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No Shariah family tribunals in Ontario: McGuinty


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No Shariah family tribunals in Ontario: McGuinty

Canadian Press

Updated: Sun. Sep. 11 2005 11:53 PM ET

TORONTO — Ontario will not become the first Western jurisdiction to allow the use of a set of centuries' old religious rules called Shariah law to settle Muslim family disputes, and will ban all religious arbitrations in the province, Premier Dalton McGuinty told The Canadian Press on Sunday.

In a telephone interview with the national news agency, McGuinty announced his government would move quickly to outlaw existing religious tribunals used for years by Christians and Jews under Ontario's Arbitration Act.

"I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough," he said.

"There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians."

McGuinty said religious arbitrations "threaten our common ground," and promised his Liberal government would introduce legislation "as soon as possible" to outlaw them in Ontario.

"Ontarians will always have the right to seek advice from anyone in matters of family law, including religious advice," he said. "But no longer will religious arbitration be deciding matters of family law."

Last December, a report from former NDP attorney general Marion Boyd recommended the province allow and regulate Shariah arbitrations much the same way it does Christian and Jewish tribunals, setting off a firestorm of protests.

Homa Arjomand, the women's rights activist who organized a series of protests across Canada and Europe last Thursday to convince McGuinty to abandon Shariah, was elated when she heard the news late Sunday.

"I think our voice got heard loud and clear, and I thank the government for coming out with no faith-based arbitrations," said Arjomand. "Oh, I am so happy. That was the best news I have ever heard for the past five years."

However, despite calling for an end to all religious arbitrations, Ontario's New Democrats were not happy with the way McGuinty handled the Shariah debate.

"By merely sitting on the issue, and by hiding his head in the sand, McGuinty allowed the debate to in fact fester and grow pretty ugly," said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos. "That was not helpful to anything in this multicultural community of ours."

Opposition leader John Tory agreed with the NDP's position that McGuinty mishandled the Shariah debate.

"One of the tests of leadership in a diverse society is that you not allow issues like this - which are complex - to boil over into angry, polarized debates," said Tory.

"By letting it go on, and suddenly ending it mysteriously on a Sunday afternoon, is not probably the best kind of leadership that one could show."

Currently, Ontario's Arbitration Act allows civil disputes ranging from custody and support to divorce and inheritance to be resolved through an independent arbitrator, if both parties agree.

Catholics, Mennonites, Jews, aboriginals and Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, have - until now - used the act to settle family law questions without resorting to the courts.

But those who opposed permitting Shariah family arbitration argued that the reforms would give legitimacy and an unenforceable appearance of oversight to a legal code they say is - at its heart - unfair to women.

McGuinty said the debate around Shariah gave his government time to "step back a little bit" and look at the original decision to allow religious arbitrations in Ontario.

"It became pretty clear that was not in keeping with the desire of Ontarians to build on common ground. . .of one law for all Ontarians," he said.

The premier said his wife Terri had not raised the Shariah law issue with him during the lengthy debate, but noted the 17 women in his Liberal caucus urged him to reject the idea.

Just hours before McGuinty's announcement, a group including author Margaret Atwood, activist Maude Barlow, writer June Callwood and actresses Shirley Douglas and Sonja Smits issued an open letter to the premier on behalf of the No Religious Arbitration Coalition.

During last Thursday's protests, angry demonstrators outside the Ontario legislature likened McGuinty to Afghanistan's former extremist Taliban leaders for even considering Shariah.

Speakers in Toronto called McGuinty naive for saying women's rights would not be trampled if Ontario allowed Shariah, while 100 people braved the rain in Montreal to protest the use of Shariah law in Ontario. Similar rallies were held in Ottawa and Victoria, while smaller protests were held in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Dusseldorf, Germany.

The Muslim Canadian Congress, which supported the regulation of Shariah law under Ontario's Arbitration Act, was not immediately available to comment Sunday on McGuinty's surprise announcement.


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McGuinty government rules out use of sharia law


Monday, September 12, 2005

Updated at 5:11 AM EDT

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Toronto — Seeking to end months of debate, Premier Dalton McGuinty now says "there will be no sharia law in Ontario" -- an announcement that should quell a growing public-relations crisis concerning the use of Islamic law, but which also exposes Queen's Park to attacks from other religions.

Following widespread condemnation of a plan that would formally allow the tenets of sharia to be used in resolving family disputes, the Premier said he'll make the boundaries between church and state clearer by banning faith-based arbitrations.

Ontario explicitly gave the green light to such practices in its 1991 Arbitration Act. But as early as this fall, new Ontario laws may put a stop to religion-based settlements in matters such as child-custody disputes or inheritances.

This means that orthodox Jews and some Christian leaders may soon make a common cause with fundamentalist Muslims in seeking to limit the scope of the new proposals.

"Our reaction is we're disappointed, we're very disappointed," said Joel Richler, chairman of the Ontario wing of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

"It's what we consider to be a knee-jerk reaction against the sharia issue."

He said orthodox Jews have used tribunals to settle family disputes for centuries, but the future of these tribunals is no longer clear in Ontario.

Many moderate Muslims say they are overjoyed by the Premier's announcement.

"I'm so happy today. It's a victory for the women's rights movement," said Homa Arjomand, an Iranian immigrant who has launched a campaign to stop sharia in Ontario.

"Women's rights are not protected by any religion," she said.

But fundamentalist Islam, in particular, can be harsh, she said.

"Divorces are happening behind closed doors and the woman is banned from having custody of her children," Ms. Arjomand said. "She is being sent back to her home country to live with her relatives."

She went so far as to say that proposed new laws ought to allow for the prosecution of religious leaders involved in faith-based arbitrations.

