Comic: Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board vs Nadia Shoufani

It’s been a long time since I made a comic. I was looking for an excuse to make one, and I found a news story that jumped out at me.

[comic.]

If you haven’t heard of this story, Nadia Shoufani is a teacher at St. Catherine of Sienna school in Mississauga. Back in July, Shoufani spoke at the International Quds Day rally in Toronto. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem; al-Quds Day is basically all about protests against Israel – its policies and even its existence.

Shoufani’s speech (which you can view below; I’ll link to the video) is pretty typical protest fare. The thrust of it is that making peace with aggressors and occupiers is ridiculous, especially while the aggressions and occupation continue, and that violent resistance is justified against them. As she says in her opening words, Silence in situations of oppression and injustices is a crime against humanity. (The second half of the speech is mostly about extended unjustified detentions of Palestinian militants and activists.)

The Canadian arm of B’Nai Brith was present at the rally. For years, B’Nai Brith has been calling for al-Quds Day rallies to be banned in Canada, under the logic that they encourage hate speech and terrorism. Every year they attend and take notes about what is said.

This year, B’Nai Brith took particular interest in Shoufani. They recorded her speech and posted it online (that is the video I’ll link to), and then filed complaints with the police and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board to investigate. The DPCDSB did investigate, and eventually suspended Shoufani, and forwarded her case to the Ontario College of Teachers.

That’s where the story stands now, at least so far as I know. Let me stop here and add some important clarifications and qualifications.

First, there is no doubt that the al-Quds Day rallies are a magnet for ignorance and bigotry against Israel and Jewish people. B’Nai Brith even made a video of protesters being interviewed to illustrate the point. But if you watch that video (and Shoufani’s speech), it hardly rises to the level of hate speech. It’s true, as B’Nai Brith insistently points out that many of the speakers do encourage violence against Israeli settlers and the occupation forces. But if you actually look at what they’re saying, they don’t seem to be calling for violence against Jewish people in general. In fact, if you look at the Shoufani video, there’s a contingent of Jews who oppose the occupation not three metres away from her. What the speakers are calling for – Shoufani included – is violence specifically against “aggressors and oppressors”.

It’s certainly true that some of their demands are ridiculous, notably the demand that everywhere from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea (basically, all of Israel) should be declared Palestine, and that all current Israelis should swear fealty to the Palestinian flag. It’s also obvious that a lot of the supporters were pretty darn ignorant about anything that didn’t directly support their cause. And yes, some of the people Shoufani named were straight-up murderers (though I’m sure they would argue it wasn’t “murder” so much as a killing done as part of a war of resistance). But in almost all cases, the ire seemed to be directed specifically at the occupation forces and settlers, and only Israel in general as an afterthought justified by opposition to the occupation.

There is also a long-standing problem in Canada of official, governmental repression of criticism of Israel. That context also has to be considered when you’re forming your opinion about the police and school board investigations of Shoufani and the other speakers at the event.

And although everyone is tight-lipped about the investigation and Shoufani doesn’t appear to be speaking publicly, there is some evidence that Shoufani’s suspension was not due to what she said, but rather for not cooperating with the investigation.

But what piqued my interest was not the dreary, old, tired Israel–Palestine “debate”. It was the irony of a Catholic school board having “serious concerns” about the “professional conduct” of someone for making intolerant and bigoted statements*.

* (I’m not saying Shoufani’s statements were intolerant or bigoted. I don’t think they were. I don’t particularly agree with some of what she said, but none of it, not even the parts I disagree with, are what I’d consider intolerance or bigotry. Just lots of anger, but anger justified by outrage at what’s happening in Palestine, which is perfectly legitimate.)

Immediately I began to wonder if any Catholic school board had ever “investigated” a teacher for speaking at a rally against abortion. Or against same-sex marriage. I highly doubt it.

