3.07.2007

what's that floating in my river?
the multicultural balancing act

A big story in Canada recently revolved around the ejection of a girl wearing a hijab from a soccer field in Quebec. Although opinion is always divided on these issues, it seemed to me that most public opinion was opposed to the referee's decision, and FIFA's unfortunate decision to allow it to stand in the name of local ref autonomy.

A similar type of story, though lesser known, is being played out in the Ontario's Peel Region, where I live. As part of their traditional worship, Hindu people have been "leaving offerings" - flowers, statues, jewelry - in the Credit River and other creeks in the area. In addition, people have been releasing the ash remains of cremated bodies into the river.

In the past, it was more common to send ashes to India, to be released into the Ganges. But now the Hindu people of Peel often have little connection to India. They are Canadians, and they want the ashes of their loved ones to be released in Canada.

What to do? One person's offerings are another person's pollution. People need to freely practice their religion, and it's their unequivocal right to do so. But dumping - placing, offering - things into the waterways is harmful, and illegal. In response, many Hindu people are leaving the offerings secretly, at night.

Hindu leaders in Mississauga want to work with the local government to find a compromise - a place where the community can release ashes into the water safely and legally.

It's an interesting problem, and if not unique to the Peel Region, certainly not something you'd hear about in most North American communities.

Toronto Star article here.

7 comments:

M@ said...

One remarkable thing in the soccer story was that the ejected player was supported by every member of her team, and I believe I heard that four other teams left the tournament in protest too. That tells me that we're moving in a positive direction in this country regarding multiculturalism.

I'm not surprised, though, that FIFA -- a huge, lumbering dinosaur of an old boys club -- declined to actually decide anything. They're more conservative than the Catholic Church. Well, maybe not, but they're in that league.

L-girl said...

One remarkable thing in the soccer story was that the ejected player was supported by every member of her team, and I believe I heard that four other teams left the tournament in protest too. That tells me that we're moving in a positive direction in this country regarding multiculturalism.

I agree. I made it a point to read letters to the editor in several newspapers online, and to skim the forums at different news sites and blogs. It looked like the majority was easily (and strongly) with the girl. Many people said her Charter rights had been infringed.

loneprimate said...

Mississauga ought to take this one to heart. I can see placing some restrictions... plastic wreaths and the like, say... things that are not biodegradable... But flowers, the three or four pounds of ashes that remain from cremation? As far as I'm concerned, that ought to be just fine.

L-girl said...

I agree, LP. I don't see how flowers or ashes can harm the water. We don't need plastic flowers in the rivers, and hopefully that wouldn't be an unduly harsh restriction.

I actually think it's cool that such a dilemma exists here. In some way, it seems a measure of success.

Scott M. said...

As far as ashes are concerned... I think they'd mostly be a problem if there are a number of people who do it in the same spot, or if they're put in just upstream of a water intake (such as a cottage), or maybe a lock etc. The high temperature assures that the remains are pretty much aseptic.

An easy solution would be to require people to register the location of their ceremony with the crematorium who would look in a government controlled database to ensure that the area has been deemed OK to use.

A bigger problem comes from the things thrown with the ashes... some people throw jewellery, wreaths (containing metal and/or plastic), boats made of plastic, paper or wood and other things that clearly harm the environment. Even some flowers chosen may be foreign to that watershed or environment and seeds from those flowers can cause an invasive species to take root. That's not good.

The UK drafted a policy up in 2004 on how to deal with the issue, including practical notes like not using a bridge that canoeists pass under (thanks!).

Scott M. said...

One note on the illegality side of things... the government, in 2002, passed a piece of legislation called the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, which replaces the century-old Cemetaries act. The Cemetaries act dealt with cremation only as an afterthought, whereas the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act deals with it head on.

Neither piece of legislation allows for scattering of ashes in any place other than a licensed cemetary, though the FBCSA promises to allow for regulations providing exceptions.

Right now, the Cemetaries act is the law. The FBCSA will become law when the government feels like it ("on a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor").

L-girl said...

A bigger problem comes from the things thrown with the ashes... some people throw jewellery, wreaths (containing metal and/or plastic), boats made of plastic, paper or wood and other things that clearly harm the environment.

Well sure, that's what most people are saying.

When it comes to invasive species, I would hate to see funeral offerings singled out, since the problem is much larger and more widespread than that.

Neither piece of legislation allows for scattering of ashes in any place other than a licensed cemetary

That should be changed. That's needlessly over regulating, IMO.