This is depressing: a sad milestone for women in Canada — going backwards into the dark ages

by Yule Heibel on December 20, 2004

The Toronto Star reports that Marion Boyd, a former Ontario attorney general, concluded an official report endorsing a form of Sharia law in Ontario. See today’s TO Star article here. Boyd is being criticised by a number of progressive Muslims, who accuse her of “naivete” and of caving in to pressure from right-wing Muslim groups. Boyd does a lot of talking around Sharia, saying that the Ontario recommendation is not exactly Sharia law, but simply a recognition of “Muslim religious principles within Canadian law.” I can’t see this as anything but a defeat for women and for progressive men, however. As Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress puts it in the TOStar article:

“What exactly are these Muslim principles?” asked Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

“For her (Boyd) to come here and lecture Muslims as to what Muslim family law is, and Sharia is, is despicable and racist.”

Fatah said most Muslims in Ontario want to be treated as equal citizens. Proponents of Sharia in Canada are not concerned about settling family law disputes, he added.

“They are concerned at bringing justification for introducing Sharia, and legitimizing it in Pakistan, in Iran (and) in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“She has been listening . . .to the Muslim fundamentalists . . .that this was not about Sharia.” [More…]

The report supposedly calls for “safeguards” to prevent women from being bullied into religious-based arbitration vs. real legal counsel and representation, but Boyd’s critics attack her on this front, too:

Her critics say Boyd undermined those protections by also allowing people to waive their right to legal advice before they agree to arbitration instead of going to court to settle a dispute.

“I need to sound the alarm on a recommendation that poor women should be allowed to waive their fundamental right to an independent legal opinion,” said Marilou McPhedran, legal counsel to the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

“Marion Boyd today has given legitimacy and credibility to the right-wing racists who fundamentally are against equal rights for men and women.” [More…]

I hope that progressive Muslims in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, along with voices from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, can convince the Ontario government to ditch Boyd’s recommendations. Fatah noted that this will immediately enter the rightwing Islamist propaganda mill: “Tomorrow in Tehran, in Jeddah, in Pakistan, in Kabul, in Sudan, every newspaper will say that Sharia has been approved by Canada,” predicted Fatah. I find it frightening that equal rights and representation before the law could, in a modern democracy, be undermined in favour of medieval, misogynist “religious” exemptions. What happened? Women really are the niggers of the world, aren’t they… Some men make her “paint her face and dance”, but some others make her put bags over her head and body. Same f*ng difference.


Anonymous December 21, 2004 at 1:35 pm

Dear Yule,

Greetings! Wow- I love your site!!! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!

A friend sent me your link and suggested that I contact you.

My name is Ruth Mendelson. I am a composer (I score films for a living and teach Advanced Film Composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston)- deeply committed to aspects of Healing and Music- and have just launched a web site that could be of interest to you.

Here’s the link: I hope you have flash and speakers!

The “Amazing Jellies” CD was originally composed for the New England Aquarium’s exhibit re: jellyfish and saving the oceans. I was commissioned by the Aquarium to write the music last spring. The process of “writing” the music was extraordinary. I cried most of the time- the Love that was coming through was so purely Beautiful.

About 3 months ago, a teacher who was visiting the exhibit was so taken by the music she wrote about it on an internet teachers forum, saying that it had the strong potential to help her students learn. Before I knew it, I was flooded with CD orders from teachers all across the US.

I received SO many requests that I did a remix of the music for home systems (there are often 24 tracks of sound- each gently moving in different directions, just as layers of water move within the ocean). That’s when I put the web site up, featuring a few brief clips of the score.

Since then, several mothers of autistic children are using the CD, claiming that it’s the ONLY thing that helps their children calm down and become aware of the space around them (see “listener comments” on the web site). A Mayan Elder just ordered 10 of them from Mexico, a man in CT just ordered one for his elderly mother who is going in for surgery this Friday (she wants the CD as part of her post-op care), a woman with MS just wrote to me saying that the music is relieving her of her pain, several massage therapists are using it with clients, teachers are telling me that it’s helping their students develop reading skills, LOTS of people are using it to deepen their Meditations and chill out. There’s a LOT of Medicine in this Music and i am deeply humbled and grateful to be of service in this way.

If there is anyone who feel could benefit from this, would you mind passing on this link to them? The CD carries much Light and has the potential to Bless many.

Thank you so much for checking this out.

