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A man ‘cannot do that to a woman’: Why polygamy in Canadian Muslim community could be another #MeToo moment

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Zaib’s life began to unravel with an unexpected phone call from her husband in early 2018.

He told her he had married a second wife, an announcement that took the Toronto woman by surprise.   

“I went into shock mode. I was in a state of denial, saying no, no, this can’t be happening. I started getting the symptoms of anxiety, depression and crying spells,” Zaib told CBC’s The Fifth Estate.

Zaib, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold, said she got so sick her doctor recommended an extended leave of absence from work.

Zaib and other Canadian Muslim women in a similar predicament believe this could be their own #MeToo moment, an opportunity to speak out and demand an end to the practice of polygamy in Canada’s Muslim community.  

“All the other women are quiet, not saying anything. Maybe if I say a thing or two, that will bring attention to this issue because this is the law and men are breaking it right, left and centre and nobody’s saying anything to them,” said Zaib.

She feels there should be accountability on the part of men.

“A man should know he cannot do that to a woman — you use her and then decide you’re going to have another fresh woman and you just leave her on the side like that.”

Determination to move on

Zaib’s husband tried to reassure her that he had no intention of abandoning her or their three adult children. Zaib said he told her: “I am going to still provide for you, take care of you and the kids. You can continue living the way you’re living and it’s just going to be one extended family.”  

As the weeks went by, Zaib said she became increasingly convinced that her 26-year marriage was over. She was 19 when her parents arranged her marriage to her husband, who is 20 years her senior.

Looking back at her marriage, Zaib said she was happy. “Whatever was my destiny I got it.”

Zaib and her husband were married in Saudi Arabia. (Submitted by Zaib (last name withheld))

Zaib was born in Pakistan and her husband was born in India, but after their marriage in Saudi Arabia, they moved to Canada in the mid-1990s.

Zaib, who speaks multiple languages, found work as a translator in Toronto. But as employment opportunities for her husband dried up in Canada, he went to the United States in search of work and was away from the family for weeks at a time.

After she spent two months trying to figure out what to do with her life, Zaib’s husband returned to Toronto for a scheduled visit.

Realizing that Zaib was unwilling to accept his decision, he suggested they seek the counsel of their local imam. Zaib said the imam listened to both of them, but then told her husband that although Islamic law allowed polygamy, plural marriages are banned in Canada.  

CBC reached out to Zaib’s husband, who is not being named to protect his wife’s identity, but did not receive a response.

In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the section of the Criminal Code that prohibits polygamy as constitutional and ruled that the harm against women and children from polygamy far outweighs concerns over protecting religious freedom.

‘Unfair to women’

The Canadian Council of Imams, which represents the majority of imams in Canada, has declared that polygamous marriages, permitted according to the Qur’an, are nevertheless not valid because they are a violation of Canadian law.

The majority of Muslim jurists say a Muslim man is permitted to take up to four wives, but only if he can treat them all fairly and with justice.

In some Middle Eastern countries, polygamy is regulated and the second, third or fourth wife, has legal rights. But that’s not the case in Canada, says Imam Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

“The way polygamy is practised today is unfair to women,” Slimi said.

Imam Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ont., has preached openly against the practice of polygamy in Canada. (CBC)

In a recent sermon at his centre, Slimi told his congregation that polygamy “was permitted for a certain time and within a certain context in the past, hundreds of years ago, but here in Canada, it’s not allowed and 95 or 99 per cent of women don’t agree with this and I am talking about Muslim women.”

Although Slimi was head of the Canadian Council of Imams for more than a decade and has preached openly against the practice of polygamy in Canada, he admits that it continues.

It continues in part because an imam is not required to solemnize a marriage in the Islamic faith. Anyone with a basic requisite knowledge of the Qur’an and the prophetic traditions can officiate a nikah — or marriage — ceremony.  

