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Calgary school fined for causing ‘distress and loss of dignity’ to 2 muslim students that forbid to conduct prayers on school grounds

Students were told they could not conduct their daily prayers on school grounds

By Allison Dempster


A Calgary private school that refused to allow two Muslim students to pray on campus grounds has been fined $26,000 by the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

The tribunal found Webber Academy discriminated against the 14-year-olds and caused them distress and loss of dignity.

The two students testified they had to try to do their daily prayers in secret, sometimes outside in the snow.

The school says it is appealing the decision.

“We’re not discriminating against anybody at the school on the basis of religion,” said Neil Webber, the president and founder of Webber Academy.

“We are a non-denominational school. We’ve operated on that basis for the last 18 years.”

At the tribunal, the school argued prayer that requires bowing or kneeling is “too obvious” and may make other students uncomfortable.

It said it wants to create a learning environment that is free of religious influences.

The human rights tribunal, headed by lawyer Sharon Lindgren-Hewlett, found otherwise.

“Despite the respondent’s specifically stated goal of making people of all religious backgrounds feel welcome, its actions, objectively viewed, were not welcoming,” the three-member panel wrote in its decision.

‘We are a non-denominational school. We’ve operated on that basis for the last 18 years’– Neil Webber, president of Webber Academy.

“If you’re a private school, what you should be taking from it is that the Human Rights Act applies to you,” said Sarah Burton, a human rights lawyer at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre in Calgary.

The two human rights complaints were filed against Webber Academy in February 2012 by Shabnam Nazar and Farhat Amir on behalf of their sons.

Nazer and Amir told the tribunal that at first their sons prayed openly on school grounds with the permission of their teachers, but it didn’t last.

After two and a half weeks of classes, Webber Academy told the boys the prayers were against the school’s non-denominational policy.

The students kept trying to conduct their


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