According to the legal and social affairs division within the parliament, “Scarcely a week goes by when some special day or observance is not marked somewhere in Canada.”
The parliament has stated that there is no central authority responsible for the declaration of holidays here in Canada. However, they state that days declared special by any public body, cultural group, or religious institution can be recognized in Canada.
U of T adopts a similar policy in regards to absences owing to religious observances. In fact, it is a policy that is referred to on almost every copy of a course syllabus—that is “to arrange reasonable accommodation of the needs of students who observe religious holy days other than those already accommodated by ordinary scheduling and statutory holidays”.
“In line with the university’s policy on accommodations for religious observances, I have tried to create an environment where the students I supervise feel comfortable asking for adjustments to their work commitments when it overlaps with their holy days and faith-based celebrations,” says Julie Guindon, the student development officer for first generation programs at the Office of Student Transition.
Guindon believes that it is essential to extend support towards students beyond their academics or on-campus jobs.
While an attempt towards alternate arrangements is encouraged so that conflicted students may still be able to observe their religious observances, many students find themselves overwhelmed by the deluge of assignments and preparing for upcoming midterms.
“[Since this is] my first year, I’m barely getting enough time to settle down in university, [especially] with all the assignments that are suddenly due,” says Shanza Ayub, a first-year life sciences student. “It is sad, but I just decided to go along with it instead of making an effort to make accommodations for Eid.”
While Ayub’s first-year woes are a matter of the past for many of us, rationing our time towards completing work and postponing celebrations may be a situation most of us can relate to.
“I celebrate Diwali and last year, one of my tests fell on that day,” says Rakhee Neebar, a fourth-year sociology and PWC double major. “I had to defer it.”
While Neebar feels frustrated at how Diwali usually falls on a day during midterms, depending on the lunar calendar, she also recognizes the importance of not only fulfilling a religious obligation, but also taking a break and being together with family.
“The two Eids in the year are not only days of worship and religious obligation, but also days of greetings and happiness,” says Fatima Zahra Hamaimou, a fourth-year major in CCIT and PWC. “I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to celebrate Eid without feeling stressed about missing a day of other commitments, such as work or coursework.”
Hamaimou mentions how this is achievable by citing New York City as an example, where Eid has recently been declared a holiday for all public schools. New York, just like the GTA, possesses pluralism in ethnic diversity.
However, Hamaimou sympathizes with the experiences of her peers who have not managed to receive a day off to observe Eid for fear of receiving negative responses.
“I also know many who have been blessed with an exceptionally understanding workplace or classroom environment and have managed to celebrate Eid to its full potential,” she adds. “Yes, there is [a] fear of stigma, but there is no harm in asking. Canada prides itself on being ethnically diverse and accepting,” says Hamaimou.
“UTM actually has made observing my religious observances comfortable for me,” says Kiran Siddiqui, a third-year biotechnology specialist. Siddiqui also notes that on-campus events arranged by different student societies and the students’ union encourage celebration and believes that professors and faculty are generally understanding about the holidays.
In the end, when it comes to the clashing responsibilities of academics and religious observances, it all boils down to what students themselves prefer. Although, it seems that for many students, there is no choice— academics come first.