September 11, 2005
In a telephone interview
with the national news agency, McGuinty announced his
government would move quickly to outlaw existing religious tribunals used for
years by Christians and Jews under
"I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough," he said.
"There will be no Shariah law in
McGuinty said religious arbitrations
"threaten our common ground," and promised his Liberal government
would introduce legislation "as soon as possible" to outlaw them in
"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."
Last December, a report from former NDP attorney general Marion Boyd recommended the province allow and regulate Shariah arbitrations much the same way it does Christian and Jewish tribunals, setting off a firestorm of protests.
the women's rights activist who organized a series of protests across
"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."
A representative from
said Joel Richler,
"At the very least, we would have thought the government would have consulted with us before taking away what we've had for so many years."
Richler said the current system - in place since 1992 - has worked well and saw no reason for it to be changed for either his or other communities.
"If there have been any problems flowing from any rabbinical court decisions, I'm not aware of them," he said.
Despite calling for an end
to all religious arbitrations,
"By merely sitting on the issue, and by hiding his head in the sand, McGuinty allowed the debate to in fact fester and grow pretty ugly," said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos. "That was not helpful to anything in this multicultural community of ours."
Opposition leader John Tory agreed with the NDP's position that McGuinty mishandled the Shariah debate."One of the tests of leadership in a diverse society is that you not allow issues like this - which are complex - to boil over into angry, polarized debates," said Tory.
"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."
Catholics, Mennonites, Jews, aboriginals and Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, have - until now - used the act to settle family law questions without resorting to the courts.
But those who opposed permitting Shariah family arbitration argued that the reforms would give legitimacy and an unenforceable appearance of oversight to a legal code they say is - at its heart - unfair to women.
McGuinty said the debate around Shariah gave his government time to "step back a little
bit" and look at the original decision to allow religious arbitrations in
"It became pretty clear that was not in keeping with the desire of Ontarians to build on common ground. . .of one law for all Ontarians," he said.
The premier said his wife Terri had not raised the Shariah law issue with him during the lengthy debate, but noted the 17 women in his Liberal caucus urged him to reject the idea.
Just hours before McGuinty's announcement, a group including author Margaret Atwood, activist Maude Barlow, writer June Callwood and actresses Shirley Douglas and Sonja Smits issued an open letter to the premier on behalf of the No Religious Arbitration Coalition.
During last Thursday's
protests, angry demonstrators outside the
The Muslim Canadian
Congress, which supported the regulation of Shariah