Posted on May 27, 2005

Quebec Squashes Idea of Islamic Tribunals

Rhéal Séguin, Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 27

QUEBEC — In a pre-emptive strike against what it calls religious fundamentalism, the Quebec National Assembly has voted unanimously to condemn efforts to introduce Islamic tribunals in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

During the debate yesterday on a motion tabled by the governing Liberals, members from all political parties opposed Muslim groups seeking to apply sharia, or traditional Islamic law, in marriage or other disputes in the Muslim community.

The decision, which drew immediate condemnation from some members of the Islamic community, echoed France’s recent and controversial prohibition of religious symbols in schools.

Liberal member Fatima Houda-Pepin, who introduced the motion, said sharia law would discriminate against women. She said fringe Muslim religious groups are seeking to use the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to impose religious values that undermine Canada’s democratic institutions.

“Today the National Assembly speaks with one voice to say No to the implementation of Islamic tribunals in Quebec and in Canada,” Ms. Houda-Pepin said yesterday. “Demanding the implementation of the sharia in Canada is a tantamount to a takeover attempt aimed at undermining our democracy, our system of justice.”

The National Assembly was responding to an Ontario government report last December that recommended creating an Islamic arbitration system in the province. The report concluded that Ontario, which already has a religious-based arbitration system for Jews and Ismailis, “should continue to allow disputes to be arbitrated using religious law, if the safeguards currently prescribed and recommended by this review are observed.”

Ms. Houda-Pepin called the report “troubling” because it opened the way in Canada to a faith-based arbitration system where Islamic women could lose rights guaranteed under Canadian law.

She argued that are were no universal guidelines to interpreting Islamic law, noting that there are as many legal codes based on sharia as there are Muslim countries.

“What legal code would prevail in Canada and Quebec?” she asked. Quebec legislators fear that the Muslim community’s integration into Canadian society is being jeopardized by an Islamic minority bent on imposing its system of values “in the name of a certain idea of God.”

“For the last few years, Canada has become the stage of an intensive battle for control of the Muslim community,” warned Ms. Houda-Pepin, who is a non-practising Muslim born in Morocco.

Muslim leaders in Montreal were appalled by the adoption of the motion, saying they were never given a chance to argue their case before the Minister of Justice or other elected officials.

“This is shocking, truly shocking. It is total bigotry or total ignorance of what Islam is,” said Salam El Menyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal. “Taking such action is tantamount to religious bigotry and discrimination against a religious minority.”Muslims are being excluded from rights other religions have. And this exclusion is very dangerous because that is exactly what Hitler did to Jews,” Mr. El Menyawi said during a telephone interview.

The Muslim Council tried to meet with Justice Minister Jacques Dupuis last December in an effort to explain how the community wanted to handle issues such as divorce. The community said it will examine all recourses available to force the National Assembly to reverse its decision.

“I have been inundated with calls and e-mails from the Muslim community asking that we should file a complaint with the United Nations,” Mr. El Menyawi said.