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CBC News Global groups unite against Islamic arbitration in Ontario

Global groups unite against Islamic arbitration in Ontario

Last Updated Sun, 04 Sep 2005 22:09:12 EDT

CBC News

Almost 100 organizations around the globe will protest Thursday against a proposal that would allow Islamic law to be used in family arbitration and mediation cases in Ontario.

Canadian and European feminist groups, dissidents from some Islamic states such as Iran, human-rights activists, writers and journalists will march Thursday in six European cities, and at least five Canadian ones. Protests will take place in Ottawa, Toronto, Waterloo, Ont., Montreal and Victoria, and in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Gutenberg, Stockholm, London and Paris.

Speakers at the Canadian events will include journalists June Callwood, Irshad Manji and Sally Armstrong.

Sohaila Sharifi, an Iranian emigrant who is organizing the London protest, said the protests are part of a global battle between secular societies and "political Islam."

"If [hardline Muslims] win this fight in Canada, there is always the possibility that they would see it as a victory that could bring them one step forward," Sharifi said in an e-mail exchange with the Canadian Press.

"They would use the same argument to establish the same religious system here in Europe and elsewhere."

The Ontario proposal was developed by the former Ontario attorney general, Marion Boyd, and has been embraced by many Muslims - both conservative and mainstream.

It would make it legal for Muslims to seek Islamic arbitration and mediation for family disputes such as divorce, custody and inheritance cases. Boyd says this isn't the same as Shariah law, which - as practised in the Middle East - allows the death penalty for adultery, requires alimony to be paid for only three months, and tends to award custody of children to their fathers.

When the report was first released in Dec. 2004, critics said allowing Islamic arbitration would effectively legalize the suppression of Muslim women - while supporters argued it would be consistent with Canadian values of multiculturalism and tolerance.

At the time, Marilou McPhedran, lawyer for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said the report set the stage for the adoption of Shariah law in Ontario. McPhedran said it gave "legitimacy and credibility to the right-wing racists who fundamentally are against equal rights for men and women."

The report also angered Tarek Fatah, with the Canadian Muslim Congress, who said it would create "an under-class of underprivileged people who can go into their ghettos and deal with issues and not bother them."

Boyd was asked to review Ontario's Arbitration Act after the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice requested religious-based arbitrations, similar to those that have been used in Ontario for the past 15 years. Currently in Ontario, both Jews and Catholics can choose religious arbitration if they like.

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