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B'nai Brith recommends sharia-based tribunals
By MARINA JIMÉNEZ

Sheila/HAC Office
Thursday, September 9, 2004 - Page A8

The debate around the introduction of sharia-based tribunals in Ontario intensified yesterday, with B'nai Brith Canada endorsing the idea and a group of Queen's Park protesters condemning it as a tool to oppress women. B'nai Brith, a Jewish human-rights organization, argued that Jewish religious courts have worked well under Ontario's 1991 Arbitration Act and Muslim-based courts will too, especially if the act is amended to introduceadditional safeguards to ensure participation is voluntary and informed.
"We have tried to reduce the hype around the proposal to implement sharia law tribunals in Ontario. Sharia-based courts will not bring the Taliban to Canada," said John Syrtash, a family lawyer with B'nai Brith. The organization presented its submission to Marion Boyd, former NDP attorney-general, who is reviewing the use of private arbitration, including religious-based arbitration, at the request of the Ontario government.
The issue is a divisive one. At least two Muslim groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada and the Muslim Canadian Congress, oppose the idea of sharia-based courts. Yesterday, about 100 protesters called the proposed tribunals "the dark side of multiculturalism."
Homa Arjomand, co-ordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada, said she has counselled many Muslim women whose rights were abused during informal arbitration by Muslim leaders. In the case of one family who turned to their Markham, Ont., mosque for resolution of a dispute, the results were not positive for the wife and adolescent daughter. The woman, of Pakistani origin, and her 15-year-old daughter were "returned" to Pakistan against their will, Ms. Arjomand said, and the daughter was placed in the custody of an uncle and preparations were made for an arranged marriage.
The father then married a 19-year-old woman and brought her to Canada. "Was the mother forced to leave the country? We don't know what really happened here," said Ms. Arjomand, a human-rights activist from Iran who has worked in Toronto for several years counselling abused women and children in the Muslim community.
"Many of my clients have been victimized by this arbitration law, and I have helped some to escape abusive relationships, polygamy and child marriages," she said.
Ontario's Arbitration Act provides for voluntary faith-based arbitration, which allows Muslims, Jews and members of other faiths to use the principles of their religion to settle matters such as divorce, inheritance and custody issues outside the court system. Sharia is based on the Koran, and interpretations of it can vary widely. Under sharia, male heirs receive a greater share of an inheritance than female heirs; husbands, not wives, may initiate divorce proceedings; and in divorce cases, fathers are generally awarded custody of daughters who have reached the age of puberty. "Women will always get a worse deal under sharia. It is inherently discriminatory and divisive," said Tarek Fatah, with the Muslim Canadian Congress. "It is flea-market justice." B'nai Brith, however, says that certain amendments to the act could help safeguard the rights of the vulnerable, such as women. In their brief, the organization recommends that the parties involved in arbitration obtain a certificate of independent legal advice to ensure
they are informed of their rights. The Canadian Jewish Congress says it is neither favours nor opposes sharia-based tribunals.
 

 

 

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Last updated: 09/10/04.