Friday, February 17, 2006

Ontario Bans Sharia Arbitration

The provincial government of Ontario passed legislation this week that bans the use of binding religious arbitration to settle family law matters, like divorce and child custody.

The government was driven to pass the law by a public pressure campaign that took off last year against the possibility that a controversial set of Muslim rules and guidelines known as sharia would be used under the Arbitration Act, 1991. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prepared a brief backgrounder on the controversy.

Bill 27 passed this week modifies the Arbitration Act, the Child and Family Services Act and the Family Law Act. Under the new legislation:
  • family arbitration is "conducted exclusively in accordance with the law of Ontario or of another Canadian jurisdiction"
  • when a family arbitration matter is decided by "a third person in a process that is not conducted exclusively in accordance with the law of Ontario or of another Canadian jurisdiction (...) the decision is not a family arbitration award and has no legal effect"
  • the government can pass regulations requiring that "every arbitrator who conducts a family arbitration be a member of a specified dispute resolution organization or of a specified class of members of the organization (... [and]) to have received training, approved by the Attorney General, that includes training in screening parties for power imbalances and domestic violence"
In 2004, former Ontario attorney general Marion Boyd had been assigned the task by the provincial government of examining amendments to the Arbitration Act, 1991 to see if and how it was possible to allow for the application of sharia in family law matters.

In her December 2004 report entitled Dispute Resolution in Family Law: Protecting Choice, Promoting Inclusion, Boyd recommended that sharia be allowed in family arbitration matters, an idea that sparked a wide-ranging debate pitting various feminist, progressive and liberal Moslem and multicultural groups against more conservative religious Moslem organizations as well as certain Jewish groups.

Other sources on the issue:

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:07 pm

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