Monday, September 12, 2005

Fortune favors the free

The hell? Toronto — Seeking to end months of debate, Premier Dalton McGuinty now says "there will be no sharia law in Ontario" -- an announcement that should quell a growing public-relations crisis concerning the use of Islamic law, but which also exposes Queen's Park to attacks from other religions. Following widespread condemnation of a plan that would formally allow the tenets of sharia to be used in resolving family disputes, the Premier said he'll make the boundaries between church and state clearer by banning faith-based arbitrations. [...] "I'm so happy today. It's a victory for the women's rights movement," said Homa Arjomand, an Iranian immigrant who has launched a campaign to stop sharia in Ontario. "Women's rights are not protected by any religion," she said. But fundamentalist Islam, in particular, can be harsh, she said. "Divorces are happening behind closed doors and the woman is banned from having custody of her children," Ms. Arjomand said. "She is being sent back to her home country to live with her relatives." She went so far as to say that proposed new laws ought to allow for the prosecution of religious leaders involved in faith-based arbitrations. While it's unlikely that amendments to the Arbitration Act will go that far, Mr. McGuinty told The Canadian Press yesterday that "I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough. There will be no sharia law in Ontario." "There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario," he said. "There will be one law for all Ontarians." Make no mistake, this is fantastic news - the very idea of enacting a right to misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic private law (or even, in passing, allowing it in lieu of promoting the exercise of genuine and completely secular legal rights) in Ontario was abominable. It's unfortunate that others will pay the price for having to disallow sharia-based arbitration: Ontario explicitly gave the green light to such practices in its 1991 Arbitration Act. But as early as this fall, new Ontario laws may put a stop to religion-based settlements in matters such as child-custody disputes or inheritances. This means that orthodox Jews and some Christian leaders may soon make a common cause with fundamentalist Muslims in seeking to limit the scope of the new proposals. "Our reaction is we're disappointed, we're very disappointed," said Joel Richler, chairman of the Ontario wing of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "It's what we consider to be a knee-jerk reaction against the sharia issue." He said orthodox Jews have used tribunals to settle family disputes for centuries, but the future of these tribunals is no longer clear in Ontario. As I say, unfortunate. But it's surely better to enact strict equality before the law than to let a minority of well-meaning exceptions turn into nightmarish abrogations of justice. That said, isn't this a 180-degree turnaround? I could have sworn that up until very recently - last week, even - the premier was singing quite a different tune on the threat sharia poses: TORONTO -- The rights of women "will not be compromised" if Ontario becomes the first Western jurisdiction to allow Muslims to use a set of religious rules known as Shariah law to settle civil and marital disputes, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday. At least he came to the right conclusion in the end, which is something, for a constantly-triangulating Liberal leader. Finally, I'm happy that the provincial Tories aren't seizing this as a socially conservative wedge issue: "By letting it go on, and suddenly ending it mysteriously on a Sunday afternoon, is not probably the best kind of leadership that one could show," Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory told The Canadian Press. I think, anyway - Tory's comment seems to be one of disparaging McGuinty's timing, trying to bury it on the weekend to soften the blow in the national media, which is fair. Just so long as the Ontario PC Party doesn't come up with the bright idea to court the sharia-supporting vote, next election, I'm satisfied...

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