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SHARIA IN ONTARIO, CANADA:
Public reaction

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Comments by the public:

The Toronto Star published some letters to the editor on this topic. 1 Some excerpts:

bulletAsim Hussain:

"With the Premier's decision to end all religious-based arbitration, a tremendous opportunity was lost to raise the bar for sharia in Canada and in the West. In fact, by training imams, formalizing the process, thus bringing more transparency and accountability to the process, Ontario and its Muslim community could have been an example to much of the Muslim world where the practice of sharia law is profoundly corrupt." SEP-12.

bulletJason Shvili:

"Ontario's Liberal government has once again proven how much contempt it has for people of faith....What do the McGuinty Liberals have against people who believe in something other than the secular values of today's consumer-driven society? The irony is that the premier's decision to end religious arbitration is based on the argument that it will prevent discrimination and ensure people's rights are not violated. Obviously, McGuinty forgot that freedom of religion is one of the rights that Canadians cherish, since he has decided to pursue a policy that will prevent faith groups from exercising an important aspect of their religions, namely the application of religious laws as a means to settle disputes. The even bigger irony, though, is that instead of promoting the idea of one law for all Ontarians, the premier's decision is likely to cause religious arbitration to move underground, where it will lack supervision by the province's legal institutions. In this kind of situation, it is much more likely that religious rulings that contravene Canadian law will be handed down, as opposed to a scenario in which the Canadian legal system manages and supervises religious arbitration so that people's basic rights are not violated. To be blunt, McGuinty has made a bad choice; one that will harm the rights and freedoms of Ontarians much more than it will help to preserve them." SEP-12

bulletLeonard Baak, President, Education Equality in Ontario

"I agree that Premier Dalton McGuinty deserves credit for opting to treat members of every faith group equally, but that is not true in general. In Ontario's school system, equality continues to be elusive. Roman Catholics remain the only faith group to enjoy full funding for religious education. 2 It was the McGuinty government that reversed the less-than-equal level of support for religious education received by members of other faiths. Only Roman Catholics are guaranteed a choice between two publicly-funded schools (public and/or separate) wherever they choose to live in Ontario. Teaching positions in the publicly-funded separate school system are effectively closed to non-Catholics. Yes, McGuinty deserves some credit for demonstrating a commitment to equality, but his actions this week can only be thought of as 'a good start.' If he really wants to treat members of all faiths equitably, the withdrawal of separate school funding should be the next step." SEP-12

bulletMordecai Drache:

"I found myself, as a Jew, siding with a Muslim colleague in a heated debate with a secular colleague. Closer to the issues, more aware of how Muslim and Jewish family law can hurt women in our communities, we adamantly defended McGuinty. Jewish family law is a nightmare for abused women in Israel — and sharia, we hear about the abuses all the time. Why are liberal people so scared of being labelled racist that they'll support legal structures that are unfair to women? Yes, I know the proposal talked about "monitored" arbitration but in my view it's too complicated, too expensive and too prone to ugly politics. Now conservative Jewish and Muslim groups are joining together to fight McGuinty's decision. With all the tension and anger between the two groups over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it is sadly ironic that the only thing they can agree on is taking away women's rights." SEP-13.

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More comments:

The Globe and Mail published some letters to the editor on this topic. 3 Some excerpts:

bulletAnver Emon:

By apparently succumbing to the polemics of anti-sharia groups that confused cultural patriarchies, bad-faith husbands, and incompetent imams with the totality of what arbitration under sharia could offer, the Premier has missed a real opportunity to support Muslim women in Canada and human-rights activists the world over.

Let's be clear: With the ban on sharia arbitration, there will be no positive gain for Muslim women. They are in exactly the same position they were in before the prospect of government-regulated arbitration. Many Muslim women seeking an Islamic divorce will remain vulnerable to the machinations of bad-faith husbands, uneducated imams, and patriarchal traditions if they wish to remain a part of their religious community.

The idea of sharia arbitration brought with it the possibility of government regulation that could have ensured a measure of transparency, accountability and competence in adjudication, none of which currently exists in informal Islamic divorce procedures.

By banning religious arbitration in Ontario, a real opportunity has been lost. With the contemporary breakdown in Islamic legal education, a vacuum of authority prevails that could have been filled with fresh analysis of the tradition, in the light of critical historical and legal scholarship. A regulated regime of sharia arbitration could have opened the door for Canadian Muslims to grapple with their tradition in a way that reflects the spirit of Islamic law and the values they hold as Canadians.

Would a regulated arbitration regime be perfect? Perhaps not. But it would have been better than the informal, back-alley Islamic mediations that are in place now. What is ironic is that if the opponents of sharia had spent their time engaging the historical Islamic tradition, creating novel arbitral principles, and forming their own arbitral institutions, the result would be a victory for Muslim women and human-rights advocates across Canada and around the world.

Unfortunately, the Ontario government has chosen to bow to the political will of anti-sharia activists who reduced the discourse to Islamophobic political sloganeering. The government's decision not only denies a right already granted to religious groups that have relied on it for years, but in the case of Muslim women, the decision does nothing substantive to protect them. SEP-13

bulletKai Morgenstern:

"While Anver Emon raises a valid point about how the transformation of sharia law might help integrate Muslims into our society, he has the steps to achieve this mixed up. He suggests that imams with 'no understanding of, or appreciation for, Canadian values' get the chance to do legally binding arbitration so they can change sharia law to be consistent with our legal system. That's like saying everyone who wants to drive a car should be given a licence so they can learn the road's rules. But imams don't have to embrace our values; they merely have to let their followers exercise the rights granted to them under the Charter. Dalton McGuinty's decision puts Muslims in the same position as Catholics: If you want the Pope to dissolve your marriage, go ahead and try; but your spouse is welcome to file for divorce in a court. If Muslim women feel they don't have that option, then whether or not there are sharia courts doing arbitration is not the real problem." SEP-14

bulletElizabeth MacSween:

"Reading Sheema Khan caught me right in my self- righteous, feminist, Christian-based indignation. While I resent being called Islamophobic, I realize my views on sharia have been skewed by the reports of corrupt interpretations of sharia in fundamentalist Islamic countries. Ms. Khan opened my eyes to what could have, and should have, happened: a proper debate and a opportunity to educate Ontarians in what sharia is and how it can be properly interpreted to protect those who seek the counsel of their faith." SEP-16

bulletDon Leaver:

"Sheema Khan (The Sharia Debate Deserves A Proper Hearing -- Sept. 15) says 'there is no college of imams in Canada . . . [and] no institutes to train jurists in Muslim family law,' as there are for rabbis and priests. Surely, this is why we reject it. We do not know what we are getting. If it is what we see happening around the world, with no Islamic court to hold any imam to account no matter how radical, then Canadians are right to reject it." SEP-16

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References used and footnote:

  1. The Toronto Star's web site is at: http://www.thestar.com/
  2. In Ontario, the provincial government funds both a public school system and a Roman Catholic separate school system, from K through 12. But other religiously based school systems -- including Jewish, Muslim, and conservative Christian private schools -- are not funded. This system has been cited by an agency of the United Nations as institutionalized religious discrimination.
  3. The Globe and Mail's web site is at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > Sharia > here

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-SEP-18
Latest update: 2005-SEP-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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