Will Canada ban circumcision? Not likely, observers say

A campaign to ban circumcision for infants and children has taken hold in Iceland and Denmark but is far too radical a notion for Canada to consider, say observers here. Despite declining rates of circumcision, many Canadians remain ardent advocates of the right to snip — and not just for religious reasons, notes York University human rights Prof. Minoo Derayeh.

The academic, a specialist on world religions, notes that Canada’s significantly more racially diverse population makes the politicized issue tougher to reconcile with a national identity rooted in tolerance and liberalism.

“Our immigration law is more towards multiculturalism so we are all a part of the mosaic and it’s a part of the identity of people,” says Derayeh, noting it would be hard for a Jewish or Muslim person to not see this as an affront to tenets of their faith.A Canadian Jewish human rights group condemned the Nordic movement this week, insisting “there can be no Jewish community without circumcision.”

“Although it’s proposed using human rights language, this is rather the denial of rights — it’s the denial of religious rights,” Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, adds in an interview.

“Should this proposal pass, these communities will no longer be able to exist as viable communities in Iceland. Circumcision is not discretionary but it is rather central in Jewish life and practice throughout history.”

Iceland’s parliament proposed a controversial age-restricted bill last month that would make it a crime to circumcise a baby for non-medical reasons, arguing that boys are unable to “give informed consent to an irreversible physical intervention.”

At least 400 doctors have backed the bill, but religious groups around the world are pushing back, fearing its success could empower politicians elsewhere to bring in their own restrictions.

And a broader movement to ban circumcision — the act of removing the foreskin of the penis, usually when the child is a newborn — does appear to be gaining steam.

Anti-circumcision activists in Denmark are circulating a petition to force their government to consider a similar law. They’ve reportedly collected nearly half of the 50,000 signatures they need to create a bill that would set 18 years as the minimum age for the procedure.

The founder of the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project says he wouldn’t be surprised if one of those proposals succeed, noting that circumcision is not as deeply embedded in European culture as it is in North America.

“Somebody does have to go first, and Scandinavia is a place where a lot of socially progressive politics have emerged,” says Glen Callender, noting that the first same sex marriage was in the Netherlands.