Conflict over Sharia in Ontario, Canada
||"...then we gave you a Sharia in religion, follow it,
and do not follow the lust of those who do not know..."
Qur'an, Sura 45:17.
||...there was a legitimate fear that fundamentalist practices as
codified in sharia law even more worrisomely, as interpreted by individual
imams would leave women vulnerable to judgments founded on religious texts
that clash with Canadian law and values." Rosie Dimmano 1
Many Muslims in Canada feel an obligation to be obey
the law system used in many Islamic countries. This has led to
the creation of Sharia tribunals in some provinces. Ontario is
In 1991, the Ontario Government passed the Arbitration Act.
2 This allows
individuals to resolve conflicts through the arbitration rather
than slugging it out in court. The Act permitted religiously
based as well as secular arbitration tribunals in the province.
Their decisions are recognized by the regular courts. There are
several such religiously based arbitration tribunals in Ontario,
based on Roman Catholic, Jewish, Aboriginal and other faiths.
Some Muslim groups were keen on having the decisions of Sharia
tribunals recognized by Ontario courts.
Considerable resistance surfaced against
government-recognition of Sharia in Ontario. These concerns were
fueled both by legitimate concerns over the fair treatment of
women, and objections which appear to have been based on
misinformation and Islamophobia.
The Ontario Government was faced with either having Ontario
courts recognize the decisions of Sharia tribunals, or of
banning all recognition by Ontario courts of religious
tribunals in the province. Premier Dalton McGuinty unilaterally
determined to repeal the Arbitration Act as it applied to faith
groups. If passed by the Legislature, this will terminate the
official recognition of existing Roman Catholic, Jewish and
similar courts. The tribunals would continue to function.
However their rulings would have no standing in civil law.
McGuinty took the unusual step of announcing this decision to
the press without prior discussion in Cabinet. Commentator.
Haroon Siddiqui commented that critics complained that: "Multiculturalism
was eroding common values. The line separating church and state
was being erased. Theocracy was being grafted onto Canada."
Concerning religious arbitration, Siddiqui wrote: "....we
have entered a new era, of not only denying Muslims that right
but also taking it away from Christians, Jews and others. The
latter are to pay the price for prejudice against the former."
Topics covered in this section:
Rosie Dimano, "Sharia solution a fair one, and not
racist," The Toronto Star, 2005-SEP-16. Online at:
The text of the "Arbitration Act, 1991. S.O. 1991,
CHAPTER 17" is online at:
Haroon Siddiqui, "Sharia is gone but fear and
hostility remain," The Toronto Star, 2005-SEP-15, Page
A25. Online at:
Copyright © 2005 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-SEP-18
Latest update: 2008-FEB-13
Author: B.A. Robinson