MONTREAL (CP) – The Crown says a Montreal man’s refusal to grant his Muslim wife a Shariah divorce should be considered an aggravating factor when he is sentenced Friday for stabbing her and their baby daughter.
Other than that, there is nothing the courts can do for the woman, whose husband pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault to avoid attempted murder charges.
That, say advocates, is the problem with the refusal to recognize Shariah law in the Canadian judicial system.
Observant Muslim women, especially those who emigrated from Islamic countries, feel they have nowhere to turn, said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association.
“Many, many times we see this,” Siddiqui said.
Both Quebec and Ontario have passed laws banning the use of any religious tribunals – Muslim, Jewish or otherwise – to settle family law disputes like custody and divorce.
But many Muslim women want a Shariah stamp of approval, “especially if they’re going to travel abroad,” Siddiqui said.
In the current case, the 31-year-old man, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his daughter, attacked his wife in their Montreal apartment in February 2006, stabbing her several times, including in the face.
He then stabbed the infant girl twice in the stomach. She spent 10 days in hospital recovering.
The man testified at his sentencing hearing earlier this week that he will not agree to a divorce under Shariah law in Canada.
“The issue of the divorce will be decided over there,” he told the judge, referring to their home country of Lebanon.
He also denied he needed treatment for his violent behaviour.
The Crown has asked for a seven-year sentence, citing the refusal to grant the Shariah divorce as an aggravating factor.
The defence has suggested a three-year sentence.
The woman earlier told the court she would like to return to her family in Lebanon but without the religious divorce and worries she could be forced to return to her husband or face charges of abducting her own daughter.
“They had a religious marriage in Lebanon and if she returns she could have problems,” Crown lawyer Sophie Lavergne told the judge.
Critics say it’s an example of the inequality of women in Shariah law that a man can simply refuse a religious divorce, even in such a case.
“The poor woman,” said Nuzhat Jafri, spokeswoman for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
“She can get a legal divorce in Quebec. . . . Whether or not it is recognized in Lebanon is another matter.”
Siddiqui suggested the woman ask an imam or a panel of Muslim scholars to acknowledge the court divorce.
“The Koran is very clear that you cannot keep women in a marriage against their will,” she said.
But the ban on Shariah within the judicial system, with all its checks and balances, means Muslims can be at the mercy of local Islamic leadership, where “there’s no way of monitoring it,” she said.
She said women like the victim in the Montreal case can feel stuck in dead marriages with no way out.
It’s not just Islamic women who can find themselves in this position.
The Supreme Court of Canada is currently considering the case of a Jewish woman who sued her husband for damages after he refused her a Jewish religious divorce, or ghet.
Stephanie Brenda Bruker and Jessel (Jason) Benjamin Marcovitz were married in Montreal in 1969 and divorced in 1980.
The divorce agreement stipulated that Marcovitz agree to the ghet – something he did not do until 1995.
Bruker, who now lives in New York, was awarded $47,500 because she couldn’t marry or have children in the interim, but that judgment was overturned by the provincial appeals court.
The Supreme Court of Canada heard the case in December and a decision is pending.
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