Blessings to you and all the circles you touch,

-Ruth Mendelson

maria December 21, 2004 at 5:59 pm

Wow … seems like we have a “friend” in common Yule … because this “friend” also directed this woman to post in my comments and use that as a marketing forum for her work. It is one thing to contact us by email, I suppose, and ask for a plug; and quite another to just burst into our space and interrupt a discussion with a long ad.

At first I thought this innocent … btu seeing it here, I wonder what the purpose of this is … or if this woman had hired som firm to spread the word for her….

I am sorry that I too went off topic here. I was just mad when I saw these comments above.

Your post is a depressing reminder of how the struggle has just begun! Vigilance, like yours, in these matters, invaluable to those of us who are slower at picking up the danger signs!

Doug Alder December 22, 2004 at 12:08 am

Sadly this just plays into the hands of Christian fundamentalists in the US, and even more sadly Canada, that want to turn back the clock on human rights as well.

melanie December 27, 2004 at 2:26 am

That is frightening stuff. What party is Marion Boyd from? (I’m from Australia, so I don’t know – but somehow I’m afraid this is not coming from the conservative side of politics!)

Yule Heibel January 1, 2005 at 3:30 pm

It’s actually a relief to know that “Ruth M.” spammed you and others
this way, Maria — I haven’t clicked through, but was worried that she
might be real…. Yeah, it’s not very nice etiquette, in fact it’s none
at all, to do this. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the popularisation of
blogs, that people think bloggers are making money and are really
rootin’ and tootin’ and shootin’? As if, haha!Melanie, Marion
Boyd is from the NDP, the party co-founded by David Lewis, whose son is
Stephen Lewis (UN envoy, currently working on AIDS in Africa, etc.,
really really interesting guy). Lewis is married to Michelle Landsberg,
who was a columnist for the Toronto Star for years before her
retirement a year or so ago, and who wrote brilliant and numerous
columns championing the rights of women and the poor. Their son is Avi
Lewis, who had a CBC show for a long time, and he’s married to Naomi
Klein of No Logo fame. That’s one aspect of what the NDP was
and is and stands for: a party that’s bona-fide left-of-centre and
genuinely social-democratically geared. The report Boyd-of-the-NDP
submitted goes to the current Ontario government, however, which is led
by Dalton McGuinty, a Liberal. This party has a nasty reputation for
screwing back the clock on social services and programmes — like BC’s
Liberal Party, it appears it’s actually neo-liberal, meaning
neo-conservative in being pro-unfettered business and against too much
social “coddling.” I don’t know what they’ll do with Boyd’s report, but
they’ll be mainly swayed by practicalities (will it get them votes?,
will it cost them anything?, do powerful or powerless forces object or
propse?), vs being primarily swayed by do-gooder impulses. While
I can understand the “liberal” (i.e., socially progressive NDPish)
motivations behind recommending “inclusion,” I emphatically draw the
line at giving any kind of “tolerance” to laws that systemically
oppress any group based on race or gender, which are categories people don’t choose
but are born into (and that holds for “race,” even if you believe that
race is a ridiculous social construct, too: it’s still operative, and
you can’t change your skin colour at will. Ditto gender.). I think this
proposal is an example of political correctness going over the edge,
right into the deep end. But then again, I’m also one of the few people
among the more liberal bloggers I read who openly stated her support of
France’s ban of the hijab…. Another thing, I also
don’t agree with giving special status to Orthodox Jews in Ontario’s
family law (Boyd says that Sharia should be allowed because the
Orthodox Jews get special treatment), but even if you let them keep
their medieval nonsense, it wouldn’t upset me as much because there are
far fewer Orthodox Jews than there are Muslims, whose immigrant group
is growing much larger every year, and who therefore have a much better
chance of changing social climate overall. Further, hardly any Orthodox
Jews come to Canada anymore with zero English skills and with the
political background of immigrants from Third World countries, nor do
Orthodox Jews crave secular power. But Islam doesn’t recognise
distinctions between secular and religious power, and many of the
immigrants come with scant English skills, and they’re able to keep
“their” women ignorant and abused. I think this is a quality AND a quantity
issue. The US is getting more fundy xian, but here in Canada we’re
letting secularism get eroded by political correctness. I don’t like
it. I don’t want religion of any sort messing with secular institutions
and laws. I’m just looking right now for the online petition you can sign against this, and came across this by Iranian secular society. Ok, I found the petition: “No!” to Sharia Tribunals in the Province of Ontario. If
anyone has any insights on the efficacy of these online petitions, let
me know. I thought I’d write a letter instead; seems more real perhaps
than just signing an online petition, but I’d like more info. And yes, I do intend to write a bit more about this later…

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