A lot of the freakout over Shoufani has less to do with what she said at the rally, and more to do with what people have been scraping off old Facebook posts she made. Apparently she made a post in Arabic praising the martyrdom of someone who murdered a 4 year-old girl when he was 16 (in the 1970s). A horrible crime, sure, but again it made my head spin that a Catholic school board was trying to take the moral high ground on the issue of child welfare. And in particular, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in particular, because it was only six months ago that they were caught covering up knowledge of one of their priest’s paederastic rape of a nine year-old in 2002. They only fessed up once the Toronto Star started investigating.

So how many DPDCSB officials were suspended for covering up the James Roth allegations? You can probably guess. Zero. But a teacher who represents no threat to the kids supporting an unpopular resistance movement…?

The great heroes at the DPDCSB have done a fine job of protecting their kids for alternative opinions. Pity they don’t do as good a job protecting them from rapists.

5 thoughts on “Comic: Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board vs Nadia Shoufani

  1. Your bigotry is noted.

    The problem is harm and abuse, not pedophilia. If you bothered to watch the very same channel you appear to have drawn in that panel, you’d know that pedophilia (and other age-related attractions) are inborn sexual orientations. They are not crimes or moral failings. Rather, shaming people for their orientation is a moral failing. In this case, as in the case of so many queer people in the previous century, it led to Roth’s suicide.

    The word for “rapist” is “rapist”, not “pedophile”.

    But even then, the very purpose of “statutory rape” laws is to transform harmless, consensual acts into illegal acts. Due to the obfuscation caused by the law, it cannot be known whether anyone convicted of “rape” is indeed a rapist.

    The facts of the Roth case are, of course, hidden from the public. So we cannot know what happened, and in what context. And of course, he’s dead. But that’s no reason to tarnish other people with accusations against him, by prejudicial association.

  2. “Apparently she made a post in Arabic praising the martyrdom of someone who murdered a 4 year-old girl when he was 16 (in the 1970s). A horrible crime, sure, but again it made my head spin that [something entirely unrelated]”.

    You are amazing.

  3. Randy:
    WTF!?
    Are…you…condoning/defending people that somehow physically victimize other people!??
    I’ll go along with your inborn idea for just this moment right up until the person actually victimizes someone else.
    What’s that saying…your right to clench a fist and jab it at me ends a millimetre away from my nose…or something like that. Although that would then fall into the lines of a threat.

    An interesting perspective though. But I think rather unwarranted. If you were to stretch the idea to the school of thought that says that addiction is a mental health problem…which some do…counting me…the fact is…they are doing the thing they have a compulsion for…to themselves….not someone else. See above millimetre.

    Bigotry?? I see a post about pointing out a sad, ironic hypocrisy.

    I defend Shoufani’s right to speak. I disagree with employers disciplining employees for the employees actions/words done/said outside of work. If you come to work and do the job you’re paid to do and get along with most everyone there then what you do outside of that on your own time is your business completely irrelevant to doing your job.

    • ((This comment is re: Randy… for an actual response to what dusttodust brought up, see the next comment.))

      Unfortunately, he was just trolling. Nothing he said in his comment actually reflects what’s in the comic or the post (in fact, I bet he didn’t even read the post), and none of it actually makes any sense at all.

      Firstly, he either didn’t comprehend what he was reading or is just pretending to be dumb. I wasn’t accusing *Roth* of moral failings; I was accusing the DPCDSB. Whether you believe a rapist is in control of their actions or not (and personally, I prefer to think of *all* violent crimes as the product of disorders that should require mandatory treatment… not punishment), the bottom line is they remain a serious potential threat to the children. And the DPCDSB was *supposed* to be protecting the children left in its charge. They didn’t. Instead they protected their man’s reputation, putting children at risk for months to do so. (And they only finally fessed up when the Star started asking questions.) The comic (and post) *clearly* isn’t about pointing fingers are *Roth*; it’s clearly about the DPCDSB.

