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Conflict over Sharia in Ontario, Canada

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bullet"...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.
bullet...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

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Many Muslims in Canada feel an obligation to be obey Sharia, the law system used in many Islamic countries. This has led to the creation of Sharia tribunals in some provinces. Ontario is one.

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." 3

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Topics covered in this section:

bulletBackground of the debate; government report
bulletReactions by Muslim, feminist and other groups
bulletReaction by the public

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References used:

  1. Rosie Dimano, "Sharia solution a fair one, and not racist," The Toronto Star, 2005-SEP-16. Online at: http://www.thestar.com/
  2. The text of the "Arbitration Act, 1991. S.O. 1991, CHAPTER 17" is online at: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/
  3. Haroon Siddiqui, "Sharia is gone but fear and hostility remain," The Toronto Star, 2005-SEP-15, Page A25. Online at: http://www.thestar.com/

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Site navigation:

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

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Copyright 2005 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-SEP-18
Latest update: 2008-FEB-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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