But Slimi insists that all nikahs or marriages, whether conducted by an imam or not, should be registered with the authorities to ensure that they comply with the law.  

Zaib’s not alone

Over the last several months, a team at the The Fifth Estate talked to nearly a dozen women from the Greater Toronto Area, which has an extremely diverse population of more than half a million Muslims.

According to Statistics Canada, there are more than one million Muslims in Canada, but when it comes to polygamous marriages in the community, it is impossible to quantify because these marriages are most likely never registered.  

The women The Fifth Estate spoke with are or were wives of Sunni imams and prominent community leaders and all share a common story to that of Zaib.

“I thought this doesn’t happen in Canada. It’s illegal and maybe there are some consequences, but to my surprise, when I went into the situation, I have a friend, I spoke with her and found out she’s getting a divorce because her husband [has] a second wife,” said Zaib.

The first wives who shared their story with CBC did so on condition that their identities not be revealed to protect themselves and their children from a potential backlash within the Muslim community.

When we were married, my husband told me his religious teacher said it was permissible for a man to lie to his wife about taking a second wife if the intention is to keep her happy and to keep the peace. – Alima

After 18 years of marriage and three children, Alima, not her real name, demanded her husband grant her a divorce after he confessed last summer that he had done a nikah to another woman. At the time, Alima found out the second wife was pregnant with her husband’s child.  

“When we were married,” Alima said, “my husband told me his religious teacher said it was permissible for a man to lie to his wife about taking a second wife if the intention is to keep her happy and to keep the peace.”

After their divorce, Alima said, “I had to work on keeping my faith, otherwise, I may have lost it completely.”  

Another woman, Kareema, a friend of Alima, is also struggling to keep her faith having experienced a similar ordeal. Kareema, not her real name, converted to Islam and got married to her husband in Toronto in 2000. After giving birth to the youngest of three children in 2016, Kareema said, her husband began having an affair.

“A prominent imam in Toronto advised him to marry (nikah) the woman to avoid commiting the sin of adultery,” said Kareema. “Instead of correcting the wrong that my husband was doing, the imam compounded it with another wrong.”  

Kareema said she confronted the second wife and when her husband found out, he assaulted her. “It took two years for me to leave him.” 

Kareema said the #MeToo movement has awakened her and Alima and although they wish to speak up, they remain afraid for their safety and the security of their children.  

According to court records obtained by the The Fifth Estate, another prominent Toronto imam attacked his wife and sent her to hospital after she confronted him on his “secret nikah” to another woman. After years of marriage and two children, her marriage to him recently ended in a divorce.

‘I see nothing wrong with it’

Issa is a convert to Islam and a chef in Toronto who says he is open to the idea of taking a second wife, although he is well aware it is an offence punishable in Canada with up to a maximum of five years in prison.

“I see nothing wrong with it. It’s part of our religion. That’s why I am open to it and I accept it.”

Issa, who asked to be identified by his Muslim name, said when he married his wife in an Islamic ceremony, they agreed not to register their marriage, a legal requirement in Canada.

Issa, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold, says he is open to the idea of taking a second wife. (CBC)

Issa mistakenly believes that when he eventually takes a second wife he cannot be accused of breaking the law since none of his marriages would be registered with the authorities.

When asked what his wife thinks of his decision, he said, “My wife’s a woman, so you know, most of the times women don’t like it, but she accepts it. She understands that this is our religion. This is what Allah has allowed for us, so she definitely accepts it.”

Finding second wives

It is not that difficult for men like Issa to find second wives. Several Muslim matrimonial websites have sprung up worldwide catering to men seeking polygamous relationships and to women who are open to such arrangements.

A producer with The Fifth Estate registered himself on two websites and was soon communicating with women who were interested in being a second wife.

One of the women who expressed an interest in a polygamous marriage was Haleemah, a Toronto-area resident and a convert to Islam.