      (Also, I am quite aware of the difference between paedophilia and child rape, and if he’d bothered to read the text, he’d have seen that I explicitly referred to Roth’s crime as rape, not paedophilia. In fact, I didn’t even use the word “paedophile” or any of its cognates in the text; I only used it in the comic because of limited space and because comics aren’t really about nuance. *And* my use of “paedophile” in the comic is not incorrect. There are three definitions for “paedophilia” out there: the medical definition of a compulsive disorder regarding sexual attraction to children, the sloppy popular definition where it is conflated with child rape, and the technically correct definition of merely having sexual interest in children without actually raping them. I, personally, prefer the technically correct definition, and that’s the way I used it in the comic… which is technically correct; Roth admitted to it. But I *deliberately* wrote the script so that it doesn’t matter which definition you *think* I’m using – any way you read it, you’ll get the correct gist of it (for example, I didn’t call his crime “paedophilia”, I just said he was a “known paedophile”, which he admitted he was, who had committed “crimes in the US”, which he admitted he did). You have to be *trying* to find something to object to in order to read it incorrectly.)

      Secondly, he probably doesn’t even know the facts of the Roth case he’s feigning concern for, because the relevant facts are *not* “hidden from the public”, and there is no issue with “tarnishing reputations” here. The victim was 9 at the time – *way* before any sane age of consent, even if you reject the *legal* age of consent as reasonable (for example, if you think 14 or 15 is old enough to consent). The victim also pressed charges, so it was clearly no “harmless, consensual act”. And finally, it’s not even a matter that these are merely allegations – Roth confessed to the crimes. So unless you want to assume *both* the victim *and* Roth were lying (which certainly doesn’t line up with the other facts in the case), there’s nothing to debate with respect to calling him a criminal and a rapist.

      So yeah, he was just trolling, which seems to be a pattern.

    • (This comment is actually a response to dusttodust.))

      Personally, I don’t disagree with employers disciplining employees for things done outside of work. For example, if you are aware that someone has raped a child outside of work, it makes perfect sense to fire them from any job where they might be working with children.

      But it also extends to other things. Like if someone is caught ranting about how people of colour are “subhuman”, I would argue that it would be irresponsible to let them continue to work at a job where they have colleagues of colour; it seems a stretch that they won’t bring that attitude into the workplace, which means you’re basically just waiting for an incident to happen where one of your other employees gets victimized. I would say that – for example – if a woman at a company was harassed by a coworker… and she learned that the company was aware of that person’s misogynistic behaviour outside of work but simply shrugged it off (because it was outside of work)… then that woman has every right to believe that the company has failed in its duty to protect her at work (and the other workers there), and it should be held accountable.

      The difference is that in *those* cases, I was talking about bad behaviour that strongly implies there might be a *threat* carried over to the work environment. In the Shoufani case, nothing she said or implied suggests *any* harm to the kids or to her colleagues. It would be ridiculous to think that she’s any threat to the kids or colleagues based on what she said, she’s clearly been suspended just because her bosses didn’t like her opinions. *That* is wrong.

      Of course, if she were actually *proselytizing* her opinions at work, *then* that would be a problem. But there’s no reason to assume that because someone has a political opinion, that means they’re going to push it at work. If you’re going to make *that* assumption, then you’d have to fire every teacher that voted… which is ridiculous. Opinions about politics don’t (necessarily) have implications about how someone is going to treat people in the workplace; not the way that opinions about *people* do. Most importantly, if someone does violate the workplace and starts preaching their politics there, they can be fired for that and they haven’t actually *harmed* anyone (they’ve just violated the policy of a neutral workspace)… but if someone starts ranting about people of colour being “subhuman” or women being this or that, they *have* caused harm, which means the firing was too late.

      So in summary, I *do* agree with disciplining employees for shit they did outside of the workplace… but *ONLY* if what they did reasonably implies a threat to the people (coworkers/clients/customers) within the workplace. Disciplining them merely for having an unpopular or ignorant opinion, or for generally doing something idiotic, is wrong.

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