Speech by Homa Arjomand at Queen’s ParkToronto, With respect to Bill 27
Good morning I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to address this hearing on Bill 27.
My name is Homa Arjomand and I am the Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada.
I am very pleased to appear at this hearing and to comment on some of the proposed amendments to the Arbitration Act of 1991, the Child and Family Services Act, the Family Law Act and the Children’s Law Reform Act.
During my speech I will give you some background information about myself and my work, why and how my fellow activists and I organized the opposition to faith-based arbitration in Ontario and lastly our views about some of the proposed amendments.
Prior to my arrival in Canada, I was a lecturer, and a human and women’s rights activist in Iran. While living in Iran I saw the rise of political Islam and with it the application of Sharia law.
The rise of Political Islam pushed back the women’s liberation movement in Iran and lowered the standards of that society by legalizing gender apartheid and by enforcing religious family laws that openly discriminate against women and children.
As the power of political Islam grew in Iran I witnessed the execution of all my fellow activists and let me repeat …all of my friends were executed for their belief and work in human and women’s rights issues in Iran.
My husband and I, along with our two children, one was an infant, were forced to flee Iran by horseback to Turkey in the winter of 1989, there, I worked for the United Nations and witnessed even more of what political Islam did to women and Human’s rights activists in the Middle East.
Discrimination and gender-based persecution in areas of marriage, divorce, Child custody and so on are in fact reasons why many women flee the societies which are ruled by Political Islam and seek refuge in Canadaand the West.
We too came to Canada in December 1990, believing we would never again lose the principles and laws that humankind has fought for over the past two centuries, namely the principles of equality for all, women’s rights, children’s rights, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of belief, as well as the right to citizenship in a secular society.
For the past 12 years I have worked as a transitional counselor for abused women in Canada. Many of my clients come from so called Muslim communities. I help these women and children to escape abusive and often dangerous family situations and to start a new life in a safe and secure home.
In my work I often see the unfair treatment of women and children when they use faith-based arbitration. Most of these women receive very little in the way of financial support and often have no right to see their children. Sometimes after a divorce, the father will send his children particularly the girls back to his home country to be raised by a family member and then push them to marry at a very young age even though they are Canadian Citizens.
A Summary of the Campaign
On October 23rd, 2003, Mr. Syed Mumtaz Ali, President of the Canadian Society of Muslims announced the opening of the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice. In his announcement, Mr. Ali said that to be a ‘good Muslim’, you must use Sharia law for family legal matters. This political statement was not only coercive but also a direct threat to devout Muslims who prefer to use Canadian laws.
Mr. Ali’s statement shocked me because his proposal had nothing to do with someone’s personal belief; it was in fact … very political. He claimed his legal authority was based on Ontario law. Through my work as a transitional counselor, I was well aware that faith-based arbitrations were occurring. However, I had wrongly assumed it was being practiced illegally, behind closed doors.
At the time I did not believe that Canada would permit arbitration of family legal matters based on religious laws. However, when I investigated further, I discovered that in the Arbitration Act of 1991, Article 32, Conflict of Laws, did indeed permit family arbitrations to be based on religious laws. This discovery saddened and worried me and other activists. To us, as experienced defenders of women and children’s rights, the Arbitration Act of 1991 provided a green light for political Islam to widen its reach and tighten its grip on the lives of Muslims living in Canada. We felt it was our duty to inform the Canadian public of this threat to their freedoms.
All of us were motivated by a common concern that political Islam was trying to expand in Canada by promoting the use of family arbitrations based on Sharia law. We were sure that the rise of Sharia court in Canadawas not just a coincident. It was part of a global move of political Islam.
We decided to take action and our purpose was to assure there was one law for all and that law should be the Family Law Act of Ontario.
Our campaign started in Toronto on October 30th, 2003 with a handful of supporters, and today it has grown to a coalition of 183 organizations from 14 countries with over a thousand activists, who volunteer their time and skills.
