Although since resolved, a male student request not to attend a class with females because of religious beliefs, sparked a raging debate that continues to grow.
Photo Credit: CP

“Rights vs accommodation” issue flares at Canadian university


A debate over accommodation of religious beliefs versus gender equality rights has flared up at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada’s most populous and ethnically diverse city.

The issue began back in September, and although it has since been resolved, has nonetheless sparked a debate which has grown and become public recently.

A man taking a correspondence course was told by sociology professor Paul Grayson, that he was required to attend one group session with others taking the distance learning course.

The student said he wanted to be excused from the group meeting, and took the course by correspondence, because religious convictions prevented him from associating with female classmates.

The professor, feeling this was an infringement on women’s gender equality rights, rejected the request but also sought direction from the university’s Human Rights office. They in turn  later sided with the student saying the university requires accommodation based on religious observances and told Grayson to allow the exemption from attending the group session.

An angry Grayson said, the university is establishing a hierarchy of rights in which religious accommodation trumps women’s equality rights.

While the religion involved has not been divulged, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish scholars at York advised professor Grayson neither religion instructs a man to avoid interaction with women in public. An Islamic scholar told Professor Grayson that, ““Unless he is asked to be physical with a female student, which I assume he isn’t, there is absolutely no justification for not interacting with females in public space,

The situation escalated when other professors sided with Grayson against the university, passing a motion against such accommodation if it marginalizes another student or staff member.

It is important to note that in the interval, the student had agreed to attend the class, but the debate now sparked, has continued to grow.

Recently a petition has appeared online urging York  to re-affirm its stand on gender equality and women’s rights, and requested the university reverse its decision.

The petition reads in part, “Tell York University that we support Professor Grayson’s decision to treat all students equally regardless of gender or religious belief.

Now, federal politicians have weighed in on the debate.

Federal Justice Minister  Peter Mackay said during an interview, “This is what we have tried to combat in places like Afghanistan” He added, “”Building schools there, and ensuring now that millions of girls are able to attend school alongside boys, I believe, is a very positive accomplishment of our country.”

Members of Parliament representing ridings in the vicinity of York also spoke out. Liberal MP Judy Sgro, said “This is nothing short of ridiculous. We live in a country seeking gender equality”.

Conservative MP, Mark Adler in an email, wrote that the school “needs to realize that this kind of sexism has no place in Canadian society”

York university in response to the ongoing furor released a statement on Thursday (Jan.9) saying that York is a secular institution.

The statement also reads in part. “For any accommodation request, a decision is made in consideration of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the individual circumstances, the requirements of the law, any competing rights and the academic requirements of the course. …Nevertheless, the broader issue of religious accommodations in secular universities remains an important societal concern that warrants further discussion. It is noteworthy that the Ontario Human Rights Commission is currently reviewing these matters.”


Posted in Society

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1.’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3.’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.