Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has decided not only to oppose a plan to permit private, voluntary family-law courts based on Islamic shariah rules, but to end the similar tribunals Ontario's Jews and Christians have been using since 1991. "Ontarians will always have the right to seek advice from anyone in matters of family law, including religious advice," he told The Canadian Press. "But no longer will religious arbitration be deciding matters of family law." One anti-shariah activist says the next step will be to make sure the arbitrators don't "go underground."
I stuck up for the shariah plan in a Reason squib last year. Here's the heart of the argument:
[T]here's an important difference between Canada's Shariah courts and those of, say, Afghanistan: In Ontario, no one will be forced to follow Islamic law.
Indeed, Muslims there are simply setting up the same sort of voluntary institutions that Ontarian Jews have enjoyed for centuries. As Rabbi Reuven Tradburks told The Washington Post, traditional Jewish courts, known as batei din, "have been operating in Toronto for as long as Jews have been here." A less formalized Koranic arbitration system already exists in Ontario; the new Islamic Court of Civil Justice will merely make the process official, under the framework set by the Ontario Arbitration Act of 1991. Corporal punishment will be barred, and decisions that violate individual rights can be struck down by the public courts, so adulterers won't have to fear any stonings.
In the United States, citizens unhappy with the government's expensive and time-consuming courts enjoy a range of other options, from the American Arbitration Association to our own batei din to Judge Judy, The People's Court, and other products of the latest religion to take America by storm: reality television. They can even approach their local imam.