Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Quebec Holds the Line in Canada

While Americans have been mounting a vigorous defense of Western Civilization against the tide of Islamism, Canadians have been gradually surrendering their heritage to the hundreds of thousands of non-Western immigrants they have permitted to flood their shores. But recently, the French-speaking province of Quebec, which enjoys quasi-sovereignty of its own within the Canadian system, rejected attempts by Muslims to establish their own civil arbitration system based on Islamic religious law, known as the Sharia. Muslims in other parts of Canada have requested their own system of arbitration tribunals to settle legal questions outside Canada's secular legal system.
"Certainly not in Quebec," Justice Minister Yvon Marcoux said earlier this month. "The door is closed and will remain closed."
Quebec uses civil law based on France's Napoleonic Code, rather than the Britain-derived common law employed by Ontario and other provinces. Since the 1960s, it has been Canada's sole, officially secular jurisdiction, excluding any and all religious considerations from civil affairs.
There is therefore no Arbitration Act, as in Ontario, which can be used by religious groups to resolve domestic conflicts.
A furor was set off here last year with the news that parts of Ontario's sizeable, but non-homogenous Muslim community intended to use the act to set up arbitration tribunals for disputes involving marriage, divorce and custody.
Muslim and non-Muslim critics alike protested that the 1,400-year-old body of Qur'an-inspired laws considers women inferior to men and would infringe their equality rights as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, a six-month study by former attorney-general Marion Boyd concluded in December that, with new safeguards in place, Muslim women would still be protected by Canadian law.
Such nonsense defies rational explanation. Apparently, the Canadian government is willing to accept the establishment of a separate system of religious courts in competition with the official legal system, and doesn't anticipate that this could eventually lead to serious problems. Nor does Marion Boyd consider the possibility that such tribunals, once established, might evolve into a more potent force if many Muslims start using them. If enough Muslims use the tribunals, might Muslims not demand more power for such tribunals? Might they not demand their own courts? Or the institution of Islamic law more broadly in Canada? Ms. Boyd also seems deaf to the concern that Muslim women - treated little better than property under Islamic law - might find themselves pressured by family and community to go through the religious tribunals and assent to their judgments no matter how unfair.

In an unusual display of common sense, the Quebecois are having none of this.
"(We) must say loud and clear that not only do we not want sharia in Quebec, we don't want it in Ontario and we don't want it in Canada," International Relations Minister Monique Gagnon-Tremblay told a conference last week.
The former immigration minister went even further in denouncing Ontario's attempt to accommodate both gender and religious rights in its increasingly pluralistic society.
Immigrants who want to come to Quebec, she said, "and who do not respect women's rights or who do not respect whatever rights may be in our Civil Code — should stay in their country and not come to Quebec, because that is unacceptable.
This represents such an obvious point, it seems to be lost in Canada. Why are Canadians changing their laws and culture to accomodate immigrants and not the other way around? If Muslims don't want to live under the secular law of Western nations, then let them remain in their own countries and maintain whatever system of theocratic jurisprudence best satisfies their religious passions. Canada epitomizes the ideology of self-loathing that has become endemic among Western elites over the past thirty years and which goes under the name "multiculturalism." This means, any culture but that of the West. Canadians apparently have thoroughly imbibed this ideological poison and now attach so little value to their customs and cultural legacy that they are willing to permit aliens to colonize their country and establish their own.

The Canadian Muslims who want to see Sharia law imposed, and understand that they can achieve their goal by working in small increments, rather than declaring their ultimate intentions, are predictably affronted by Quebec's rejection of Sharia law.
The government's opposition to sharia arbitration comes as no surprise to Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal.
"We didn't expect they'd entertain the idea because they have a taboo on all religions," he says. "They are trying to impose secular extremism, but we're not France. We still have a Charter of Rights in this country that gives us the right to express our religion." Which means that Quebec Muslims "don't have to be given the right to use sharia.
We already have the right. We're talking about a complementary, not parallel, system of laws for those who want to live according to their faith.It may be illegal for him to "arbitrate" in Quebec, says Elmenyawi, but as an imam, or prayer leader, he can and already does "mediate" between feuding couples who choose to use his services.
Well, at least the Muslim activists have the talking points already memorized. If Quebec tries to defend its legal system, it is "imposing secular extremism" on Muslims. That phrase was almost certainly crafted to appeal to Christian religious conservatives. The Islamists have learned well the language of Western political debate and have schooled themselves in using public relations to tickle Western guilt and self-hatred to advance their cause.

As for the situation of women unfortunate enough to find themselves in front of Sharia tribunals, Muslim activists blithely dismiss any concern.
Elmenyawi, who is also the Muslim chaplin at McGill University, thinks Boyd did an "excellent job" on her report and blames the media for giving its critics a high profile.
He vehemently objects to the widely raised argument that Muslim wives, many new to the country, unable to speak the language and unaware of brand-new legal rights, will be forced into accepting an imam's sharia ruling."It is condescending to say they will be pressured," he says. "Women are not oppressed by Islam. It equates men and women."
Of course. That's why Muslim women enjoy such freedom and dignity across the Muslim world. While Mr. Elmenyawi scoffs at the idea that Muslim women in Canada might be pressured by such tribunals, the evidence to the contrary is considerable. Muslim women living in Western nations have faced harassment, violence and even death at the hands of conservative Muslims who didn't approve of their choices (see previous post).

Nevertheless, legal experts appear convinced that Sharia-based civil tribunals must be permitted in various provinces under current Canadian law.
"In our society, we allow religious groups to discriminate," says Joseph Heath, a political philosopher at the University of Toronto, "because a liberal state must remain neutral."
He cites as examples the Catholic Church's ban on female clergy and various churches' refusal to marry same-sex partners: "Why do we permit this? Because religions are voluntary organizations.
"Islam is no exception."
Heath says that unless there is an issue of safety — he cites the Sikh tradition of carrying a kirpan (a small religious knife) into classrooms — or an overriding public interest in interceding, the state should stay out of religion.
Each requested exemption to the law (kirpans were considered weapons), should be assessed, he says.
Ontario has no choice but to allow Muslims to use the Arbitration Act because the province's small Hasidic Jewish community already uses it.
Unless, Heath adds, it decided to ban all religious involvement in civil matters, including family law: "That would be acceptable because it is consistent."
Mr. Heath's comparison to the Catholic ban on female clergy and same-sex marriage are spurious. Those are internal policies of a voluntary organization; they have no legal standing outside the church. Nor are those policies in any way conflated with the Canadian government or meant to rival the jurisdiction of the Canadian legal system. Mr. Heath does raise a valid point when he points out that Ontario has tolerated similar religious tribunals among Hasidic Jews. Canada should not have permitted the Hasidic community to establish its own civil arbitration system, exactly because other religious groups might want to do the same. The Hasidic community remains small and poses no threat to greater Canadian society and culture. This is not true of many Muslims.


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