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Queen's University
 

CRARR v ETS

Does a University/College have to provide prayer space to Muslim Students?

Facts

  • From its establishment in 1974 to the time of the present complaint in 2006, the application form to ETS stated that the University was a “public and lay institution with no rooms assigned for religious practices”. It did have a practice, however, of allowing its Muslim student population to pray on the third floor stairwell or in empty classrooms.  

  • Problems first arose in 2002, when security noticed that a number of students were leaving their prayer carpets in the stairwell, creating a safety hazard. After notifications warning against this practice were posted in the stairwell, students began storing their carpets in a nearby locker, which was kept open for the sake of convenience. These carpets were removed for reasons of liability. At around this time, several students claimed that they were told not to pray in the stairwell.  This claim was denied by administration. In any case, a petition, signed by 80 students, was circulated and students began praying in the entrance-way of the building, in order to attract sympathy for their cause. This initiative was quickly terminated by administration.

  • In 2003, after a series of notices were posted in the washroom forbidding students to wash their feet in the sinks, a group of offended students send a letter to the administration complaining of mistreatment. They also requested a permanent prayer room and asked that the University recognize its student association.  In his response, the head of administration denied mistreating the Muslim student population and made it clear that the University had no intention of assigning a prayer room or accrediting any student group organized on a religious, sectarian or political basis, in keeping with its lay policy on student groups. 

  • One month later, the ETS newsletter quotes this administrator inviting Muslim students seeking better religious accommodation to seek alternative educational opportunities: “I know all about you people and if you want to say your prayers you just have to change universities”.  He fervently denied ever saying this.

  • The general secretary of the ETS testified that “the rooms were occupied to their full capacity most of the time” He stated that “to allocate a room for prayer would constitute an excessive constraint”. (6)

    Centre de recherche-action sur les relations raciales (CRARR), on behalf of 113 students and F.G. v Ecole de Technologie supérieure (ETS) and R.N. (2006). Resolution COM-510-5.2.1

Questions

  1. Did the refusal of the University to recognize the Muslim Student Association deny Muslim students the right to free assembly and/or constitute discrimination

  2. Did the head administrator pronounce discriminatory remarks about Muslim students?

  3. Were the notices placed in the washrooms "discriminatory notices"  

  4. Did the University fail to fulfil its duty of reasonable accommodation?

  5. Does the University have to provide a prayer room for Muslim students 

Answers

  1. No

  2. No

  3. No

  4. Yes

  5. No

Reasons

  1. The refusal of the University to recognize the Muslim Student Association did not deny Muslim students the right to free assembly, nor did it constitute discrimination

  2. There was insufficient evidence of discriminatory remarks by the head administrator

  3. The notices placed in the washrooms were not “notices” in the sense afforded the term in the Charter and were therefore not discriminatory

  4. “With regard to the facts in dispute, the chronology of events and the evidence as a whole gathered during the investigation tend to show that the ETS failed to fulfil its duty of reasonable accommodation” (15). For example, the wording on the application form, which states that “ETS is a public, lay institution with no rooms assigned for religious practises”, reflects “a rigid attitude that is incompatible with the duty of reasonable accommodation incumbent on the ETS, namely to allow students of the Muslim faith to pray, on a regular basis, in conditions that respect their right to the safeguard of their dignity” (16)

  5. The allocation of a room exclusively reserved for the practice of a given religion could constitute undue hardship, since it could lead to other similar demands (page 15). 

Orders 

It therefore ordered ETS to

  • Propose an accommodation to the plaintiff, that ensures that students of the Muslim faith attending ETS are able to pray, on a regular basis, in conditions that respect their right to the safeguard of their dignity 15

  • Remove from its application form the works “with no rooms assigned for religious practices”

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000