Canadian officials contacted the Afghan government Tuesday to express concern about controversial new legislation that would reportedly force women to have sex with their husbands.
The Canadian government reacted with outrage following reports that the administration of President Hamid Karzai has approved a wide-ranging family law for the country's Shia minority.
Various reports say the legislation would make it illegal for Shia women to refuse their husbands sex, leave the house without their permission or have custody of children.
Canadian officials contacted the Karzai's office, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon spoke to two Afghan cabinet ministers Tuesday seeking clarification.
Karzai's office has so far refused to comment on the legislation, which has been criticized by some Afghan parliamentarians and a UN women's agency but has not yet been published.
Critics say Karzai's government approved it in a hurry to win support in the upcoming election from ethnic Hazaras — a Shia Muslim minority that constitutes a crucial block of swing voters.
"If these reports are true, this will create serious problems for Canada," said International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, who fielded questions in the House of Commons.
"The onus is on the government of Afghanistan to live up to its responsibilities for human rights, absolutely including rights of women.
"If there's any wavering on this point from the government of Afghanistan, this will create serious problems and be a serious disappointment for us" Day said.
Late Tuesday, Canadian officials said they had learned the law was not yet in effect but that they remained "very concerned."
The Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for women, but also allows the Shia to have separate family law based on religious tradition.
Some international monitors have avoided discussing the issue, for fear of feeding the impression that exists among Afghans that their government takes its marching orders from the West.
Female parliamentarians in Afghanistan have condemned the legislation, as has the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
They were joined Tuesday by the NDP, which has opposed the Afghan military mission.
"How can we say that our soldiers are there to protect women's rights when the Western-backed leader of this nation pushes through laws like this?" said NDP MP Dawn Black.
"Allowing women to be treated like a piece of property … is this what we're fighting for? Is this what our people are dying for in Afghanistan?"