Canada: Polygamous Ontario Muslims collecting multiple benefit cheques

Toronto Sun
Polygamous Muslims in Ontario receive benefits, although polygamy is officially illegal in Canada.
An abuse of the welfare system by GTA [Greater Toronto Area, ed.] Muslim men allowed to live in polygamous marriages under a controversial Ontario law was met with shock and outrage yesterday.
Politicians and the public reacted angrily to an exclusive story in yesterday's Toronto Sun about how the men collected social benefits for up to four wives.

Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, said hundreds of members of his community in polygamous marriages have been collecting welfare for some time.

The Ontario Family Law Act recognizes wives in polygamous marriages as spouses, providing the marriages were conducted legally under Islamic law abroad.

Ali said Muslims now want the polygamous marriages to be recognized under federal immigration laws so they can legally sponsor their wives here. Immigration spokesman Karen Shadd-Evelyn said only one marriage is recognized in Canada.

Under Islamic law, a Muslim man is permitted to have up to four spouses, many who join their husband and his main wife in Canada as landed immigrants or visitors.

Opposition leader John Tory said Premier Dalton McGuinty has to clarify the meaning of the polygamy law to Ontario residents. Polygamy is illegal in Canada, but recognized in the province, he said.

"Our rules are our rules and it says one cheque for one spouse," Tory said yesterday. "The government has to clarify how the law works with each other." Tory called for more enforcement to ensure the law is not abused.

Toronto city councillor Rob Ford said he's calling on Ontario Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur to review the polygamous marriage policy since it contravenes Canadian laws .

"I want to know what is the rationale behind the law," Ford said yesterday. "If there isn't one, I will be asking for the law to be repealed." Ford said taxpayer funds can be used for more pressing issues like lowering taxes. The province spent $1.5 billion on Ontario Works program last year. The city will dish out 20% of that sum. "I don't know if we should subsidize something that is illegal in Canada," Ford said. "This matter has to be looked into further."

Brenda Nesbitt, the city's director of social services, said polygamous spouses can apply individually and her officials may never know. "These people are screened and we look at their income and assets," Nesbitt said yesterday.

More than 100 Sun readers sent e-mails yesterday and phoned the newsroom to complain of the use of taxpayers funds. "This country surely has lots of room for immigrants and refugees," wrote Marilyn Zavitz, of Toronto. "I'm not so sure our social welfare system has room for this abuse."

9 February 2008