Halal concerns unaddressed

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A green dumpster is on fire. URSU’s logo is on the front of it.
Someone told Hammad to tell a joke the other day. All he said was “URSU.”  Paigeell via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Little context provided by the Lazy Owl or URSU 

“We had an in-camera session, we exited the in-camera session, and then somebody put forward a motion to adjourn. We then implored the rest of the Board: ‘This is incredibly important, it needs to be addressed. Please stay, please deal with this.’”  

Nabeera Siddiqi, Luther Director with the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU), was frustrated on March 18, 2024 when instead of taking action on a question of Halal quality at the Lazy Owl, the majority of directors voted to adjourn the meeting.  

For Muslim individuals who choose to eat Halal, foods like cheese and meat are most impacted. Siddiqi explained that meat “has to be slaughtered a certain way, and there have to be prayers said over it when it’s slaughtered. […] There’s a religious distinction, it’s called Zabiha, which is the hand-slaughtered, properly done way, so it gets a little bit tricky. Things sometimes will say they’re Halal but they’re machine-slaughtered, and some people don’t consider that fully Halal.” 

According to Siddiqi, as part of their requirements, Muslims will often choose to eat Halal. “So, the harm is, it is sinful to eat non-Halal meat. If you are served food that isn’t Halal, your religious decisions are kind of being taken away when something is labelled as such but then it isn’t actually. You’re being misled and lied to at that point, right?” 

Islamic faith requires that believers take responsibility for intentional and unintentional sins alike, Siddiqi explained. “Oftentimes when Muslims will pray or ask for forgiveness it comes into ‘Forgive me for sins that I’ve committed knowingly or unknowingly.’ There is a distinction made there, but they do count nonetheless.” 

“This is on record, and I want this to be emphasized if possible,” Siddiqi noted, referencing the March 18 meeting once again. “If there was some other reason the board members felt they needed to leave, they had the ability to. No one was holding them there against their will. […] To vote for an adjournment when there was an important motion on the books that was about people’s religious freedoms? That was intentional to stop that from getting discussed or voted on.”  

Rashad Haque, Social Work Director with URSU, echoed Siddiqi’s sentiment, saying that regarding meetings of the URSU Board, directors are “required to be there for three hours. Sometimes there are times when it goes over [three hours], and so they leave without us formally adjourning the meeting. […] It feels deliberate that they didn’t want to address this right away.”  

The issue to be addressed involves whether food labelled, sold, and served as Halal at the Lazy Owl truly meets the requirements of Halal food. It is unclear at this point exactly how far into the past these concerns extend.  

“Early in the Fall semester of 2023,” the second paragraph in a statement by many URSU directors opens, “it was brought to the attention of the President of URSU that the Lazy Owl was selling menu items labeled as Halal, when they were not Halal. In December of 2023 during a routine Board meeting, URSU Board was informed of the breach and requested for staff to look into the details of the situation. […] In February of 2024, in consultation with third-party HR [Human Resources], the Board was advised to conduct a formal external investigation to determine the details of the alleged breach.”  

URSU’s board was to discuss this investigation at their March 18 meeting which was adjourned before the motion could be fully addressed.  

Siddiqi reached out to Jai Desai, bar manager at the Lazy Owl, in mid-March by email. She asked how long he believed non-Halal food had been served, whether food being sold at that time was certified as Halal, which meat and cheese manufacturers the Lazy Owl orders from, and to see physical copies of the Halal certificates. Desai responded March 15 asking Siddiqi to meet him in the Lazy Owl to discuss her questions but, over the following week of email exchanges which the Carillon has reviewed, they were unable to find time to meet.  

Siddiqi sent Desai another information request by email on March 22, again asking to see photographic proof of the brands of meat and cheeses used as well as the cheese ingredient lists, copies of Halal certificates, and written assurance of the Halal quality at the Lazy Owl as well as an overview of cross-contamination policies and procedures. 

“They refused to give me those answers,” Siddiqi said. A week after expressing willingness to talk, Desai directed Siddiqi to instead contact URSU’s interim General Manager (GM) Aoun Muhammad and follow the directors’ chain of command rather than provide information to the potentially impacted student. Desai also denied the request for cross-contamination policy and procedure information. 

On March 28, 2024, the Carillon received an email from the University of Regina’s Muslim Students’ Association (URMSA) with two Halal certificates, one for the JBS Brooks slaughtering plant (JBS) in Brooks, Alberta which is certified until April 14, 2024, and one for Reuven International Limited (Reuven) which is produced by Cargill Meats (Thailand) Limited and certified until Oct 1, 2024.  

When asked to list where the Lazy Owl orders from, GM Muhammad provided the Carillon with a short list of three companies. JBS supplies ground beef, and Reuven supplies chicken fingers, cooked wings, and chicken cheese balls. A third company, Mina Halal, is listed as supplying chicken breasts and “random chicken,” and has their Halal certification available on their website which will remain valid until Dec 31, 2024.  

Other suppliers remain in question, as ingredients like Halal pepperoni are listed under menu items such as the Lazy Owl’s hot honey pizza, yet no supplier of Halal pepperoni was included in the list provided by Desai and Muhammad or the certificates provided by URMSA. No information was passed on regarding cheese suppliers or ingredients.  

At the time of writing, the Carillon has not yet heard from anyone at URSU about when the Lazy Owl started ordering from JBS, Reuven, or Mina Halal, leaving prior Halal quality unknown despite the current certificates provided for beef and chicken products. 

Siddiqi said the ideal response from URSU would be to see that “URSU takes accountability, they apologize. ‘Here, now look – we are all Halal, this is the proof.’ That would’ve been the perfect outcome.” 

“I still think that outcome is achievable,” Haque added, “it’s just that it hasn’t been prioritized. I don’t even like to say it hasn’t been addressed because it has been brought forward and deliberately, intentionally not been addressed.”  

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