Muslims considering the rights option

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By Jordan Heath-Rawlings

Ryerson’s Muslim Student Association is considering launching a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission over the lack of response to their quest for Friday prayer space.

“I’m looking at all my options,” said Fouzan Khan, president of Ryerson’s Muslim Student association. “If I feel there are no options left, I will go ahead with (the complaint).”

Khan is weighing his decision carefully he says, but there are RMSA supporters at RyeSAC who feel that Khan should move on the complaint.

“I think there’s all the elements of a human rights violation,” Alex Lisman, RyeSAC v.p. education, said Monday. “(Ryerson’s administration) are playing with fire.”

Khan met with Nora Farrell, Ryerson’s ombudsperson, on Monday to discuss the logistics of lodging a complaint. Khan has already put the question to a vote last Friday among the members of RMSA.

“It was unanimous,” Khan said of support for lodging the complaint.

An official complaint of human rights violations would be a major escalation of a dispute that has spiralled out of control since Linda Grayson, Ryerson’s v.p. administration and student affairs, refused RMSA’s offer of a neutral outside mediator last week.

Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse said he isn’t worried about a human rights investigation.

“I think we are meeting all our obligations,” Lajeunesse said. “We have been extremely reasonable in offering many options.”

RMSA has been offered the use of spaces they insist are too small to pray in as a group, including the multi-faith centre, Oakham House and various private spaces around the university.

RMSA initially asked to use the lower gym for one hour on Friday afternoons when their numbers became too great for the 50-person maximum multi-faith centre, and was denied, sparking the debate over prayer space.

“It appears to me like they’re stonewalling,” said Leatrice Spevack, RyeSAC’s campus groups administrator. “I find that unacceptable.”

“They have used the lower gym in the past. I don’t understand why they’re being refused now. No explanation has ever really been given to us.”

Lajeunesse reiterated the same stance Grayson has been e-mailed to RyeSAC.

“Ryerson is a secular university,” Lajeunesse said. “We have to meet some legal requirements in terms of accommodation of religious beliefs but clearly… if a particular community had 3,000 people on this campus and all of a sudden decided that they all have to meet together, would we have to build a build for 3,000 people?’

“There’s no logic to that.”

RyeSAC representatives say they are getting tired of hearing that.

“They (administration) go on and on about how Ryerson is a secular university,” Spevack said, “but Ryerson has set non-secular precedents before.”

Spevack cited Ryerson’s examples such as the construction of the multi-faith centre, the recently passed policy excusing students from exams and test held on Saturdays and religious high holidays, and the very structure of Ryerson’s curriculum.

“I don’t believe classes run Sunday,” Spevack noted. “Isn’t that the Christian sabbath?”

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