[img]https://humanists.international/uploads/canadasharia.gif[/img]The prospect of Sharia-based arbitration in tribunals run by the Islamic Institute of civil justice in Ontario has caused widespread protests from both Canadian and international women’s groups.
The introduction of such tribunals is based on the 1991 Arbitration Act, which was intended to ease pressure on the civil courts by allowing religious groups to resolve family disputes within their faith-based structures, providing all parties agree and the result does not violate Canadian law. Other religios communities, notably Hasidic Jews, have already been making use of the provisions of the Act to run their own tribunals.
Women’s inequality is inherent in all versions of Sharia law. There are grave concerns that women who are already in a highly vulnerable position will be coerced by their communities to accept such arbitration, leaving them in effect with fewer rights than other women in Canada. The Canadian Council for Muslim Women and the quickly established International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada have led protest meetings and demonstrations. The cause has been actively taken up by the Humanist Association of Canada. The Toronto Star quotes Sally Armstrong, who has written on the plight of women under the Taliban: “We’ll stand up to be counted on this.”
The protests appear to have had an impact. The Ontario government announced on 25 June that a review of the 1991 Arbitration Act will be undertaken by Marion Boyd, former New Democratic Party Attorney-General and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues. Boyd has been asked specifically to assess the safeguards for individuals involved in arbitration, especially those most vulnerable in society. Her report is expected to be completed by September 2004.