Ontario, the province in the middle of Canada that’s the biggest and richest, was coming under pressure from Muslim community activists to allow “voluntary” use of religious tribunals in civil family-law cases. There are a couple of obvious problems with this. First, some aspects of Muslim religious law are profoundly incompatible with modern Canadian values, which tend to regard women as persons more or less equivalent, legally, to persons who are not women. Another problem is that the Muslim world does not exactly have consensus on exactly what Sharia law says, let alone what it means. On the other side, there were two arguments, one bad and one plausible. The bad argument was that the choice of religious courts was “voluntary”. I put the word in quotes for a reason; to an oppressed women in the grips of a semi-closed immigrant culture, the right to opt out of Sharia would be theoretical at best. The second argument is that it turns out that Ontario apparently already allowed Jews and Catholics to opt for religious tribunals, and given that, it’s really tough to say “no” to the Muslims. In a refreshing outburst of sanity and fairness, the Ontario government simply banned all religious tribunals. I can’t imagine anything more sensible; if living in a civilized society means anything, surely it means one rulebook for everyone, regardless of which God they believe in. Unsurprisingly, at least some of the Jews and Catholics are irritated. They get no sympathy from me, and good on the McGuinty government. [Update: informed follow-up from Rob.]


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September 14, 2005
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