I have never met Ravi Hooda. Neither have I had any dealings with the Peel District School Board or the ReMax Realty office for both of which he recently worked. As far as I know, I have never known anybody that had dealings with Hooda and doubt whether he has heard my name. Two ships.
I ran across Hooda’s name when he got blasted into the limelight via CBC this month. Hooda allegedly twitted a tweet that was unflattering to Muslims, which allegation cost him his job at ReMax, his position on a school council and an unforgiving representation in the news. That would be his social status, his financial status and his political status. He is, apparently, to be spat upon. More on that in a minute.
Hooda’s offence came when he allegedly reacted to a change in an ordinance allowing the Muslim Call to Prayer to be broadcast to the community over loudspeakers during Ramadan. Hooda said, “What’s next? Separate lanes for camel and 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.”
That may well not be the kind of thing you would say at a mixed party, but if Rick Mercer said it to the Governor of Arkansas, it would garner him another Gemini Award. If you never saw that skit, look it up on YouTube. It’s a riot. Search: Mike Huckabee thinks Canada has a national igloo.
Back to Hooda. I am an advocate for free thinking, free talking and free acting. No, I don’t advocate screaming “FIRE!!” in a crowded theatre, but it’s worth exploring where the boundaries are. You have heard many times the phrase, “over the line,” or the question, “does this cross the line?” So, I’m more interested in lines than Scots are in plaid. What do those lines mean, where are they and who says?
I decided to write to the media-relations woman at the Peel District School Board. The back-and-forth has been lengthy, and I am happy to send a copy to anybody that requests one so you can get the whole context, but here is the gist.
On May 7, I said to Carla Pereira, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the Peel District School Board, “permit me to ask whether anything he said or wrote was denotatively hateful.” Denotation is a word-of-art for which most people never have a use. However, for people that are charged with educating our young people, it should be no problem.
Denotation more-or-less means the dictionary definition of a word, not what is may mean in slang, colloquialisms, jargon, etc. Therefore, I was asking what is hateful about such words as camel, goat, slaughter, sacrifice, tent, etc.
I ended up asking that same, exact question 11 more times over the course of the next three business days, and nobody ever even tried to address it. Instead, Pereira informed me that, “What he tweeted was determined to be Islamophobic and a violation of the board’s Safe and Accepting Schools Policy, as outlined in the Principal’s message to families.”
It seems to me there are a couple of problems with this as a “notice of adverse action” that cost a man his job, his office and his reputation. One is the simple, linguistic question one would have over the meaning of “Islamophobic.” To me, it’s a slang word, made up in the last few years, that covers whatever any accuser wishes it to cover. It is not definitive of any crime.
And that leads to a more important point. Did Hooda violate a statute? If so, was he charged, was he tried and was he convicted? I searched the “Acts” of the Revised Statutes of Canada, and got zero results for Islamophobia, so Parliament may not have managed yet to criminalize slang.
That meant nothing to Pereira. She has a policy and a message from a principal. Note the distinction between a principle and a principal. A principal is that person when you were young that compelled you to address her or him as “doctor,” even though she or he would not have professional knowledge of the difference between a root canal and an appendectomy. What they had was a Ph.D. (pronounced fäd). Of course, by saying that I prove myself to be a fädophobe.
I became interested in who made the alleged “determination” that cost Hooda his livelihood and his reputation, so I asked. For what it’s worth, I once thought I would grow up to be a professor of linguistics, and I did considerable work in historical and anthrolinguistics in grad school. Those of you that know me can see that was a dumb goal and that I would not have survived for two semesters as a university faculty member, so I left to do something meaningful. Nonetheless, I remember enough that I have some actual questions about the validity of this alleged determination.
Pereira told me I can’t know who these linguistic paragons are — these infallible, unknowable seers of evil in others.
Tell me you can’t see this one coming. She said, “Details of all school investigations are confidential so it is not possible to share additional information.” So, I asked if it was so confidential, how did CBC get Hooda’s name, employer and position with the Peel School Board. It seems to me that if somebody is going to lose his job, his position and his reputation, I should be able to ask who says so.
I have not been able to contact Hooda, but it appears the initial complaint may have been filed for somebody by the Canadian Anti-Hate (sic) Network. According to their website, “Ravi Hooda has been fired from RE/MAX and removed from his role as Chair of a Peel school council after our formal complaints.”
This met with vocal approval from several contributors on the Canadian Anti-Hate (sic) Network. For example, an entity that identifies itself as Usman Abdullah says, “I’m so proud of you guys! Thank you! Great work that you guys are doing! Just donated!”
Next, a Faizal Sheriff says, “This really needs to be addressed, especially among some elements within the South Asian community.” That one really resonates, eh? An anti-hater specifying the ethnicity and, likely, religion, of a despised (by him) minority and calls for a broader need to “address” the South Asian community. Those darned South Asians!
Abu Adam checks in with his approval: “Good job guys ! thank you for standing up in face of hatred.” This is followed by Mohammed Shayan observing: “His immigration license is still active, I assume. It needs to be revoked as well. Can anyone tell me the status of it?”
Zembla Ombrax said, “Please dive in deeper in this problem. It is worth the investigation. This Hooda guy and Tarek Fateh should be taken to court by the community for Hatred and Oppression. Enough is Enough !!!!”
So, you guessed it, I asked Pereira who Abdullah donated to, the Canadian Anti-Hate (sic) Network, or the Peel District School Board. I was trying to inject a little levity into the situation, given the gravity of what I was finding, but Pereira seems to be as conversant in the language of humour as she is in English.
In fact, I said I am Danish, and, “I have lived my life watching and hearing characterizations of Danish women with steel bras, horned hats and loud voices terrorizing the common folk. We let it go. Nothing hateful about it. However, if Grunnhilde Larstensenson down the street ever started with her get-up, we just crossed to the other side of the street and kept our mouths shut.” Danish women have been the objects of stereotyping since at least the 800s when the Sultans found them especially desirable as slaves.
Some of you may be wondering, “what has this to do with wood?” Everything. We have this thing called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Right up at the top, the second thing, it guarantees us: “2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.” Note that little bit about “other media of communication.”
There is lots more, but that will do for now. If that Charter has no meaning — if all it takes to destroy somebody is a determination by an illiterate school board and a Ph.D.’s letter — then nothing is safe. Not your taxes, not your company, not your church and not your children. The Soviet Union, for example, had a guarantee of free expression. You could say whatever you wanted to. Once.
I will grant that Hooda may have given offence. I do, as well, and I get paid for it. So does Rick Mercer. The complement to denotative is connotative. Connotation bears more on social, or understood, meaning. So, while denotatively a goat rider may be simply somebody that rides goats, that does not ring true. Goats seem smallish to ride, but then I’m a big guy. Maybe elsewhere people ride goats.
On the other hand, if goat rider has a connotation beyond the obvious, then Hooda is vulgar. Not as vulgar as a gang of monkeys at a typewriter trying to discern the meaning of a tent, but vulgar. Shame on Hooda. He should have a letter of disapproval entered into his file, warning him to save his vulgarity for his private time off school property.
Oh. I see that he did. It was 8:36 p.m.
What’s next? A couple of toque-flaunting, beer-swilling, poutine-dipping Newfie-baiting hosers in flannel to appease the peace fools for votes?
So fire me.