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Ontario law must apply in Family Arbitrations

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  • Ontario law must apply in Family Arbitrations

    Ont. law must apply in family arbitrations, including faith-based tribunals at 16:14 on November 15, 2005, EST.

    TORONTO (CP) - New legislation would mean faith-based tribunals used to settle family disputes such as divorce and child custody would have no force of law in Ontario, Attorney General Michael Bryant said Tuesday as he introduced the bill.

    "When it comes to family law arbitrations in this province, there is only one law for Ontario - Canadian law," Bryant told the legislature to cheers from his Liberal colleagues.

    The legislation is the first time the government has officially acknowledged Premier Dalton McGuinty's surprise statement to The Canadian Press last September that he would stop all religious arbitrations from having the force of law in Ontario.

    McGuinty upset several religious organizations by announcing in an interview that he would reject a recommendation to regulate a centuries' old set of Muslim religious rules known as Shariah by prohibiting faith-based arbitrations in family law.

    McGuinty wasn't in the legislature Tuesday when Bryant introduced the legislation, which the attorney general said would ensure "all family law arbitrations are conducted exclusively under Ontario and Canadian law."

    People still would be free to seek a resolution of family disputes from religious leaders, but Bryant said it would amount to "advice only" and would not be enforceable by the courts.

    Some Jewish and Muslim groups have vowed to fight to keep the faith-based tribunals, and complained they had no input before McGuinty's surprise announcement last September.

    There were protests in several cities across Canada and Europe last summer warning McGuinty not to regulate Shariah law in Ontario because of what the critics claimed was its inherent bias against women.

    Opposition critic Bob Runciman said Tuesday that the Tories supported the "general intent" of the legislation, but accused McGuinty of ducking its introduction because of the international controversy stirred up during Ontario's debate over Shariah.

    "Premier McGuinty has to share responsibility for this fiasco," Runciman said. "The question should have been resolved in a timely manner, not letting people twist in the wind and deepen societal divisions."

    The Conservatives called for public hearings on the changes to the Arbitration Act, and said religious groups that were not consulted by the government deserve to be heard on the issue.

    The New Democrats said the government should have completely banned religious tribunals from settling family disputes, even if they use Ontario and Canadian laws.

    "The government should invoke the existing provisions of the Arbitration Act to exclude, exempt family matters from arbitration," NDP justice critic Peter Kormos told the legislature.

    "The attorney general and this government have made a bad situation worse."

    The bill also authorizes the province to regulate family law arbitrators for the first time, and sets out the training and other requirements they must meet.

    The changes also remove the ability of people who agree to family arbitration to waive their right to appeal, so anyone not satisfied after arbitration can ask an Ontario court for a review.