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Racism bad, except when targets are Muslims

Former judge wants to bar Muslims from scholarships

A retired judge wants two Ontario universities to bar Muslim students from being awarded scholarships he has established, though the spokesperson for one institution says her school won’t support a proposal that “flies in the face of everything we stand for.”

Paul Staniszewski said he objects to the “medieval violence” used by the Taliban — such as when Taliban militants recently kidnapped and beheaded Polish engineer Piotr Stanczak — and he wishes to “disqualify” Muslim students from receiving financial aid he has paid for.

“I’m reacting to what’s going on to people who aren’t even soldiers, who are having their heads beheaded and this stuff is shown on the TVs and everything else,” Staniszewski told CTV.ca in a phone interview from his Tecumseh, Ont., home, just outside of Windsor.

“I am doing the same thing these people are doing, except I’m not cutting off heads, I’m cutting off applications for help in their studies,” he added later in the interview.

Staniszewski, who is in his 80s, has established scholarships at both the University of Windsor and York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

The University of Windsor website lists three $1,000 scholarships under the name of the judge and his wife, and the York University website lists an award that is also named after the couple.

According to the description of The Honourable Paul I.B. and Mrs. Tevis Staniszewski Award, the retired judge graduated Osgoode in 1954 and practiced law for 13 years until he was appointed as a federal judge in 1967.

Staniszewski said he has attempted to contact both schools about his idea, though he told CTV.ca that he has only made contact with York University so far.

“They told me to put that in writing and they’ll take it up with the board,” he said.

York University spokesperson Alex Bilyk said he had no comment on the issue.

University of Windsor spokesperson Lori Lewis said the school could never support such a measure, though she said it was her understanding the administration had not been contacted about the matter.

“It goes without saying that our position is that we don’t discriminate against our students and that is not an acceptable restriction,” Lewis told CTV.ca.

“It’s against the law and it flies in the face of everything that we stand for at this university,” she added.


One Response

  1. The Staniszewski Affair: The Freedom to Discriminate?

    My hometown of Windsor, Ontario is not a particularly happening place. Overshadowed by the American metropolis of Detroit across the river, Windsor has little crime but not much excitement either. In the past few days, though, the city has found itself in a firestorm of controversy after a retired judge there by the name of Paul Staniszewski ordered that several scholarships he established at the University of Windsor and York University (his alma mater) not be given to Muslim students. This stipulation is, in his own words, a “tit for tat” for the beheading of a Polish engineer in Pakistan by the Taliban. Staniszewski’s statements have raised a wave of public commentary, with some supporting the judge, others condemning him, and still more expressing decidedly mixed feelings. The two universities themselves have refused to comply with his request, calling it discriminatory and even illegal.

    The judge’s logic does seem somewhat warped. The average Muslim student on a Canadian college campus is probably far removed from the people who killed the engineer in Pakistan. A fair number of these students might actually be embarrassed by the Taliban’s actions. If I were a Muslim myself, I would almost certainly be offended by Staniszewski’s decision. By the same token, I would be upset if my daughter, as a Christian, were denied a bursary on account of people like Fred Phelps, the American Baptist minister who pickets funerals of gay men with signs reading “God Hate Fags.” (By the way, I find Phelps disgusting and harmful to the reputation of Christianity as a whole). One wonders who would qualify, or disqualify, as a Muslim in Staniszewski’s eyes. Could a student who was raised in the Islamic faith but later fell away from it or, better yet, embraced another religion – in particular Staniszewski’s religion, which I presume is Roman Catholicism – access his scholarships? Would a former Muslim who had since become an atheist or agnostic be required to openly denounce his or her faith of upbringing in order to apply for one or more of these bursaries?

    The point has been made that many existing scholarships by their very nature discriminate against certain classes of individuals. For example, scholarships set up specifically for girls or Native Canadians automatically exclude male and/or Black/White/Asian students. On the other hand, there is the issue of motivation. Most people who earmark bursaries for female or Native students do so out of concern that women and Aboriginals are being short-changed by the Canadian educational system, not out of hostility to men or non-Natives. Judge Staniszewski’s acts appear to be spurred solely by anger towards Muslims. (It must be said that as a member of a profession that prides itself on its impartiality and rationalism, Staniszewski’s emotionalism does not strike me as especially judge-like.) It is the explicitness rather than implicitness of Staniszewski’s exclusion to which many, including the above-mentioned universities, object.

    In the end, I would agree with a number of observers that Judge Staniszewski has the right to do what he wants with his own money, regardless of his reasoning. I would add that the universities also have every right not to go along with his request. At this point the best course of action would be for Staniszewski to withdraw his scholarships from the institutions in question and, if he wishes, set up a similar bursary on his own. While this solution might not make everybody happy, it would be the most effective way to preserve both Staniszewski’s individual freedom to act according to his own conscience and the universities’ obligation not to engage in discrimination against any particular category of students.

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