Haleemah, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold, says she would accept being in a polygamous marriage with conditions. (CBC)

Haleemah is single and divorced with two adult children. She said she would accept a polygamous marriage but with conditions.

“I have had Muslims ask me in the past, ‘Would you like to be a second wife?’ and I would say if I was in a polygamist marriage and the first wife was accepting of this, I would welcome her and help her in any way I can because I’ve been through raising a family,” she said.

Asked whether the illegality of polygamy was a concern for her, she said while she was aware it was illegal, “in some situations, I think some imams are willing to help.”

Some imans known to help men find second wives

Many of the women who told The Fifth Estate their husbands had taken second wives pointed out a number of imams in Ontario who are known to assist Muslim women like Haleemah in finding husbands who are already married, and who help match men like Issa to aspiring second wives.

The Fifth Estate wanted to put the rumours that were circulating in Toronto about some imams to the test and sent a married Muslim man undercover.

Of the six imams who were approached, two declined to perform a nikah ceremony for a married man. Two congratulated the undercover for his decision to take a second wife and recommended other Ontario imams whom they said would perform the nikah.

The Fifth Estate’s hidden camera recorded Imam Aly Hindy offering an already married Muslim man a copy of the certificate he would receive for a second marriage. (CBC)

Two imams agreed to perform the nikah ceremony for the married undercover. One said it would cost $450 and suggested three locations in Toronto where the ceremony could take place.

The second imam, Aly Hindy, serves as the imam at the Salaheddin mosque in the east end of Toronto. He charges a standard fee of $200 for a nikah ceremony, regardless of whether it is a first, second or third marriage. He offered to supply the two male witnesses required by Islamic law.   

After showing the undercover a copy of the marriage certificate he would receive, Hindy provided his own interpretation of Canadian law.

“We have no problem with the government because we are not going to register. If you register, then it is illegal, because you are already married.”

‘Let them sue me’

In an interview with The Fifth Estate, CBC’s Habiba Nosheen showed Hindy the undercover video of him agreeing to conduct a second marriage for a man who was already married and asked him for his reaction.

“So? Sue me. Let them sue me. We follow the law because we’re not registering a second marriage,” he said.

When asked to explain why he endorses the practice of polygamy in violation of Canadian law, he insisted the law should be changed.

When pressed for an explanation, Hindy described it as a “garbage law,” and said “eventually we’re going to recognize that there’s not enough men for each woman.”

“Many women will not be able to get married because there are not enough men because men die in wars, children die early and there are more boys than girls. Plus you also lose some number of men to homosexual marriages.”

Nosheen suggested the law will not change because people chose not to respect it, to which Hindy said, “OK, the law cannot be enforced.”

Enforcing the law

Toronto lawyer Sabha Hazai, who sits on the board of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women,  is spearheading a project aimed at educating Muslim women on their legal rights when getting married. She said the current law lacks teeth.

“It’s up to the lawmakers and it’s up to the courts now. How do they want to address polygamy? Are they going to start looking at enforcing the law? Are there going to be criminal prosecutions?

“Are there going to be convictions? Can you call the police and say: ‘My husband’s in a second marriage, please charge him for it?’ ”

Toronto lawyer Sabha Hazai says Canada’s current law on polygamy lacks teeth. (CBC)

The law has never been tested in respect to the practice of polygamy among Canadian Muslims.

When asked for his reaction to imams who perform polygamous marriages, Slimi was unequivocal.

“What upsets me is if we want to be part of Canada and call ourselves Canadian Muslims, we have to be part of this society.”

Polygamy, he said, “was permissible and it’s permissible in other countries, but it’s illegal here. The issue is not because I have a choice, I don’t have a choice.”

For women like Zaib, there is no compromise on the issue of polygamy in Canada.

“I’m going to be living the rest of my life with a burden and I know myself, I thought the best way, just let him go live his life and I’ll figure out my own life.”

With files from Habiba Nosheen and Tamar Weinstein

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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