Concerns Continue Over Oppression of Women in Islamic Law Courts

August 10, 2004

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On August 10, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor reported, "Muslims [in Ontario], supported by a 1991 provincial law, have been using sharia to mediate legal disputes, such as divorce and child custody. But in the spring, after a Muslim group proposed creating a formalized tribunal, what had been going on quietly for more than a decade became front-page fodder and led to a government review of the law. A report is expected next month. While no one here expects the increasing use of sharia to lead to some of the more radical rulings associated with Islamic law - stonings or amputations - critics worry that the rights of women are being sacrificed for the sake of multiculturalism... The Ontario government redrafted legislation in 1991, granting religious leaders the authority to mediate civil matters. The law, called the Arbitration Act, was designed to help unburden an already over-taxed court system. At the same time, they hoped it would enhance the country's official doctrine of multiculturalism, the notion that a society is made richer when ethnic groups are encouraged to share their cultural expression and values. Rabbis and priests have also used the act to adjudicate squabbles over everything from dietary rules to monetary disputes between parishes. But critics of sharia charge that, in this case, the principles of multiculturalism are being exploited to enforce oppression. They argue that the practice of sharia in Canada undermines the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it discriminates against women."