Speakers at a Thursday (Sept. 8) demonstration in Toronto claimed thatwomen's and children's rights would be trampled, and at least one likenedCanadian Premier Dalton McGuinty to extremist Taliban leaders, according tothe Toronto Globe and Mail.
The Toronto demonstration was one of 12 around Canada and parts ofEurope organized by women's and human rights groups.
A report issued by the province's former attorney general hasrecommended that Ontario allow Muslims to settle cases related toinheritance, marriage and divorce in arbitration presided over by qualifiedMuslim leaders.
While Islamic principles would guide the settlements, judgments wouldhave to adhere to Canadian law and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adocument comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights. Muslims could choose tosubmit their cases either to such arbitration or to the secular courtsystem.
Catholics, Anglicans, Jews and Ismailis (a Shiite sect) all operate someform of ecclesiastical courts or faith-based arbitration in Ontario, asallowed by a 1991 provincial act.
Sixty percent of Canada's 600,000-strong Muslim population live inOntario, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada. While the provincial attorney general has not yet made a final decisionon whether to allow Islamically based arbitration, the proposal has raisedintense opposition, much of it within the Muslim community itself.
The coalition of groups organizing the protest included the CanadianCouncil of Muslim Women and other women's rights and refugee advocateorganizations.
Hoja Arjomand, a lead protest organizer, contended that Islamists wereusing Canada's policy of multiculturalism to infiltrate the country. "We are not talking about white Canadian women who have equality. We aretalking about minorities living in ghettos. There is intense socialpressure," said Arjomand.
But Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, saidthat protesters were using "fear-mongering tactics" to garner support.
Elmasry said the government report endorsing the courts "did anexcellent job in including many check and balances so that no one can abusethe process."