Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World

In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics

Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us

Quebec Bans Sharia


CanWest News Service, Quebec City, May 27, 2005

Photo: Quebec Premier Jean Charest

The Quebec National Assembly yesterday unanimously adopted a resolution to oppose 'the establishment of so-called Islamic tribunals in Quebec and in Canada,' making the province the first to explicitly ban the use of sharia law.

'It's important to send a very clear message that there's one rule of law in Quebec,' Premier Jean Charest said. 'In our case, we are very much an inclusive society, but a society that will govern itself by one set of rules.'

Copies of the resolution are being sent to all other legislatures across Canada.

Islamic fundamentalists have targeted Canada to introduce sharia law - a code of conduct based on the Koran that critics say discriminates against women - because of this country's rights guarantees and official multiculturalism, said Quebec Liberal Fatima Houda-Pepin, who proposed the private member's resolution.

In December, former Ontario attorney-general Marion Boyd opened the door for sharia in Canada by recommending 'Muslim principles' for potential use in family arbitration. Custody disputes, for example, could be settled outside of the provincial family-court system using sharia principles.

Ms. Boyd said Ontario should collect and analyze sharia case law to determine whether criticisms that it 'systematically discriminates' against women are well-founded. Her recommendation was denounced by several Muslim organizations, but the province is still considering the issue.

There were only a handful of members in the Quebec legislature for yesterday's unanimous resolution, which comes after a refusal in January by then-Justice Minister Jacques Dupuis to allow sharia in the province.

Ms. Houda-Pepin, who was born in Morocco and is a secular Muslim, said Muslim women do not want sharia.

'The victims of sharia have a human face,' she said. 'They are Muslim women.'

Ms. Houda-Pepin said the Muslim World League, based in Saudi Arabia, held a conference in Washington in 1991, where Canada was targeted.

At the Washington meeting, the league decided to convince Canadian Muslims to eschew secular laws, she added, and at the same time, they decided to push for adoption of sharia.

If Ontario goes ahead with Ms. Boyd's recommendations, Islamic fundamentalists can point to Canada, a secular Western country, to argue against reformers in Islamic countries who want to modernize their laws, she added.

In Ottawa, Cabinet ministers refused to comment on the idea of allowing Islamic tribunals to operate. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler's office said Mr. Cotler will not comment because the tribunals deal mainly with family law, which falls under provincial jurisdiction. Heritage Minister Liza Frulla, whose responsibilities include multiculturalism and status of women, also declined all comment.

However, Francoise Boivin, chairwoman of the Liberal women's caucus, praised the National Assembly's resolution, describing Islamic tribunals as 'dangerous.'

'It is a dangerous path to [use] something other than the Charter of Rights and the best interest of the child and our laws in Canada. We're in Canada and it could be quite the precedent if we allowed this because imagine if we do it in Canada what would happen in other countries.'

Conservative Justice Critic Vic Toews was hesitant to condemn Islamic tribunals outright, pointing out that many disputes in his Manitoba riding of Provencher have been traditionally been resolved informally by Mennonite pastors through arbitration.

The challenge, he said, is to ensure that participation in the process is truly voluntary and that the rulings don't violate Canadian law.

'I don't think in a pluralistic society we can say that members of a specific religious community should not be allowed to use their own religious law in determining disputes between members. We have always done it in this country. What raises the concerns of people is [the idea] does this mean that someone could arbitrate a case of adultery and chop off someone's hand or stone them to death. Well, absolutely not. That would be contrary to Canadian public policy, contrary to the Canadian criminal code.'

Ms. Boyd's recommendation to Ontario in December drew sharp criticism at the time.

'Marion Boyd today has given legitimacy and credibility to the right wing racists who fundamentally are against equal rights for men and women,' said Tarek Fatah, spokesman for the Muslim Canadian Congress.

'To have choice you have to have the ability to make the choice. To suggest that Muslim immigrants, Muslim women, who are among the lowest income group in the country have the ability to make the choice is absolute nonsense.'

Marilou McPhedran, legal counsel to the Canadian Counsel of Muslim Women, said there was a naivete, a well-intentioned naivete about this report.

'Why would we in Ontario privatize family law when we already have a public system of family law that is predicated on the constitutional values of equality in this country, in this province, that should be available to each and every woman living in Ontario,' she said.

Ms. Houda-Pepin said Muslims have been in Canada since 1871. The first mosque was opened in Edmonton in 1938 and the Markaz Al Islam mosque was Quebec's first in 1965.

She said Muslims in Canada want to integrate into Canadian society, explaining that Islam is a lay religion, with no clergy. Imams are merely guides to prayer, with no official status.

'The application of sharia in Canada is part of a strategy to isolate the Muslim community to impose an archaic vision of Islam,' Ms. Houda-Pepin said.

Ms. Houda-Pepin also wondered what form of sharia would be adopted in Canada, noting that it means different things in different countries.

In Pakistan, a woman who is raped can be flogged unless she can produce four male witnesses to prove she was raped, she said, while in Nigeria a woman can be stoned to death for sexual relations outside marriage.

Sharia in Iran allows men to have as many 'wives of pleasure' as they want, she noted. In Saudi Arabia, in the name of sharia, a woman cannot drive a car.