Vive Quebec

by Yule Heibel on March 11, 2005

Judging from the snippet I heard on CBC Radio tonight, the sharia law debate continues in Canada. In a brief automotive interlude, I heard As It Happens interviewers speaking to Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, Minister of International Relations and of La Francophonie in Quebec, who defended Quebec’s refusal to allow any aspect of sharia law to take hold in La Belle Province. Here is the gist of what she had to say:

First, immigration is a privilege, not a right. As a twice-over immigrant, I whole-heartedly concur, and cannot agree with the woman in this article who assumes that Islam is given to her “naturally,” as it were, and that she must therefore naturally be allowed to practice it in full, regardless of where she is. When she says, “It’s something nobody can change and we must follow,” she expresses in a nutshell what is wrong with fundamentalist religious belief: namely, the idea that social states are non-negotiable (“something nobody can change”). In the West, the notion of freedom is eviscerated by the idea that negotiation cannot take place. That notion makes a mockery of all those who put their very lives on the line for political and individual freedom.

Second, those who want to leave their country of origin should be able to agree, before arriving in the new country, that they will abide by the system of justice of the country they wish to emigrate to. Otherwise, they must stay where they are, or go somewhere else. It is illegal in Quebec, as well as in Canada, to practice violence against women, to practice polygamy, and to practice female genital mutilation, whereas each of these illegal acts is allowed under sharia law. The Canadian justice system says this is wrong. It therefore makes no sense to say, “well, we’ll allow a second system of justice in the area of ‘family law’, even though we’ll make everyone abide by Canada’s justice system for the ‘big picture.'” That’s bogus: there is one justice system, and letting a second system of justice take root simply makes a mockery of the first. While “reasonable” religious folks might say, “Well, we don’t really want to practice x [genital mutilation, polygamy, etc.], we just want to have that little space in that one little area [‘family law’] — and of course if someone does something truly criminal, we’ll submit to Canadian law,” they are not being reasonable at all. They have come into the host country under false pretenses, so to speak, and it’s really not up to the host country to change to accomodate those fundamentalist views. Monique Gagnon-Tremblay argued that sharia is fundamentalism, regardless of where or in what little nook or cranny it takes hold, and that the justice system in Quebec has no room for fundamentalism.

Too bad Ontario didn’t have someone as clear-spoken as that. What’s underlying B’nai Brith’s support of Sharia law in Ontario gets elaborated by Jewlicious – 100% Kosher, which has a really interesting comments thread as well.


maria March 12, 2005 at 2:53 pm

Great post, Yule … and analysis of the problem between the parameters of fundementalism in social practice (non-negotiable) and the social contract that’s the basis of our system.

The discussion following the post on “Jewlicious” was fascinating to read … and I hope to see more discussions of this sort, which should be helpful for people to understand the dangers of fundementalism, regardless of denomination!

beth March 12, 2005 at 9:29 pm

Yes, I applaud Monique Gagnon-Tremblay for her cogent and articulate words, and Quebec for being so clear about what a free society really is. That’s what attracted me to Quebec and why I’m living there part of the time.

ck March 13, 2005 at 4:04 pm

Well… lets see. Here in Montreal, we have resourse to beit dins. These beit dins, recognized by the law and functioning in the spheres of family law and civil litigation are run and administered pretty much by Orthodox Jews. These courts have run without great controversy for decades. However, if we have an issue with Muslim Shariah courts, how can we then support Jewish courts? We can’t really favor one religion over another.

Yule Heibel March 15, 2005 at 12:40 pm

ck, I actually don’t support the fact of beit dins, and didn’t know they even existed in Ontario until Marion Boyd and the sharia
issue hit the news some months ago. (**) I think the reason the former
have been sleepers (i.e., not flaming across the media as an issue) has
to do with the insularity of Orthodox Jews, especially the Hasidim.
They’re not proselytisers or propagandists, they don’t try to convert
or try to evangelise and get converts. Perhaps most importantly of all,
they don’t advocate killing apostates… That doesn’t mean that I
support in any way the fact that they have a parallel justice system
that’s actually recognised by Canadian law. I don’t, because I don’t
favour one religion over another. I want separation of church and state
maintained. And I think multiculturalism has a lot to answer for when
it’s responsible for letting that separation erode.

[(**) You were probably also responding to Beth, who lives in Quebec. But I have to assume that she didn’t even know beit dins
existed in Quebec (I didn’t, I thought they were limited to Ontario),
which underscores my point about Orthodox Jews being such a minority
that they’re almost invisible. That’s not the case for Muslims, who are
a fast-growing demographic, and who are dynamic and engaged in society
on a scale that appears to exceed by far most other religious
groups. Note, I say “appears,” because I don’t have any data and might
simply be reflecting media bias and prejudice.]

Here in BC — and the details escape me — there was some whacko
Christian sect living in the central interior. They, too, acted as a
state onto itself, and the uproar over child welfare authorities
finally moving in to take their kids away was immense. Did I support
that? You bet. Child abuse is child abuse, and mustn’t be tolerated.
Abuse of women? Ditto.  (As far as I recall, they had their own
schools and of course their own “code” for raising children, which
involved a lot of physical abuse, too.  I think there was also
coerced marriage, possibly polygamy …I don’t recall the details, but
the kids had no chance here.  It was like something out of a badly
gone wrong “society for destructive anachronism” club… Ugh.)

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