Similar movements to end the use of Sharia law exist in other countries such as England, France, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and so on. The activists in these countries are watching closely, very closely in fact, to see how Ontario decides on this issue.
Recently some of the honorable members here have said that there was little or no public debate on the issue of faith-based arbitration. I find this claim surprising since our campaign was a very public effort and Ms. Boyd’s inquiry consulted a broad spectrum of the concerned public and the faith communities. We all had a fair chance to make our views known to the government and to the press.
Our campaign supporters wrote and called their Members of Parliament, they organized hundreds of public protests and meetings, handed out flyers, conducted polls, issued press releases and participated in debates across the country including a few at the University of Toronto.
Quite often I debated with activists from the Muslim and Jewish communities who were in favour of faith-based arbitrations. These events were well attended by the public and were widely reported in the Canadian and international press.
My colleagues and I, as well as our opponents were interviewed by the press on a regular basis. On average I personally responded to at least a dozen interviews each week from Canadian and international journalists. Some of the news agencies that interviewed me were CBC, CTV, OMNI, TVO, BBC, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail etc.
In May 2005, we conducted a poll in Ontario which found that 76% of both men and women agreed with the statement “all Ontarians should be governed only by the family laws and courts of Ontario.”. When it came to provincial voting intentions, NDP voters showed the most support for the family laws and courts of Ontario at 81%, followed closely by the Liberals at 76% and the Conservatives at 74%.
This past August we brought Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Canada to speak at the University of Toronto about Political Islam and Sharia law. We also showed her film “Submission”, which is about the treatment of women in Islam. Over 400 people attended the Friday night event to hear her speak, to ask questions and to see her film. 66 news organizations attended our press conference that night.
Today over 28,000 people are on our email list, 12,000 of them are from Canada and most of them are from Ontario. 11,659 people signed our petition to end Sharia law in Ontario. The petition as well as many of the media interviews can be seen on our website, nosharia.com
Our Views on Some of the Amendments
In general my fellow activists and I are pleased with the proposed amendments. I will comment on some of them now…
Section 2.1 of the Arbitration Act now clearly states “family arbitrations, family arbitration agreements and family arbitration awards are governed by this Act and the Family Law Act.” We are very pleased with this amendment.
Section 32 of the Arbitration Act concerning Conflict of Laws, now clearly states, “In a family arbitration, the arbitral shall apply the substantive law of Ontario…” This change corrects the heart of the matter and ends the use of religious laws for family arbitrations. We are most pleased with this amendment.
Section 45 of the Arbitration Act now provides an opportunity to appeal a family arbitration award to the Family Court or the Superior Court of Justice. The right of appeal was not available before, and we are very pleased with this amendment.
Section 50.1 of the Arbitration Act clearly states, “Family Arbitration awards are enforceable only under the Family Law Act.” We are very pleased with this amendment.
The addition of Section 58 to the Arbitration Act concerning regulations is welcomed. We look forward to reviewing the details of these regulations which will be developed by Lieutenant Governor in Council. We hope the new regulations will achieve the following results:
Ø establish training and professional standards for arbitrators
Ø establish effective, accurate, full and prompt reporting methods
Ø enable arbitrators to conduct family arbitrations in a timely manner
Ø define the accountability of the arbitrators
Ø provide an opportunity to review an arbitrator’s performance on a regular basis and if needed withdraw an arbitrator’s official approval
Clause 72, of the Child and Family Services Act, concerning Duty to Report, now includes mediators and arbitrators. We are very pleased with this amendment. This amendment is a good start at protecting our most vulnerable citizens – our children.
I will conclude my speech by saying, the politically diverse members of our campaign, all the people who came to Canada from so called Islamic countries and all the people who struggle for a better life here, need and expect you to pass Bill 27.
We believe this Bill will end the interference of religion in our justice system and it will empower battered immigrant women, give security to our children and will protect “equal rights for all”, regardless of race, religion, gender of ethnic background.