Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to rise in the House to speak on behalf of the people of Alfred-Pellan in Laval, whom I have been fortunate to represent for the past four years.
Today, I am speaking to Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, or as the Conservatives like to call it, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.
In the speeches that were made today, I heard many references to equal opportunities for women and the marginalization of women. I would really like to talk about that aspect in particular. However, first, I would like to mention a few little things that are directly related to the Conservative government's proposal and the work that my colleagues on this side of the House have done on Bill S-7.
To begin, I would like to thank my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard, our immigration critic, who did an incredible job examining Bill S-7. I saw the work that she did in committee and the amendments that she wants to propose. She has my full support for the amendments she wants to make to improve Bill S-7, as it now stands.
First of all, I have to say that I support the intent of the bill, which seeks to combat polygamy and forced and underage marriage. I also recognize that any violence against women and children is completely unacceptable and that there is still a lot of work to be done to prevent and crack down on these crimes.
However, I remain convinced that this bill does not adequately respond to such serious problems. In fact, Bill S-7 could make existing problems worse. It is important to mention that no woman should be subjected to gender-based violence, and that includes forced and underage marriage. This bill could inadvertently have very serious consequences for women and children by putting more social pressure on the victims of forced marriage and deporting victims of polygamy, for example.
If, as they often say, the Conservatives really care about the victims, they will heed the warnings of the different experts who appeared before the committee and conduct more detailed studies before adopting measures such as the ones proposed here. Instead of focusing on such a sensationalistic bill, with the short title proposed by the Conservatives, a bill that does not address the root of the problem, I sincerely believe that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration should conduct serious, large-scale consultations with community groups and experts to fix the real problem of sexual violence.
There are a number of things that the government could do to help women who are marginalized. Despite the fact that the number of women MPs in the House of Commons has reached a record high, women have a long way to go to achieve equal representation. However, I hope we will steadily approach that target as more women stand for office. Nonetheless, there are different measures that the government could adopt to help women throughout the world take an interest in politics—whether municipal, provincial or federal—and in changing laws to meet their needs. We know that when more women hold power, the laws and approaches are very different. Problems are solved by women for women. It has been shown that it is very positive to have a parliament composed of 50% or more women. This leads to changes in the bills that are introduced.
This is an extremely sensationalistic bill, and I deplore that. I sincerely hope that my colleagues on the other side of the House will take the time to examine the amendments put forward by my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard, who simply wants to bring some common sense to this bill. Once again, I still believe in and have a lot of faith in this Parliament, and that will not stop. I sincerely believe that we can work together.
The House of Commons has committees to study bills with various experts, such as community leaders and experts in general law, civil law or immigration.
These experts did not have harsh words, but they did share some concerns. On this side of the House I would say that we did some worthwhile work with the proposals made by the experts and others invited to the committee. We took their ideas to try to improve this bill, because what we have been trying to propose all along is common sense. However, the concrete measures set out in Bill S-7 will unfortunately not have the desired impact.
I am making a heartfelt plea to the Minister of Immigration today. I ask him to consider these amendments, eliminate the sensationalistic and partisan aspects of this bill, and bring some common sense to this bill. A real consultation on Bill S-7 is needed.
From what I read of the testimony, there was a lack of consultation. I would like to quote a statement by Action Canada for Sexual Rights and Health:
The bill reflects a lack of consultation (closed-door meetings and invitation-only consultations), and a lack of transparency, participation and public debate. The proposed amendments are not based on the experiences of women and girls who have survived acts of violence, such as forced marriage.
That is pretty serious testimony about the lack of consultation. I sincerely believe that if a bill purports to help women and children across Canada in terms of forced marriage and violence against women, it should include real solutions to help them.
All members of the House are very familiar with the organizations in their ridings and the incredible work they do. In Laval, many organizations work to help women in various ways. They might be active in politics, encouraging women to run for office and participate actively in elections. Organizations also help women who are often in need. One that comes to mind is the Table de concertation de Laval en condition féminine. Many of my colleagues on this side of the House also have Afeas in their ridings. I see my colleague from Laval—Les Îles nodding. That organization is very visible in my riding; I am speaking for both of us. Afeas is very visible in Laval. Its goal is to help women, help them escape marginalization and misery, and ensure that women have the same rights as men across the country. So much needs to be done.
I see that my time is almost up, but I would like to comment briefly on what could be done to help women across the country. It is not necessarily just what is being put forward in Bill S-7. There are a lot of things we could do to help women in different communities.
When I asked my colleague from Halifax a question, I mentioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which recently submitted its report and 94 recommendations. I think the federal government has a role to play in about a good third of the recommendations. It could do something about the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women all across Canada. It should have done something about that issue a long time ago. I truly believe that if the government really wanted to help murdered and missing indigenous women and their families, it would do something.
A number of other subjects could have been addressed to end the marginalization of women. Two examples that come to mind are pay equity and women's leadership on corporate boards, whether public or private. Something really meaningful could have been done.
Regarding Bill S-7, I have to point out again that we could make it better. It is not too late. The NDP has proposed some amendments. I still hope that the Conservatives will agree to compromise a little, ensure that these amendments are incorporated into the bill and put an end to all the smoke and mirrors. In the end, that is all that Bill S-7 really is.