Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sharia courts in Canada

It was bound to happen. According to the Washington Post, Ontario is going to act on a 1991 law permitting religious arbitration of private disputes and allow Muslim sharia courts to decide family matters like inheritance and divorce. There are some limitations: both parties must consent to go in front of these courts, and the courts cannot decide the rights of third parties (e.g., children), impose criminal penalties, or make any ruling contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights.

Despite these restrictions, the Post reports that Muslim leaders in Toronto regard the new courts as a "significant step" toward replacement of Canadian civil law by sharia. This is happening partly because Canada’s official multi-culturalism allows and encourages group-identity thinking, which itself comes out of the unresolved English-French division. But the cause is deeper than that because unlike the old cultural disputes, this one is a matter of principle, not language. For some Muslims in Canada (and the West more generally), religious liberty does not mean freedom of private worship but, as one woman put it, the right of "all Muslims" to be "governed by Islamic law," whether or not it is liberal.

For now, Canada is trying to muddle through by limiting what the sharia courts can do. But soon someone will ask why sharia sanctions cannot be applied in domestic matters like adultery. Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear what Canada will decide because -- as its committment to multi-cuturalism shows -- it doesn’t really believe that politics can be based on self-evident truths that are good for all people, Muslim or not.

With that lack of conviction, who knows what is bound to happen.

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