Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand in the House today to support Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
The measures in the bill reflect our Conservative government's unwavering commitment to the protection of vulnerable women and children, whether they are newcomers to Canada or born in this country.
I know that many of my colleagues here today share our government's strong conviction that we must do everything in our power to ensure that barbaric cultural practices such as polygamy, forced and underage marriage, and so-called honour killings do not occur on Canadian soil. These are practices that discriminate against and perpetrate violence against women and girls, and they have no place in Canadian society.
Now that the bill has been public for several months, Canadians have had the chance to understand and react to its provisions. I have been heartened by the support that Bill S-7 has received. I will provide several examples.
Daphne Bramham of The Vancouver Sun, who has covered these issues more than most Canadian journalists, wrote the following in her column on December 9, 2014:
Forced marriages, child marriages and polygamy are barbaric practices and anathema to the equality rights of children and women.
After more than a century of ignoring them, the government's bill takes Canada a step closer toward eliminating them.
In an op-ed in the National Post last November 13, Aruna Papp wrote movingly about Bill S-7, relating it to her own personal experiences with abuse. Here is a short excerpt:
Forced into an abusive marriage at 17 and unable to leave it for 18 years, I can attest to the fact that a forced marriage is effectively a life of slavery. I congratulate the Canadian government for taking a bold step on behalf of women who have nowhere to turn for help.
Over the past 30 years, I have founded agencies in Toronto that assist immigrant women; I have met hundreds of women who are victims of forced marriages and domestic violence. The government's “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” recognizes the plight of these women. In presenting this bill, the government of Canada has said, in effect, “As a Canadian citizen, you, too, deserve to live a life free of violence and coercion.” For this, I am grateful.
On December 12, Tahir Gora, CEO of the Canadian Thinkers' Forum, wrote a blog post for The Huffington Post in support of the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. He wrote:
Minister Alexander is right. Violence against women is an absolutely barbaric act. It must be addressed strongly. Forced marriages, polygamy and honour killings happen every day around the globe under the guise of cultural practices. Should those cultural practices not be condemned? Calling a spade a spade should not be a political issue in a country like Canada where human rights guarantee equal rights to women.
I had the opportunity to sit on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration of the House as we studied Bill S-7. On April 23, immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges told committee members:
I believe the immigration provisions of Bill S-7 send a very strong statement that polygamy is not and will not be tolerated in Canada. The negative effects of polygamy on women and children are very well documented in sociological studies.
She added that the bill sends:
...a concrete statement about Canadian values. I think this is important in a context where our society is increasingly relativist and, in a rush to respect other cultures, we often overlook the fact that there is a reason why our own Canadian culture has developed in the way that it has.
At that same session, Vancouver lawyer and columnist Kathryn Marshall said:
At the heart of this bill is gender equality and the right of women and girls to be equal in Canada. As a woman, I feel very fortunate that I was born in a country in which the rights of women and girls are protected and in which we are equal to men. I feel fortunate that my daughter was born in a country where her gender does not sentence her to a lifetime of second-class citizenship.
At the core is the fact that equality is a fundamental human right in Canada. It is a core of who we are as people, a core value. It's something that cannot be taken for granted. We have to protect it and preserve it.
Gender equality should never be taken for granted, even in a place like Canada, where it is a core value of who we are as people. Critics of this bill have said that such horrendous acts as honour killings, polygamy, and child marriage should not be a priority of this government because they don't happen with enough frequency in this country. To those critics I would say that one occurrence of these brutal and un-Canadian acts is one enough: there should never be any of these acts. We should always take action. The reality is that we're not talking about a few isolated incidents. This is something that's becoming increasingly more common. The trend seems to be that's it's occurring with more frequency each year.
With the passage of this bill, Canada will be joining other nations that have taken a strong stance against forced and child marriage by making it illegal.
To critics who have objected to the name of the bill, Ms. Marshall countered, stating:
The horrifying reality is that culture is an essential part of honour violence. In parts of the world it is condoned and is legal. We must not be afraid to label barbaric practices as what they are.
I think that calling the bill what it currently is called shows a strong stance. History has shown us that language is an important tool, and we should use it. We should call these acts what they are, which is barbaric.
Finally, I would like to share the words of Salma Siddiqui, the president of the Coalition of Progressive Canadian Muslim Organizations, who told committee members:
The Government of Canada's decision to table a bill for zero tolerance of barbaric cultural practices is the right move and should be welcomed. For too long women have been oppressed through polygamy and forced marriages....
The bill is really about protecting women and should be seen as a welcome step. People coming to Canada must conform to our values. They have to put aside their past understanding of women. In this country, men and women are equal before the law and in society.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to share these words of praise for Bill S-7 from a number of notable Canadians. I hope that my fellow members of the House will take these words to heart and support the bill's important provisions.