TORONTO - A proposal to let Ontario residents use Islamic law for settling family disputes has drawn protests in Canada and at some of its diplomatic sites in Europe, and has thrown into question the official sanctioning of Jewish religious courts in the Canadia province.
The demonstrations were peaceful and generally small, ranging from a couple dozen to a few hundred peope, but organizers said they reflected growing concern over the province's stance on Islamic law, or sharia.
Ontario's provincial government has been reviewing a report recommending that sharia be allowed to settle Muslim family disputes such as divorce, and said it will soon make a decision.
"We will not tolerate the interference of religion in our justice system," said Homa Arjomand, who organized a protest in Toronto, the province's leading city.
In the western German city of Dusseldorf, about 25 people protested at the Canadian consulate.
Threatened by Sharia
"If the Sharia is used in Canada, I also feel threatened here," said protester Nasrin Ramzanali, who said there should be a clear separation of church and state.
Protest organizers said demonstrations were also scheduled in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and some European cities.
About 300 people rallied in front of the Ontario legislative building, some of them shouting "Shame, shame!" as Arjomand quoted Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's promise that sharia law in Canada would not compromise women's rights.
"Either he is naive, or he thinks people are stupid!" Arjomand said.
Catholic, Jewish courts
Ontario, the most populous province in Canada, has allowed Catholic and Jewish faith-based tribunals to settle family law matters on a voluntary basis since 1991. The practice got little attention until Muslim leaders demanded the same rights.
Now officials must decide whether to exclude one religion, or whether they should scrap the religious family courts altogether.
On the outskirts of the Toronto demonstration, pro-sharia activist Mubin Shaikh and his wife, Joanne Sijka, verbally sparred with protesters. Shaikh said the misuse of sharia doesn't mean it should be excluded from Canadian civil law.
"Abuse of the process is not a proof against a process, just as people wrongfully imprisoned is not a proof against Canadian law," Shaikh said.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told the Canadian Press he is flatly against letting Islamic law be used to settle family disputes, and will move against existing religious courts, as well.
"There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians," he said.
McGuinty said religious family courts "threaten our common ground." He promised his government will introduce a bill as soon as possible to outlaw them in Ontario.
A representative of Ontario's Jewish community was shocked and disappointed by the decision.