Ontario will not become the first Western jurisdiction to allow the use of a set of centuries' old religious rules called Shariah law to settle Muslim family disputes, and will ban all religious arbitrations in the province, Premier Dalton McGuinty told The Canadian Press on Sunday.
In a telephone interview with the national news agency, McGuinty announced his government would move quickly to outlaw existing religious tribunals used for years by Christians and Jews under Ontario's Arbitration Act.
"I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough," he said.
"There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians."
Currently, Ontario's Arbitration Act allows civil disputes ranging from custody and support to divorce and inheritance to be resolved through an independent arbitrator, if both parties agree.
Catholics, Mennonites, Jews, aboriginals and Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, have - until now - used the act to settle family law questions without resorting to the courts.
But those who opposed permitting Shariah family arbitration argued that the reforms would give legitimacy and an unenforceable appearance of oversight to a legal code they say is - at its heart - unfair to women.
McGuinty said the debate around Shariah gave his government time to "step back a little bit" and look at the original decision to allow religious arbitrations in Ontario.
"It became pretty clear that was not in keeping with the desire of Ontarians to build on common ground. . .of one law for all Ontarians," he said.
Islam, unlike all other major religions, has no concept of a separate civil sphere, nor can it be reconciled with the Christian notion of the city of man as distinct from the city of God.
The Ontario government, like most Western governments, is unwilling or unable to face the peculiar problem of Islam as being not simply a religion, but a fusion of religion and political ideology.
If we think of Islam as being more akin to a totalitarian political ideology, like communism or fascism, we will understand better the nature of the problem facing us today. The Ontario government would not countenance tribunals that attempted to govern family law matters by Nazi racial or Communist class ideology.
Premier McGuinty's response shows that he is unable to think outside modern liberal notions of radical equality and moral equivalency. Rather than face the problem of Islam head-on and recognize the differences between it and other faiths that allow other religious tribunals to function within the current secular system, he has decided to regard them as all equally hostile and unacceptable.
Making discrimination a pejorative term has cost us all.