Mississauga doubles down on motion to let the Azan play
Mississauga City Council has now struck the iron rod on the same decision twice. After hours of back and forth Wednesday, its move to play the Azan stood.
The original approval came during the April 29 council meeting, with a unanimous vote to let the Muslim call to prayer play at sunset during the remaining days of the holy month of Ramadan.
For a time, that unanimous decision seemed in jeopardy. A vague May 4 motion filed by Councillor Sue McFadden led many to speculate there would be a push to stop the temporary broadcasting of the Azan. But at the beginning of the debate, the Ward 10 representative explained the purpose of the motion was to have a wider discussion around the topic, not to put a halt to the Azan.
Mississauga members during Wednesday's video-council meeting
“The intent was for the discussion to take place and to make everybody understand that the policy and the procedures were not followed last week and it did cause a lot of angst,” she explained during the video-conferenced City Council meeting Wednesday.
Last week’s motion that approved the call to prayer was not on the original agenda. The request for it came at nine o’clock in the morning, half-an-hour before council began, Mayor Bonnie Crombie explained Wednesday. It came from Rabia Khedr, the executive director of the Muslim Council of Peel.
Some council members expressed, in hindsight, their concern over how the matter was hastily dealt with and detailed the backlash that has resulted, describing the hundreds of messages they have since received from residents voicing anger over the decision. Many council members said they agreed that proper “process” was not followed.
Councillor Carolyn Parrish (Ward 5) argued the motion was a “walk-on” partly because it was time sensitive. In Council, motions are usually put forward well before the meeting so members (and the public) can digest it, do research, then have a proper debate before a vote is taken.
There were two extenuating circumstances last week: the difficulty communicating and getting information from staff and other sources because of the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions (City Hall is essentially closed while council and staff work from home); and the time constraint because Ramadan had already started.
But Parrish and Councillor Pat Saito, two veteran politicians who are both extremely well versed not only on procedural matters but also know the dynamics of their city as deeply as anyone, both questioned claims by some members who said they did not have all the proper information they needed last week when the decision was made. They said they would not support McFadden's motion, which they felt included language that was more focused on highlighting controversy and criticizing last week's decision than any actual constructive legislative direction that would help the city move forward.
Khedr previously told The Pointer her decision to approach the city came after she saw what cities around Canada were doing. Halifax, Edmonton, Toronto, Brampton and Milton, as well as many others across the country, along with dozens in the U.S. and Europe have all made similar decisions. “We felt that this symbolic gesture would really uplift people in Ramadan [in a way] that they have never experienced in their lives in this way,” she said.
The Azan is a call to prayer for those who practice the Muslim faith. It’s played five times a day to coincide with the five daily prayers. Broadcasting the Azan to the surrounding neighbourhood around a Mosque using external speakers is not allowed in Mississauga and other Canadian cities becuase it violates public noise by-laws, but exceptions were made after Muslim congregants were unable to gather for their usual traditions during Ramadan because of the spread of the novel coronavirus and restrictions that remain in place. The holy month sees Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, abstaining from food and water, and focusing on a heightened spiritual awareness.
A muezzin delivers the call to prayer inside a Mosque
Some council members, such as Karen Ras (Ward 2), voiced frustration over the widespread backlash they have received since last week and said proper process was not followed, but it was pointed out by Saito and Parrish that the response by some angry residents should have no bearing on the decision and that councillors knew what they were doing before they voted.
Nothing has changed, they said.
In the end, McFadden’s motion was withdrawn and a unanimous decision meant the Azan, which is only allowed during the sunset prayer when the fast during Ramadan is broken, will continue until May 24. It was decided the matter would be discussed by the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee (DIAC) when it meets after the current restrictions preventing non-standing committees from taking place are lifted.
Council members made it clear that the exemption last week can be extended to any other religious group seeking help during the ongoing pandemic, and that the move was not made only to benefit one faith community.
Such issues will be dealt with once DIAC reconvenes.
It’s not clear what changed for some representatives. Ras said the process to approve the motion didn’t follow procedure and suggested it be rescinded, yet in the end, voted in favour for it to continue. Councillor John Kovac (Ward 4) also voted in favour of the motion in the end, despite raising concern about Council’s acceptance of guidance provided by the Interfaith Council of Peel (ICP). Despite the existence of the council for decades and numerous opportunities for Kovac to engage with the group since he became a councillor six years ago, he appeared to have no knowledge of the organization, unlike the other members. Despite admitting he knew nothing about the group, he claimed it does not represent Catholics and Anglicans, which is not true.
A letter from the influential interfaith body played a role in allaying concern over council’s original decision. It outlines support for broadcasting the call to prayers from all faith groups in the city, and was signed by a wide range of religious leaders across the Region. It provided nuanced input representing a broad range of residents across the city, which council was looking for.
“Rather than thinking of this simple action as divisive, or favouring one group over another, may it be a reminder that members of our community are deeply missing each other, that our lives personally and collectively have changed,” the letter states. It was put together after ICP members were prompted to discuss the backlash the Azan exemption prompted across the city. “We thought it was important as an interfaith community of leaders who really try to promote harmony in the community and support one another,” Rabbi Audrey Pollack, the chair of ICP, told The Pointer.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie, pictured during a recent press conference, said Wednesday that issues involving faith in the city often stir controversy
From the larger community, criticism has been a consistent part of the response and members of council have been bombarded with hundreds of complaints since the decision last week.
This isn’t the first time many in the community have reacted to initiatives focused on the Muslim population. One of the many similar reactions was witnessed after the proposal for The Meadowvale Islamic Centre in 2015. “I think any time we deal with issues that involve faith communities, you see this kind of flair up of reaction, sometimes visceral reaction,” Crombie said during a press conference Wednesday.
Such divisiveness is not a factor specific to Mississauga. In Brampton, a Peel realtor and school council chair was recently fired by REMAX after an Islamophobic tweet surfaced on the city’s decision to allow for the broadcast of the Azan.
"What's next? Separate lanes for camel & goat riders, allowing slaughter of animals at home in the name of sacrifice, bylaw requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents to appease the piece fools for votes," a tweet from the account with the name Ravi Hooda replied to the announcement Mayor Patrick Brown made. Hooda was also the school council chair of Macville Public School in Caledon, a role he was swiftly removed from. The PDSB announced he will no longer be allowed to have any role with the board.
A report from city staff states the broadcasting of the Azan in the City of Brampton is an acceptable exemption under the Noise and Nuisance By-Law, given it only occurs at a low decibel once a day at sunset and does not last longer than three minutes.
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