While it's unlikely that amendments to the Arbitration Act will go that far, Mr. McGuinty told The Canadian Press yesterday that "I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough. There will be no sharia law in Ontario."

"There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario," he said. "There will be one law for all Ontarians."

Legislation will be introduced "as soon as possible," he said.

The 1991 legislation was originally hailed as a victory for multiculturalism, but since then Canada's Muslim population has grown considerably and now numbers around 650,000.

Already imams are using Islamic law to help settle family disputes -- and will likely continue to do so regardless of what Ontario does.

But outspoken opponents of sharia fear that well-intentioned politicians seeking to steer family feuds away from courtrooms will, through religious arbitration, end up ensconcing outposts of fundamentalism in the West. "It's happening in England, it's happening in Sweden," Ms. Arjomand said.

Last year, former NDP attorney-general Marion Boyd recommended the province handle Islamic arbitrations as it long has other religious arbitrations. She said participants must go into the process voluntarily, and that all decisions could be appealed in court.

Yet the proposal is exceptionally controversial. In the past week alone, there have been a series of marches against sharia and reports of female Ontario Liberal MPPs denouncing the initiative. This past weekend an open letter from prominent Canadian women urged Mr. McGuinty to take a stand against "the ghettoization of members of religious communities as well as human-rights abuses" that religious tribunals would bring.

Many observers said the Premier's means of pulling the plug on sharia, by talking to one news agency on a Sunday afternoon, was a curious way to go about ending a debate that has raged for months.

"By letting it go on, and suddenly ending it mysteriously on a Sunday afternoon, is not probably the best kind of leadership that one could show," Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory told The Canadian Press.

Government sources told The Globe that Liberal MPPs have been inundated with telephone calls in recent days from their constituents, expressing concern that Ontario could become the first Western jurisdiction to permit Islamic law to be used in family arbitration cases.

© Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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C B C . C A N e w s - F u l l S t o r y :

Jews, Muslims to fight for tribunals

Last Updated Wed, 14 Sep 2005 17:12:46 EDT

CBC News

Jews and Muslims in Ontario are vowing to fight for religous-based tribunals to settle family disputes, just days after Premier Dalton McGuinty stunned them by announcing he would ban all religious arbitration in the province.

McGuinty's announcement on Sunday came after hundreds of demonstrators around the world last week protested a proposal to let Ontario residents use Islamic law for settling family disputes.

"In the case of the rabbinical courts, they have functioned for hundreds of years in Ontario and there have been no issues, no complaints," Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B'nai Brith Canada, said. "And now to merely outlaw them as having any standing before the law, because of internal differences of opinion in the Muslim community, is simply unfair."

In making the decision, McGuinty was reacting to a recommendation, by former NDP attorney general Marion Boyd, to allow Muslims to establish Shariah-based tribunals similar to Jewish and Catholic arbitration bodies.

"We will not tolerate the interference of religion in our justice system," said Homa Arjomand, who organized a protest in Toronto that drew hundreds of people Thursday.

The protests were generally peaceful, but on the outskirts of the Toronto demonstration, pro-Shariah activist Mubin Shaikh and his wife, Joanne Sijka, verbally sparred with protesters. Shaikh said the misuse of Shariah doesn't mean it should be excluded from Canadian civil law. "Abuse of the process is not a proof against a process, just as people wrongfully imprisoned is not a proof against Canadian law," Shaikh said.

INDEPTH: Shariah Law: FAQ

In Montreal around 100 people gathered Thursday to protest the tribunals. In Ottawa more than 100 others, mostly women, protested in the rain in front of the parliament building.

And in the western German city of Dusseldorf, about 25 people protested at the Canadian consulate.

"If the Shariah is used in Canada, I also feel threatened here," said protester Nasrin Ramzanali, who said there should be a clear separation of church and state.

Other protests were held last week in Waterloo and Victoria, and in Europe in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Stockholm, Goteborg, London and Paris.

Ontario has allowed Catholic and Jewish faith-based tribunals to settle family law matters on a voluntary basis since 1991, but the practice got little attention until Muslim leaders demanded the same rights.

According to the latest census in 2001, some 600,000 Muslims live in Canada, just over 100,000 of them in Quebec.

Copyright ©2005 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - All Rights Reserved


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I do breathe a big sigh of relief on this, the same kind that came when the Libs rescinded the religious schools' tax credit the Tories had brought in. There are too many cloistered people in these communities, and there's been too much evolution in secular law, for this to have ever been feasible. If people like Frank Dimant want these tribunals to have any binding effects on participants, then the burden should fall on them to underscore the standards of/within the particular communities (i.e., if they don't like it, then they can leave), than to have scenarios where people - say, a woman being abused under the aegis of some bit of scriptural justification - fail to understand (or are misled into believing) that all the exits haven't been sealed, and that there is a broader world that they can turn to for support.

Of course, it is a bit screwy, since the church/state distinction is pretty much a Christian concept, and the loudest voices of complaint seem to be coming from Jews and Muslims. It is a pity that McGuinty took a coward's way out of what might have been a useful debate about it all.

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"There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians." - Dalton McGuinty.

here here. once in a while, this guy does something right.

i can understand why people of religions who have been using arbitration for years and haven't had issues with it can be upset because this option has been revoked. But, if they can do it, so can all other religions and sharia is something that should not be allowed here in the west. i embrace multi culturalism, but only to a certain point. if you live in canada, you are subject to canadian laws, the same goes down the line for provinces and municipalities. no exceptions.

thanks for poasting all this SM.

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i embrace multi culturalism, but only to a certain point. if you live in canada, you are subject to canadian laws, the same goes down the line for provinces and municipalities. no exceptions.

From now on, I'm consulting Alexis before I finalize any closing statement to a Court. Succinct; to the point; exactly accurate. :thumbup:

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