Hussein Hamdani says that blocking Sharia law in Ontario would lead to a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights that the government would lose
Author: Sharon Boase
Source: The Hamilton Spectator, May 28, 2005, p. A3
Original title: Women’s groups praise Quebec move to ban Sharia law
Quebec’s move to ban Islamic law in that province — and criticizing its application anywhere in Canada — has delighted women’s groups fighting to block the controversial legal system in Ontario.
“Something amazing has happened,” said Homa Arjomand, the Toronto-based co-ordinator of the Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada. “I think this will be a push for the Ontario government to agree that religion should stay out of provincial law.”
Islamic law, or Sharia, is a 1,400-year-old system of jurisprudence based on the Koran, the sayings and conduct of the prophet Mohammed and the rulings of Islamic scholars.
Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, along with Sandra Pupatello, minister responsible for women’s issues, are reviewing a recommendation that Ontario allow family law matters to formally be resolved using traditional religious arbitrators.
Five separate schools of Sharia law have developed over the centuries and it is interpreted differently from country to country. It can be brutally applied in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Even in less severe cases, Sharia favours fathers over mothers in custody cases and men over women in inheritance and divorce law.
Arjomand’s group, with chapters in Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax, has gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition posted on its website, www.nosharia.com . It demands that Canada’s legal and educational systems be kept strictly secular.
Since the Quebec National Assembly reached its decision Thursday, Arjomand has received dozens of calls from journalists across Canada, as well as in France, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan and India, wanting to know if it will affect Ontario’s decision.
“Ontario is not being courageous enough in making a decision based on what is the right thing to do,” said Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, another group fighting Sharia’s formal introduction in Ontario.
“It’s as if (provincial decision-makers) are standing there, shifting from foot to foot, trying not to offend anyone,” Hogben continued.
“The whole world is watching but I don’t think they understand.”
In some countries that apply Sharia law, polygamy, for example, is outlawed, whereas other countries say it requires the first wife’s consent. Others say it’s up to the husband. Some countries maintain that Sharia makes divorce available to husbands but not to wives, while others rule a woman can negotiate divorce rights into a prenuptial agreement.
“Religion should be practised in church or in a mosque or temple or at home, it should not interfere with the justice system,” said Arjomand. “We want one law for all.”
But Hussein Hamdani, a Hamilton lawyer and leader in the Muslim community, said blocking Sharia law in Ontario would lead to a court challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that the government would lose.
“We are not in Iran or in Afghanistan, we’re in Canada,” said Hamdani. “Legally, you can’t close the door on this without a violation of rights. We have legal and procedural safeguards and we’ve just got to make sure they’re in place.”
As well, Quebec’s civil code of law differs from the common law followed in the rest of Canada, said Hamdani, so expecting Quebec’s decision to influence Ontario’s is like comparing apples to oranges.
Ontario has recognized religious arbitration among Jewish communities for a century, said Anita Bromberg, legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada. Her organization supports the right of all religious groups to have access to religious arbitration, subject to the attorney general’s review and provided all reasonable safeguards are in place.
In her report to the attorney-general last December, Marion Boyd made 46 recommendations to bolster the rights of women in arbitrations, including requiring written proof of independent legal advice, screening for domestic violence and that participation be strictly voluntary.