Sharia protesters target
Groups to fight Ontario's tribunal plan in cities across Europe next month
By MARINA JIMÉNEZ
August 30, 2005 Updated at 6:38 AM EDT
campaign against Ontario allowing sharia tribunals
to resolve family disputes has spread to Europe, where protests are planned for
Sept. 8 in London, Paris,
Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Stockholm.
many as 89 international groups have spoken out against an Ontario
law allowing faith-based arbitration, saying it will create a precedent for
religious fundamentalists working to suppress women's rights, and give fodder
to political Islamists in Europe who are also
lobbying for sharia law to be used to settle family matters.
lot of French people cannot believe it, because for us Canada is a country with very good
rights for women. It is unbelievable," said Michèle Vianès, president of Regards
de femmes, a non-governmental organization in France. "Under sharia,
women do not have the same rights as men. Sharia is a bad idea. How is
it possible that Canada
would back it?"
Vianès will demonstrate outside the Canadian Embassy in Paris next Tuesday, alongside a number of
high-profile French activists and politicians, including two former government
ministers, the vice-president of the municipality of Lyon-Grand, dozens of
writers, and representatives of human rights and women's groups.
protests will take place outside the Canadian High Commission in London (in an
event organized by the British Humanist Association, a human rights group whose
international branch has consultative status with the United Nations), in
Stockholm, Amsterdam and Düsseldorf, as well as in Toronto, Vancouver,
Victoria, Ottawa, Montreal and Waterloo, Ont., said Homa Arjomand, co-ordinator
for the International Campaign Against Sharia in Ontario.
issue of sharia-based tribunals in Ontario
is causing alarm in Europe, where Muslim
feminists fighting for greater equality clash with conservative Muslim groups
lobbying for faith-based family law.
is a battle to control the discourse of the religion. In Canada, political Islamists are
using the tool of multiculturalism and freedom of culture and religion to
oppress women. The introduction of sharia courts in Ontario
would send the wrong message to the world," said Ms. Arjomand, who fled Iran in 1989 and settled in Toronto.
and Democracy, a Montreal-based non-governmental organization, has also lobbied
against faith-based tribunals, and won backing from 80 national organizations
including the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Canadian Council for
Muslim Women and the YWCA. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence
against Women, Women Living under Muslim Laws and dozens of other international
groups have joined the global campaign.
Act from 1991 provides for voluntary faith-based arbitration to resolve civil
and family-law disputes. This allows Muslims, Jews and other religious groups
to use the principles of their faith to settle matters such as divorce,
inheritance and custody outside the court system.
2003, Syed Mumtaz Ali, a retired Muslim lawyer, established the Islamic
Institute for Civil Justice, with an aim to train imams and religious scholars
to resolve civil dispute in the community, a process already under way
announcement prompted the Ontario
government to appoint former NDP attorney general Marion Boyd to review the
Arbitration Act. She concluded there was no evidence women were being
discriminated against in faith-based arbitration and recommended the existing
arbitration system be strengthened. The Ontario
government has not yet responded to the report; a spokesman for the
Attorney-General did not comment on the growing international outcry.
a body of law based on religious principles, is interpreted differently even among
Muslim nations. However, critics say it is inherently discriminatory toward
women. 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
in theory, faith-based arbitration must comply with Canadian civil law and
decisions may be appealed, in reality, many Muslim women are isolated, with no
idea what their rights are under Canadian law, Ms. Arjomand said.
international demonstrations reflect the concern that Ontario's
approval of faith-based arbitration of family law will have serious
consequences for women's rights beyond Canada,
and that's a responsibility we urge the Ontario
government to consider," said Gisèle Eva Côté, of Rights and Democracy.
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