EDITORIAL – The ‘pizza-fication’ of Canada’s justice system
Wed, May 19 2004
You are likely to be one of the many rolling their eyes and wondering what’s next after reading our front page report.

But before you head for the computer to bash out a fiery response, keep in mind that the fundamental issue here is not about Islamic courts in Canada.

It is about the growing trend of making a mockery of the principal of jurisprudence one law in one land applicable to all who reside in it and all who run foul of it.

This brings us to the question- Why are we allowing the Canadian justice system to become like a pizza joint where you can top off a legal conundrum with a myriad of choices ranging from traditionally- flavoured sentencing circles to kosher private judges

The latest item on the Canadian judicial menu is Islamic courts where rulings are based on the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Ontario is to be the test site for this unusual experiment in Canada – the worlds first western nation to embrace such an idea.

Under the plan spawned off a 1991 Ontario law which allows parties to civil and family disputes to opt for private courts using religious and cultural parameters, Muslim arbitrators guided by one of Islam’s five schools of law can act as private judges for members of their community.

The safeguards include no corporal punishment, no criminal cases, voluntary participation by all parties, and the ultimate principal that rulings must abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Muslim lawyers and scholars behind the move say the Sharia system will allow Canadian-Muslims to practice their religion more freely and help ease the backlog in the court system.

They say Jewish rabbinical courts have long been operating in North America using similar methods. Known as a Beit Din, a Jewish court has power to deal with monetary, business and family disputes, but not criminal matters.

Those opposed to it say Islamic courts guided by the Sharia, which is a male dominated religious code of conduct, will be a threat to women, who will be accused of blasphemy if they refused to subject to the courts.

There are deeper issues in the implementation of Islamic courts in Canada because Sharia law isn’t monolithic, but is applied differently throughout the Muslim world.

In some Islamic countries Sharia is interpreted to state a woman cannot divorce her husband but he can divorce her, women must be shrouded in public, unmarried couples cannot be together in a private area, hold hands or kiss,

In other extreme manifestations of Sharia, the hands of thieves are cut off and women are stoned to death for adultery.

There is no common consensus on the interpretation of the Sharia as it is based on the opinions of religious clerics in the area where it is practiced.

If you want to find out for yourself how Sharia is interpreted in various jurisdictions just check the fears and claims of Muslim refugee applicants who have taken their cases to the Federal Court of Canada.

Those in Canada wanting Sharia courts unequivocally stress that the Canadian-Muslim Sharia code will be a unique blend of religious principals that will respect the rule of Canadian laws.

This inherently is an admission that what we have in the Canadian justice system is better, which brings us back to the question why do we need Sharia courts, Beit Dins or Native Sentencing Circles in the first place.

Whether Sharia courts will work in Canada to improve our multicultural fabric is up for debate.

What private courts and parallel legal systems will do,undoubtedly, is dilute the Canadian justice system.

The heart wrenching part about this whole issue is the divisiveness it is causing not only among Muslims and the Canadian mainstream but also within the Muslim community itself.

It is time for Canada to check its moorings and return to the nation’s fundamental value where all its people are equal under one law.

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