Premier Dalton McGuinty pledged to axe a peneding law to establish a conflict-settlement program based on shariah law in Ontario, and also promised to outlaw existing religious tribunals used for years by Christians and Jews under Ontario’s Arbitration Act.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough,” he said. “There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians.” McGuinty said religious arbitrations “threaten our common ground,” and promised his Liberal government would introduce legislation “as soon as possible” to outlaw them in Ontario.
“Ontarians will always have the right to seek advice from anyone in matters of family law, including religious advice,” he said. “But no longer will religious arbitration be deciding matters of family law.”
Homa Arjomand (of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada), the women’s rights activist who organized a series of protests across Canada and Europe to pressue McGuinty to abandon the measure, was elated by the news.
“I think our voice got heard loud and clear, and I thank the government for coming out with no faith-based arbitrations,” said Arjomand. “Oh, I am so happy. That was the best news I have ever heard for the past five years.”
Ontario’s Arbitration Act now allows civil disputes ranging from custody and support to divorce and inheritance to be resolved through an independent arbitrator, if both parties agree. Catholics, Mennonites, Jews, First Nations members and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, have used the act to settle family law questions without resorting to the courts.
Just hours before McGuinty’s announcement, a group including author Margaret Atwood and activist Maude Barlow, issued an open letter to the premier on behalf of the No Religious Arbitration Coalition. During Sept. 8 protests, angry demonstrators outside the Ontario legislature likened McGuinty to Afghanistan’s former extremist Taliban leaders for considering the shariah measure. Similar rallies were held in Ottawa and Victoria, while smaller protests were held in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Dusseldorf.
The Muslim Canadian Congress, which supported the regulation of Shariah law under Ontario’s Arbitration Act, was not immediately available to comment on McGuinty’s surprise announcement. (National Post, Sept. 11)
See our last report on the Canadian Front.