I’ve not written much on the proposal to institute an alternate process for resolving Ontario civil disputes based on Islamic Sharia law, but ultimately I think premier McGuinty did the right thing in blocking the proposal, and then seeking to end the use of religious tribunals in determining legal precident in this province.
Sure, his actions may have been politically expedient. A groundswell was mounting against the use of Sharia, from the left and the right, across Canada and throughout the world. It was more attention than the Toronto Tourist Board received after millions of dollars of ad spending, but probably not the attention they appreciated. And, yes, some of the backlash was motivated by a perception of Sharia law bourne out of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which bears no resemblance to what was being proposed here. A lot of people who thought that using Sharia tribunals to settle civil disputes and family law cases between Muslims living in Ontario meant a blow to womens’ rights glossed over the fact that the proposal was investigated thoroughly by former NDP cabinet minister Marilyn Boyd, who is hardly a mysogenist. They also glossed over the fact that the right to appeal a Sharia decision to the standard court was never in question.
However, it’s important to note that McGuinty’s decision changes nothing. A law hasn’t been changed; rather, a proposal has simply been rejected. And despite the fact that Sharia law is still not recognized by Ontario’s civil code, despite the fact that McGuinty got too far into his hype and said:
“There will be no sharia law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians.” (Hat tip Tilting at Windmills)
Ontario is not proposing the arrest of aggrieved parties who decide to settle their differences amicably under an expert in Sharia law. If both parties decide to get their dispute arbitrated outside of the legal system and then turn to the legal system to get their settlement endorsed, they will be thanked by our judges, for not tying up the Ontario legal system with litigation.
So, if this is the case, and if this has always been the case, why go through the whole rigmarole of entwining Sharia law into the Ontario civil code?
I guess governments do like to get their claws into things. You can’t have people settlling their differences outside of the courts using religious arbitration on family matters and on matters internal to the church. You’ve got to draw it in, codify it, regulate it. Hmm…
Outside of certain Islamic groups (and support for Sharia was hardly unanimous within the Islamic community), the only organization that I know of which was supporting Sharia was B’nai Brith, who were likely worried that losing Sharia meant that their Rabbinical tribunals might come under fire as well. And they were right. It’s harder to deny the integration of Sharia in Ontario’s civil code if the Jewish equivalent is similarly sanctioned. Far better to render the tribunal rulings of all religions to the status of recommendations and treat all people before the law equally.
I am reminded of the controversy back in 1984 when premier Bill Davis decided to extend full public funding to the Catholic schools, creating a second, parallel, public school board in this province. At the time, the Anglican archbishop Louis Garnswrothy said that this was unfair. No other religion was getting this special treatment. And while the reasons for partial public funding of Catholic education stretches back into history, in the here and now, such special status could well be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, if somebody cared to challenge it.
Since then, the Ontario government has fought off proposals to give tax credits to schools belonging to other religions — fights I have applauded. In our society, I believe it is better for the government to be involved in one system of law and one system of education, to treat people equally and to educate them to the best of their ability. If people wanted to step outside the system to arbitrate their own disputes, or to give their children a more religious education, they should be free to do so, as long as the base system remains. To do otherwise gets it nibbled to death by otters.
McGuinty may have made his decision based more on the backlash than on this statement of principle, but the fact remains that it was a good decision. It is not the place of government to intrude on the dogmas of religion, and it is not the place of religion to impose its dogmatic strictures on government (at least, not without extensive debate). Multiculturalism is about providing a system where divergent cultures and religions can coexist; it is not about having one group of people treated differently under the law. B’nai Brith’s dispute resolutions can continue, and judges will continue to give their advice serious consideration. But in Canada everybody remains equal under the law. Our constitution and our charter of rights and freedoms remains the final word on our legal rights in this land. That’s the way it should be.
Robert McLelland disagrees, and he has an interesting explanation why. His theory: accepting Marilyn Boyd’s suggestion of bringing in Sharia with the right to appeal to the civil court would be a useful first step in ensuring that Islamic law conforms to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Once begun in Canada, this process may have in turn spread to other parts of the world where any thoughts of reforming Islamic law are crushed by the ruling Mullahs and their fundamentalist allies. But we — ll never know because shortsighted thinking has once again won the day.
Maybe that’s a little optimistic, but it’s an interesting idea.
Also interesting is how this issue has crossed the spectrum in the Canadian political blogosphere. Many on the left and the right are giving McGuinty kudos, but some are opposed. Those opposed aren’t Islamic, and they span the spectrum from the left to the right as well. Interesting.
Got a Wasp Problem? Here’s a Solution
It’s been a bad year for yellowjackets and bald faced hornets. The heavy snowfall in winter allowed more queens than usual to live. The warm spring and summer allowed their children to be fruitful and multiply. Now is the time of year that wasps are at their worst. According to an article in the Globe and Mail this past Saturday, they’ve driven restaurant goers indoors and terrified a number of families.
There were a lot of wasps at the Eden Mills festival, and as I am phobic, it wasn’t a pleasant experience for me. However, New Quarterly editor Kim Jernigan told me of this organic wasp repellant: ground cloves. She’d seen a place which had dishes of the stuff out on the tables, and it seemed effective in keeping the wasps away. When the mayor of Eramosa Township came over to our table to ask if we needed anything, and to complain about all the bees, she told him about the repellant, and he said he’d find some. He returned five minutes later with ground cloves in a metal spice-box. It was all I could do not to make a circle of protection of cloves around our booth.
But you know what? It worked. The wasps stayed away from our booth, or didn’t stay long. And the smell of ground cloves was quite pleasant.
So, if wasps are ruining your patio evening, you know what to do.