By Jason Menard
In our attempt to be good Canadians, we have gone too far in Ontario by considering the incorporation of Shariah tribunals to settle family disputes in Muslim relationships.
One of the sacred cows we have in this country is that everyone should be allowed the freedom of religion. We encourage all who come to this great land of ours to retain their individuality and we welcome the cultural mosaic that is woven from this inclusionary belief. However, that acceptance of others’ cultures, religions, and beliefs stops at the moment it contravenes the accepted law of the land.
As we have seen with the same-sex marriage debate, marriage is a secular institution, no matter how much religious groups wish to believe otherwise. As such, the institution of marriage is bound and governed by the laws of our land, and its moral compass is guided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
So if that’s the case, why should the dissolution of marriage fall under a different set of circumstances? If marriage is secular at its root, why should divorce be any different?
We all like to quote the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and say that the State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. But the State has every right to assert its presence in its boardrooms and courthouses. Unfortunately, the government has painted itself in a corner with past precedent. Since 1991, the Province of Ontario has allowed Christian and Jewish families to practice religious arbitration. To deny the use of Sharia tribunals would reek of discrimination.
The answer to all of this is to eliminate all faith-based resolutions from our mediation practices.
We have a separation of Church and State in this country and we need to reinforce that belief by eliminating the existence of religious influence in its practices. This is not to denigrate any one religion, but rather to ensure fairness and equality for all, as is defined by the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We need to assert that being Canadian comes with a set of expectations for all. Being Canadian means adhering to the laws and conventions of the land.
Being respectful of other people’s faith does not mean we have to compromise the integrity of our Church/State divide. This is not a country that is ruled by Islamic, Jewish, or Christian law, so we are under no obligations to accommodate those practices in our legal and governmental systems.
By adhering to our Constitution and our Charter, we are not denying rights to anyone. We are defining what it means to be Canadian. If a person wants to live in a place where Sharia law is enforced, then that is their prerogative. But nowhere does it say that, to avoid the spectre of discrimination, Canada has to be that place.
The fact of the matter is that we have, as a society, shown a preference to Christian and Jewish institutions. But with the rise of a Muslim population and an increasing understanding and sensitivity to their needs, we have to understand that our past practices just don’t cut it in today’s reality. That’s why the practice religious arbitration, established by the NDP government, must be abolished. We can still support these services as a society, but without the decisions being binding upon our Court of Laws. Should a family choose to go to faith-based arbitration on their own as a part of the dispute resolution process, then that is their prerogative. But in our secular society there is no place for religious decisions to supersede the laws of the land.
There are many Canadians who are religious, but religion does not define Canada. We need to accept that the matters and teachings of faith are welcome in the homes, churches, synagogues, and mosques of this country, but we must draw the line at their presence in our courthouses.
The rhetoric spouted by some of the issue’s opponents goes too far. Aligning Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty with the Taliban is inflammatory at best and obstructionist at its worst. This idea of incorporating Sharia mediation is not an error borne of malice – it’s an error on the side of being inclusionary, especially when past precedent is factored in.
But it’s an error nonetheless, and one that should be put to rest. Whether or not you believe that, in the end, we answer to a higher power, when it comes to the governance of our country, the laws of Canada should be the final word.
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