Opinion: Edmonton teacher's clumsy reproach deserves backlash but also a closer listen if we are ever to get beyond our 'culture wars' - New Canadian Media
"Our social cohesion depends on all of us," writes Jagdeesh Mann. Photo from Canva.

Opinion: Edmonton teacher’s clumsy reproach deserves backlash but also a closer listen if we are ever to get beyond our ‘culture wars’

As Vancouver-based freelance journalist Jagdeesh Mann writes, it’s time for Canadians to filter out the rancor and focus on finding common ground.

In our current culture wars climate, where clashes over social issues are commonplace, it’s easy to dismiss a recent incident involving an Edmonton teacher as yet another case of discrimination deserving immediate pushback.

As you may have heard, a so-far publicly unidentified teacher was secretly recorded ranting at Muslim students for not participating in school Pride-related events, claiming that if they didn’t believe in LGBTQ+ rights, they didn’t really belong in Canada. 

On the surface, it appears to be a clear case of Islamophobic and exclusionary rhetoric.

Indeed, the shortest path to getting cancelled these days in Canada may be to tell a fellow citizen that they don’t belong in this country and imply that they should go back to where they came from. 

“It goes two ways,” the teacher is recorded in a furious two-minute clip. “If you want to be respected for who you are, if you don’t want to suffer prejudice for your religion, your colour of skin or whatever, then you better give it back to people who are different from you. That’s how it works,” seethed the teacher in a furious two- minute clip.

She punctuated her diatribe by saying that if the student didn’t believe in LBGTQ+ rights then “you can’t be Canadian. You don’t belong here.”

In this era of social media, anyone uttering those words would most likely — and in most cases justifiably — be tarred and feathered as a bigot; sentenced to forever searchable infamy on the Internet.

And if there is a smoking gun in the form of a hot mic broadcast— or in this case a secret smartphone recording — then ‘merely’ being canceled can easily escalate to being canned.

The teacher was aggrieved by what she saw as a lack of reciprocation from the Muslim students given how recent Ramadan-related activities were broadly supported by classmates.

In the superficial social media world of short attention spans and Karens-Gone-Wild, it’s hard not to see this as yet-more discrimination deserving intense and immediate pushback.

However, if we take a moment to step back and filter out the exclusionary overtones, we might find a more nuanced perspective in what the teacher was attempting to express, albeit very poorly. 

From a secular viewpoint, Pride celebrations and religious events like Ramadan don’t necessarily have a strong connection. Many organized religions, in general, have not been allied with the LGBTQ+ community, and parents from various faiths often express reservations about their children being exposed to LGBTQ+-related events.

For example, this past week in London, Ontario, while this audio was being recorded in Edmonton, parents of various religious backgrounds were again resisting participating in Pride week events. One Christian-based organization, the Canada Life Coalition, even called for a national “walkout day.”

It also must be noted that people of colour, including those from the Muslim community, do not always find safe and welcoming spaces in the LGBTQ+ community.

Finding middle ground between religious groups and Pride celebrations is undoubtedly a challenging task. It requires each of us, as modern-day Canadians in a pluralistic society, to support and show up for one another, even when there are marked differences. It’s about embracing the idea that social cohesion relies on finding common ground outside of our immediate circles, even when there is little in common.

That is the message that got lost in all the noise and in its clumsy delivery: our social cohesion depends on all of us, including members of faith groups, to find a middle ground with those outside of our immediate circles and outside our comfort zones.

The need to find common ground is not a controversial message. Nor is it one many of us would disagree with. Yet in our current culture wars climate, it can be difficult to communicate amidst all the clashes.

Tolerance, by its very nature, is fragile. But it’s something we have attained as a country through the struggles of past immigrants who overcame similar messages telling them to go back to their own countries. If each of us wants to continue enjoying tolerance and inclusion then we must find ways to accommodate others unlike ourselves. 

This is not a ‘repayment’ back, unlike what could be interpreted from the audio clip. It’s not a matter of a minority being thankful for facing less discrimination and therefore needing to express gratitude by showing up for Pride (or other) events.

Tolerance, rather, is an act of paying it forward. It’s an act of appreciating what we all enjoy so others will also be able to share in the benefits of living in an inclusive society.

It’s not a complicated message but in these complicated times, it’s one that easily gets lost.

This was the teachable moment. Despite the teacher’s intolerant approach, we would be wise to filter out the rancor and recognize the underlying lesson.

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Jagagdeesh Mann is a Vancouver-based entrepreneur and a founding partner of the Asian Pacific Post, a Jack Webster Award–winning publication. His work has been published by the Toronto Star, the Georgia Straight, the Globe and Mail, the CBC, and Canadaland.

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