The Myth and Reality of 'Shari’a Courts' in Canada: A Delayed Opportunity for the Indigenization of Islamic Legal Rulings
64 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2011
Date Written: June 30, 2011
The Ontario government’s passage of the Family Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005 ostensibly precluding the enforcement of faith-based decisions issued by arbitration panels pursuant to the Arbitrations Act, 1991, in the area of family law, brought to the fore a debate that has been raging in liberal democracies for some time.
Those opposed to allowing the use of religious principles in resolving family disputes using the Arbitrations Act, 1991, raised some legitimate concerns about gender rights within religious communities. They also questioned the role of religion in secular society and opposed what they saw as privatization of the legal system. Opponents contended that religious groups should be able to govern their lives according to their conscience within the parameters of law if the constitutional right to freedom of religion and association is to have any real value. Consenting and informed adults, they argued, must be able to make religious choices even if others do not believe these are “correct” choices.
The issues, of course, transcend dispute resolution and tug at fundamental tensions surrounding multiculturalism and national identity, the limits of accommodation and legal pluralism within a liberal democracy and the separation of church and state. I argue that Ontario lost a timely opportunity to devise a way to balance these competing rights and interests in a manner that respects all parties and protects the vulnerable.
The controversy was a prime case to examine whether Islamic law and liberal democracy can co-exist within a liberal constitutional framework. Moreover, I also argue that Ontario also delayed an opportunity to indigenize or Canadianize Islamic law rulings in a manner that would help in the integration process of its Muslim citizens.
Keywords: Islamic law, Sharia, Shari'a, Shariah, Arbitrations Act 1991, Ontario, Canada, Family Statute Law Amendment Act 2005, Legal Pluralism, Ijtihad, Ijma, Qiyas, Maqasid, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Religious Law, Multiculturalism, Gender Equality, Islamic Feminism
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