East End Madrassah had been holding classes in a Scarborough area public school for more than three decades until complaints were submitted to the police about the nature of the school’s curricula and teaching objectives.
“We’ve had a long relationship with this organization and there have been no problems to date, but of course when the situation came to our attention, it was something that we needed to investigate,” explained Toronto District School Board spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz.
The materials at the heart of the controversy surrounding the school were discovered on its website in early May. Jews were characterized as “crafty” and “treacherous” and accused of killing the Islamic prophet Muhammed, and Judaism was compared to Nazism. In addition, children were advised to engage in athletic activity and strive to keep fit in the event they had to perform an unexpected act of jihad, or suicide bombing.
The school took down the materials and issued an apology after news of the matter became known.
“We unreservedly apologize to the Jewish community for the unintentional offence that the item caused,” the Madrassah’s officials wrote in a statement. “Our curriculum is not intended to promote hatred towards any individual or group of people, rather the children are taught to respect and value other faiths, beliefs and to uphold Canada’s basic values of decency and tolerance.”
But Jim Spyropoulos, the Toronto school board’s coordinating superintendent of inclusive schools, suggested the school’s reaction was not enough to assuage concerns.
“What we said was, we needed to be satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and that they were in compliance with our policies and procedures,” Spyropoulos said, referring to the explanations the school board gave the Madrassah when giving it the boot, according to the Toronto Star.
He said the board needed to have “a deeper discussion so we can have a clear understanding of [the Madrassah’s] programming and curriculum, and how and why some of the statements that appeared on their website were there.”
The police are searching for specific evidence the school “publicly and ‘willfully’ [promoted] hatred against any identifiable group” and violated Canada’s Criminal Code, JTA reported.
Until then, the Madrassah’s permit to deliver classes at the public school will be suspended.
“The Islamic Shia Study Centre will not be able to permit TDSB property until the police investigation is complete and they are able to demonstrate that they comply with board policies and procedures,” said Ryan Bird, a Toronto District School Board spokesman, citing the name of the organization that runs the East End Madrassah.
Those who had notified authorities of the school’s website content were happy with the TDSB’s decision, but asked the school board and the police to take further measures to ensure Jews would be continually protected.
“We are pleased to note the TDSB has taken action in response to the alarming anti-Semitic hate taught to Muslim schoolchildren at Toronto’s East End Madrassah,” said Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. “We hope the school board will now go one step further and put a plan in place to ensure no group is ever targeted as the Jewish community has been, and that ancient hatreds are never again endorsed and encouraged in Toronto classrooms.”
Calling the school board’s reaction an “excellent first step,” the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs asked that the TDSB move forward and revoke the Madrassah’s permit to teach at public schools in the future.
“Given the presence of anti-Semitic passages in the curriculum, and the dubious activism of its religious leadership, it is clear that the Madrassah has disqualified itself as a partner with the School Board on any level,” the Centre said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the board comes to this conclusion in due course and that the Madrassah is not welcomed back into our public schools.”