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  • Writer's picturearjomandhoma

Canadian Muslims divided over News Staff

Canadian Muslims are bitterly divided over a controversial Ontario law that allows civil disputes -- including divorce and child custody cases -- to be resolved by Islamic laws. To some Muslims, Sharia law, as it's referred to, represents a culturally appropriate way to settle family disputes. To others, it represents a set of rules that discriminate against women. At the centre of the storm is Marion Boyd, Ontario's former attorney-general. She was appointed by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to review the Arbitration Act, which allows Ontario courts to off-load civil legal proceedings to religious bodies. Since the act was passed in 1991, numerous Jewish and Christian groups have settled family and business disputes. The Arbitration Act holds religious bodies' decisions are legally binding as long as their rulings conform to Canadian law, and that both parties were willing participants in the process. The act became controversial when the Islamic Institute for Civil Justice applied to arbitrate civil cases in the Muslim community. That's when a number of other Muslim and feminist groups publicly came out against Sharia's use in Canada. "The weakest within the Muslim community, namely the women, will be coerced [into participating] by their community," said Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. The group is vehemently opposed to Sharia being used in Canada. One of the most outspoken supporters of the Arbitration Act is B'nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights advocacy group. "Multicultural guarantees under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right of all faith-based or religious groups to operate their own arbitration courts in family law matters -- as long as participants do so voluntarily and with due process and fairness," said B'nai Brith Canada's National President Harold Davis when presenting to Boyd. "Jewish religious courts have worked well in Canada. If we are truly to be an open and pluralistic society in Canada, then the different religious practices making up Canada's mosaic must be accommodated," he added. In contrast, Homa Arjomand says Sharia's use in Canada is one of her worst nightmares come true. Arjomand is founder of The Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada, which has spearheaded the movement to keep Sharia out of the arbitration process. The group explains Sharia treats women as inferiors to men, and provides them less rights to divorce, property and children. In extreme interpretations, Sharia is seen as allowing spousal abuse and dictates women should be stoned to death for adultery. Arjomand is a refugee from Iran, where she says Sharia is used to repress women. Last Saturday she was joined by members of numerous groups in a protest denouncing Sharia, and the arbitration act in general. "We demand complete, for complete separation of religion from the justice system," she says. That, of course is Boyd's largest dilemma. A feminist activist and legal scholar, Boyd has acknowledged that it would be next to impossible to ban Sharia from the arbitration process while allowing Jewish and Christian groups to benefit from it. The question she must now answer is if the Arbitration Act is worth it, at all. She is due to present her report September 30.

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