Hundreds of GTA Muslim men in polygamous marriages -- some with a harem of wives -- are receiving welfare and social benefits for each of their spouses, thanks to the city and province, Muslim leaders say.
Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, said wives in polygamous marriages are recognized as spouses under the Ontario Family Law Act, providing they were legally married under Muslim laws abroad.
"Polygamy is a regular part of life for many Muslims," Ali said yesterday. "Ontario recognizes religious marriages for Muslims and others."
He estimates "several hundred" GTA husbands in polygamous marriages are receiving benefits. Under Islamic law, a Muslim man is permitted to have up to four spouses.
However, city and provincial officials said legally a welfare applicant can claim only one spouse. Other adults living in the same household can apply for welfare independently.
The average recipient with a child can receive about $1,500 monthly, city officials said.
FAMILY LAW ACT
In addressing the issue of polygamous marriages, the preamble to the Ontario Family Law Act states: "In the definition of 'spouse,' a reference to marriage includes a marriage that is actually or potentially polygamous, if it was celebrated in a jurisdiction whose system of law recognizes it as valid. R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3, s. 1 (2)."
"There are many people in the community who are taking advantage of this," Ali said. "This is a law and there's nothing wrong with it."
Immigration officials said yesterday that polygamous marriages aren't allowed in Canada, but that contradicts the provincial law.
"Canada is a very liberal-minded country," Ali said. "Canada is way ahead of Britain in this respect."
He said Britain recently began permitting husbands to collect benefits for each of their wives.
The British government recently admitted that nearly a thousand men are living legally with multiple wives in Britain. Although the families are entitled to claim social security for each wife, the department for work and pensions said it has not counted how many are on benefits.
In Canada, Ali said, the man and his main wife and children enter Canada as landed immigrants. The other spouses are sponsored or arrive as visitors to join their husband to share one home.
The families receiving benefits didn't want their identities released because it can lead to questions by authorities on how they entered Canada and can mean an end to their benefits, Ali said.
Brenda Nesbitt, the city's director of social services, said benefits are only paid to one spouse and names and addresses are cross-checked for possible fraud.
"There may be polygamous cases we are not aware off," Nesbitt said yesterday. "They can apply as single people and we won't know."
Ontario Community and Social Services spokesman Erike Botond said a social assistance benefit may only include one spouse. "Other adults residing in the same dwelling place as a recipient and their spouse may apply as individuals."
"I can assure you that polygamy is not recognized under immigration legislation," immigration spokesman Karen Shadd-Evelyn said yesterday. "A conjugal relationship, whether involving marriage or a common-law partnership, must be exclusive."
Councillor Rob Ford said taxpayers' money should be spent on education and schools instead.
"This is wrong," Ford said yesterday. "They should put a stop to this immediately."