Peter Breiger and April Lindgren, National Post (Canada), Dec. 15, 2006
Ontario’s Premier and several religious groups yesterday criticized a provincial judge’s decision to banish the Christmas tree standing in a Toronto courthouse lobby because it might offend non-Christians.
“It’s so stupid, I’m at a loss for words,” said Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
“The judge should take a trip to the rest of the world. Christmas is celebrated by Muslims in many countries — they should ban political correctness, not Christmas trees.
“If people are offended [by a Christmas tree], I’m glad they’re offended,” he added.
“I think it indicates a serious mental disorder when people want to bring down other people’s happiness.”
The group issued a news release calling on Muslims to “celebrate Christmas with their Christian cousins and light up Christmas trees to send a message to the Ontario judge that she is wrong on all counts.”
“Hindus would be highly upset if another group infringed on our right to put up Hindu symbols in public,” said Ron Banerjee, spokesman for the Hindu Conference of Canada.
“I think it’s important that political correctness not be taken too far so that we’re being crazy about it.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty called the move a “misunderstanding” of the significance of having such a multicultural province.
“We enjoy the wonderful privilege of building a pluralistic, multicultural society,” he told reporters, noting that Queen’s Park, where there are Christmas trees aplenty this time of year, also celebrates Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other traditions.
“We’re not asking any one of the wonderful communities that make up our province to somehow abandon their traditions. What we’re saying is let’s share in those opportunities, let’s better understand those celebrations.
“It doesn’t offend anyone when we celebrate Diwali at Queen’s Park or celebrate Hanukkah at Queen’s Park or celebrate Eid at Queen’s Park. That’s part and parcel of who we are.”
The backlash comes after Justice Marion Cohen ordered a Christmas tree at the Ontario Court of Justice be relocated to a back hallway behind frosted glass doors — near the family court desk where the door is adorned with a Santa Claus poster.
Judge Cohen defended the relocation at 311 Jarvis St. in a letter to staff this week, which acknowledged people are “upset” with the decision.
“I am aware the Christmas tree has been placed in the front lobby at Christmas time for many years,” the letter said. “I do not think it appropriate that when the clients of our court enter our courthouse, the first thing they see is a Christian symbol.
“The message to the many non-Christians, who attend our court and are confronted with this symbol, is that they are not part of this institution. It does not belong to them. They are different.”
It is unclear if the move was sparked by complaints, and Judge Cohen declined to take questions.
(Posted on December 20, 2006)