Opposing groups unite to fight polygamy

  • March 6, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Groups on opposing sides of the same-sex marriage debate have joined forces to oppose the legalization of polygamy.

“We feel (polygamy) would be a very backward step for our nation,” said Institute for Canadian Values founder Charles McVety, who joined Canadian Family Action Coalition president Brian Rushfeldt and Muslim Canadian Congress president Farzana Hassan at a news conference March 3 on Parliament Hill.

Rushfeldt warned of “moral and legal chaos” with devastating consequences to Canada’s immigration, welfare, health care, education and family law systems should the law prohibiting polygamy be struck down by the courts.

In January, British Columbia charged two members of a breakaway Mormon sect with violating Canada’s polygamy laws, but some constitutional experts have said the law will not survive a charter religious freedom challenge. McVety said the three groups wanted to be “proactive” rather than waiting for the courts. They have launched a web site at www.stoppolygamy.ca.

“Once the judges have done their deed, it’s very difficult to overcome this,” said McVety, who with Rushfeldt was a key player in a coalition of groups that tried to save the traditional definition of marriage after provincial court judges struck down the marriage law in 2003.

The Muslim congress, however, supports same-sex marriage because it is a consensual “contract between two equal partners,” said Hassan, who described her organization as representing “secular” and “progressive” Muslims.

“Women are always shortchanged when polygamy is allowed to flourish,” she said.

A Muslim woman from Pakistan, Hassan said she has seen the negative effects of polygamy.

In a polygamous relationship, the partners are never equal, she said. While polygamy is optional in Islam, she said, a man can take up to four wives without requiring the permission of the first and subsequent wives.

“Women are being discriminated against in every way,” she said.

“Women are treated as subhuman in many parts of the Muslim world.”

Polygamy also has negative effects on children.

“It’s very traumatic for the children if their mother is dethroned,” she said. “Sometimes the first family is just abandoned.”

Rushfeldt said Parliament should invoke the charter’s notwithstanding clause if the B.C. court does strike down the Criminal Code provision against polygamy.

McVety noted Ontario and some other jurisdictions already turn a blind eye to multiple wives. Hassan said she knows of about 100 Muslim men in the Greater Toronto Area who are in polygamous relationships. Some are exploiting immigration laws and putting their wives on welfare, stressing the system, she said.

Should the law change, what is now a small problem involving a tiny minority could mushroom, as the most fundamentalist Muslims would see its legalization as an opportunity to use family immigration provisions to import girls from places like Pakistan or Afghanistan, Hassan said. Some of these girls will be imported against their will, she warned. Already some “wives” are being exploited as maids in some polygamous GTA households.

Hassan admitted her stand against a traditional understanding of Islam is risky. She said she has been called an apostate and lives under a death threat. The numbers of those who practice an extreme form of Islam is small, about 15-20 per cent of the Canadian Muslim population, but in a panel discussion later that day for MPs and staffers, she said extremists would grow in number if polygamy were legalized.

At the panel discussion, former CSIS strategic planning chief David Harris said legalizing polygamy would lead to the proliferation of the most radical and extreme forms of Islam in Canada. Though the majority of Muslims oppose this, Harris said extremists with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood based in Egypt had a 1991 blueprint for the “ideological colonization” of the West, a form of “civilizational jihad.” It focused on invasion and the shifting of Western values and norms through both intimidation and more subtle means. This blueprint was recently exposed during a major terrorism trial in the United States.

Harris urged the rejection of polygamy as a “retrograde and medieval construct” that would have a severe negative impact on human dignity, the status of women and the rights of children.

Hassan said Harris’ warning is justified. She said a small number of Muslims are Islamists, and, while not terrorists, want to impose Islam to create a global caliphate. She warned that polygamy would empower the most exploitative and extreme form of Islam.

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