December 21, 2004
TORONTO -- A new government-commissioned report is backing the option of religion-based arbitration for family disputes, despite warnings from some Muslim groups that it will lead to the victimization of many women. Former New Democrat attorney general Marion Boyd submitted a report to the provincial government yesterday calling for tighter controls on the option around family court, but said arbitration in itself is increasingly popular and should continue.
"This is not sharia," Boyd said, referring to controversial Islamic law that some groups charge compromises women's rights.
"We are talking about the use of Muslim principles with respect to family law within the context of Ontario and Canadian law."
Boyd's report supports an individual's choice to waive their right to independent legal counsel during the arbitration process.
She is also calling for several changes to tighten oversight of arbitration, which is already in practice by way of various religious and secular organizations.
Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress called the recommendations racist and unconstitutional.
"There are two levels of justice," he said. "One for Canadians who go to the public system, then there's an underclass of underprivileged people who can go into the ghettos, deal with their issues and not bother (the rest of society)."
Fatah and the Canadian Council of Women warned that recent immigrants from Islamic countries will be pressured into arbitration where rulings might include spousal payments that last only three months beyond separation.
"The worst-case scenario is you have women new to this country, women who don't speak the language, who don't have a personal network, who do not have money ... and simply do not appreciate what will happen when they agree to privatized family and private law resolution," said Marilou McPhedran, lawyer for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.