools as a community. The safety of their community is at risk.
The GECDSB has stated that if any of their students is prevented from going on a class trip, they will ALL stay home. They have said this is a matter of inclusion, and of equity. If one of us is threatened, we all stand together against the threat. If one of us could be treated unfairly or subject to unreasonable suspicion, none of us will allow this to happen. What is dangerous for one is dangerous for all.
Protests in Toronto after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban Muslim visa-holders and all refugees from seven countries from entering the U.S. (Photo: by Arindam Shivaani/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Even if your child is not among those who are likely targets at the border, imagine how she would feel if a classmate, friend or teacher were subject to a humiliating search, separation from the group or refusal of entry. How would she react? And how should teachers deal with this? It is not merely a matter of fiduciary duty. Most teachers are not prepared to deal with the legal or even the emotional repercussions of such an event. Just like their students, teachers belong to diverse ethnicities and religions. As members of the school community, they are equally deserving of its protection.
When U.S. President Donald Trump was campaigning for office, he called for a Muslim registry. Many non-Muslims, in Canada as well as in the U.S., reacted to this proposal. They said that if such a list were created, they would ensure that as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, First Nations and atheists, among others, they would add their names to the list.
Their diverse, democratic and precious community would not subject itself to such a travesty of justice. The Greater Essex County District School Board has taken preemptive action and showed Canadians what lawful and peaceful resistance looks like.
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