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