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Muslim Women’s Equality Rights in the Justice System: Gender, Religion and Pluralism

On April 9, 2005, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) hosted a symposium entitled Muslim Women’s Equality Rights in the Justice System: Gender, Religion and Pluralism. This event was organized to raise awareness and engage in dialogue, as a priority, regarding the implications of Marion Boyd’s report Dispute Resolution in Family Law: Protecting Choice, Promoting Inclusion. Ms. Boyd’s report is based on her review of the 1991 Arbitration Act. The recommendations of her report would allow arbitration tribunals in Ontario to settle family matters under Sharia or Muslim family law. Speakers at the Symposium represented both sides of the debate and included scholars, activists and professionals in human rights, women’s rights and the legal arena. There was also representation from an international perspective.

Representatives from five different organizations participated in a workshop entitled “Public Policy and the Application of Religious Laws in Family Matters.” The discussions focused specifically on responses to Marion Boyd’s report. The panellists also commented on their consultations with Ms. Boyd held prior to, or following the release of the report. The participating organizations included the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada (NOIVMWC) and Rights and Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development).

Although CCMW’s position was not presented at the workshop, it was reflected in the written materials provided at the Symposium. Since there has been much collaboration among the organizations on this issue, the organizations represented at this workshop were familiar with CCMW’s position. This report provides a summary of the positions presented by each of the organizations, followed by a summary of the major themes and finally, suggestions for further action, based on the discussions in the workshop. For the purpose of this report, a summary of CCMW’s position sets the stage for comparison of positions among the organizations represented in the discussion.