John Turley-Ewart: Sharia by stealth —
Ontario turns a blind eye to polygamy
Posted: May 29, 2008, 4:07 PM by John Turley-Ewart
It’s an issue the Liberal government of Ontario, led by Premier Dalton McGuinty, doesn’t want to deal with — polygamy in the Muslim community. Last week the Toronto Star told the story of Safa Rigby, a 35-year-old mother of five children who recently learned her husband of 14 years had two other wives. Ms. Rigby’s life is in tatters. She followed her husband’s advice that she leave Toronto and live in Egypt for a year on the grounds that it would be better for their children to spend more time in a Muslim country. Now she knows it was a ruse. He used her time there to marry two other women.
Ms. Rigby does not support polygamy, which has been illegal in Canada for more than a century. But Toronto Imam Aly Hindy, who runs the Toronto Salahuddin Islamic Centre, does. He married Ms. Rigby’s husband knowing he already had a wife and counselled him to keep the marriage secret from Ms. Rigby for as long as possible. Hindy has by his own admission performed 30 ceremonies in which men were married who already had wives. When Ms. Rigby confronted Hindy his response was reportedly cold and unsympathetic: “You will have to stand beside him in these difficult times,” Hindy told her. “You should stop causing problems to (sic) him. You will not get anything by divorce except destroying your life” he went on to say.
For Hindy this is not about Ms. Rigby or her husband’s desire to marry another woman — but making a broader political point.
Hindy is using polygamy as a proxy for his fundamentalist version of Islam, something he wants to see legitimized in Canadian society as a whole. It is part of an attempt at empire building, a bid that if successful will enhance his influence within the Muslim and demonstrate that Ontario and Canada is too ignorant and too afraid of Islam to uphold its own laws. He has admitted as much, challenging Ontario’s government to dare stop him. “If the laws of the country conflict with Islamic law, if one goes against the other, then I am going to follow Islamic law, simple as that,” he told the Star. Interviewed after the Star story appeared on the John Oakley Show on AM 640Toronto, Hindy was not apologetic and argued that freedom of religion in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumped prohibitions against polygamous marriages.
When he and another Imam from Toronto, Steve Rockwell, were challenged on the appropriateness of polygamy by a Muslim caller to the Oakley Show, the caller was immediately attacked and his identity as a true Muslim questioned because he did not follow Hindy’s view that polygamy is a foundational pillar of Islam that grows out of Sharia Law. This speaks to a troubling absolutist interpretation of Islamic law, which runs against the reality that Sharia law is much more flexible that Hindy allows for, a fact well documented by Anver Emon, a specialist in Islamic law at the University of Toronto. Moreover, as noted in the Star article on Ms. Rigby, there is grave doubt that the Charter protects Islamic polygamy, as Hindy believes. Nik Bala, who teaches family law at Queen’s University, points out that “Islam permits polygamy, but doesn’t require it to be a practising Muslim.” This is key, and may mean Hindy’s attempt to find shelter behind the Charter will fail. Moreover, the impact polygamy has on women’s equality and children could also sway the courts to uphold Canada’s ban on polygamy.
But there is little chance at the moment that this will become a Charter issue down the road. Dalton McGuinty’s government has responded to the revelations about polygamy in the Muslim community by denying its existence. On Wednesday Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin responded to a question on the issue in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario saying:
“Polygamy is a serious crime in Ontario . It’s not something that’s tolerated. As you know, the best advice I can give the honourable member opposite is that if she has any evidence that someone is engaging in multiple marriages, she should report it, because our Registrar General and our official reporting mechanisms have no evidence that that’s happening. As you know, Mr. Speaker, marriage is a contract. A contract require a licence, and once a marriage occurs, it has to be registered. There are no multiple marriages being registered in the province of Ontario.”
Mr. McMeekin’s response is a shameful twisting of the law. The criminal code is clear. Section 293. (1) reads: “Every one who
(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or
(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.”
There is no provision in the law, contrary to Mr. McMeekin’s assertion in the Ontario Legislature, that a polygamous marriage has to be registered before the government can act. The opposite is in fact true.
By turning a blind eye to polygamy, Premier McGuinty is giving licence to Sharia by stealth.
In 2005 Ontario’s premier rightly ruled out Sharia family courts, conceding that Muslim women may well fair poorly if such a system was allowed to be established. The same concern exists today, yet Ontario’s Liberals sit on their hands.
Muslim women like Ms. Rigby are being victimized as are her children. Imam Hindy has told her to put up with her husband’s desire for other wives. She has properly said no and has now obtained a divorce. When will Premier McGuinty’s government say no and enforce the law it is bound to uphold?