moved that 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, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, as I think every member of the House knows, it is a core obligation of Parliament and of governments in Canada to support, and when necessary, to reform our immigration system to ensure that it drives Canada's growth and economic success, as it has always done. That is exactly what this government has done over nine very productive years.
Second, it is a key obligation of governments in this country to continue Canada's long and distinguished humanitarian tradition to make sure that we are at the forefront of efforts to respond to suffering in the world, to meet the needs of the vulnerable, and for as many as can we support, to resettle refugees and asylum seekers on our shores.
That is the story at the very heart of who we are as Canadians. It has been there from the beginning, from the days when French speaking settlers came to Canada fleeing wars of religion in Europe and the days when English speaking loyalists came to Canada from the United States seeking a better life and seeking to continue to embrace the values they held sacred. They were values of responsible government, self-government, respect for human dignity, respect for the rule of law, and in the case of the loyalists, allegiance to the crown.
That story of humanitarian engagement has been central to our immigration system from the beginning, and we have a responsibility to renew that system.
However, we cannot achieve either of these goals if we turn a blind eye to the mistreatment of those in any of our immigration programs. We cannot achieve either of those goals if we pretend that Canada is somehow immune to global trends that lead to abuse, movements of people against their will, and violence. It is violence that is sometimes masked in very sophisticated ways by sweet-talking husbands, sophisticated consultants, and groups that have an economic interest, or sometimes a political and non-economic motive, to move people against their will, to violate their rights, to take them across borders, and to compel them to undertake important decisions against their will.
That is why, over our nine years in office, we have never hesitated to take action to ensure the integrity of our immigration and citizenship programs. That is why we, on this side of the House, are very proud to be debating Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, which would do just that. It would bolster our defences against forms of violence, abuse, and human smuggling that are all too current in today's world. Given Canada's intimate ties with every part of the world, the strength of our immigration programs, and the number of visitors to this country, these are phenomena from which we are far from invulnerable. They affect us in this country, and this bill would do an enormous amount to combat them.
What would Bill S-7 do that has not already been done? We are building on a legacy of success in this regard in Canada. It would lift the whole question of polygamy, which already results in criminal sanctions under the Criminal Code, to the level of a principle of inadmissibility to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It would, quite simply, make it much easier for us to keep polygamists out of Canada when they try to enter, either openly or by attempting to disguise polygamist relationships and multiple marriages.
Second, and this is perhaps the most dramatic provision, because it is potentially relevant to every Canadian, the bill would raise the national minimum age for marriage to 16. I think many of us on this side of the House, and many Canadians, were not aware of the fact that there was no minimum age in Canada under the Civil Marriage Act, under federal legislation. In nine provinces and territories, except for Quebec, the minimum age to marry has not been determined to be 16 by provincial or territorial legislation either. Therefore, this is a very positive step that literally takes us out of the Middle Ages on this front.
The bill would give us tools to combat early and forced marriage and very nefarious forms of the compulsion to marry for women and girls, which can lead to a lifetime of misery, violence, and sexual abuse.
Third, the bill would create a formal requirement for those marrying to dissolve all previous unions. That would become part of the Civil Marriage Act. In a country where polygamy has been illegal and where it has long been only legal to be married to one person, it would seem to be self-evident that this change must take place. I think common sense has prevailed, but given recent experience, we need it to be a formal requirement in the Civil Marriage Act that all previous unions be dissolved.
Why is that? It is because sometimes these unions take place far from Canada's shores. Sometimes they have taken place in a way that was not formally registered with civil authorities, even in that country of origin. Sometimes those wishing to disguise their polygamist relationships as other forms of kinship with family members will go to great lengths to maintain a second or third union that was consummated in another country. We need to formally require, for the sake of women of girls and for the sake of Canadian values, to dissolve any previous unions.
Fourth, and this really is at the core of this bill, Bill S-7 would require those marrying to give their free and enlightened consent. We cannot emphasize enough how important this principle of the bill is.
It is not enough simply to stand in a ceremony with loved ones and family to consummate a marriage. It is not enough to have a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony, with all the formalities that involves. The public aspect is important, obviously. The traditional aspect is important. There is a wide variety of marriage traditions in Canada, religious and otherwise, all of which are welcome on our shores. However, if the person standing in that wedding ceremony repeating those vows in public maintains a private conviction that she or he has not chosen that marriage or voluntarily entered into that union, that is when forced marriage happens.
We know that forced marriage is happening on a large scale. We know from NGOs, settlement agencies, Canadians, and committee testimony that this is the case. It is not happening widely in a huge percentage of marriages, but hundreds of cases we know of, and thousands of cases we suspect, have involved payments for one family to oblige one of its members to marry into another. There is compulsion, such as the threat of violence, physical abuse, exclusion, or financial abandonment. These are the kinds of things that lead women and girls, and sometimes men and boys, to enter into marriages without having given their free and enlightened consent. We must speak for these victims of the crime of forced marriage.
It is a crime in Canada, but we must speak up further to Bill S-7 to ensure that free and enlightened consent is given in each and every case and that anyone who is complicit in a marriage in which free and enlightened consent has not been given will face the criminal justice system.
This bill criminalizes active and knowing participation in a forced marriage or the removal of a person from Canada for purposes of underage or forced marriage. In other words, if a parent, God forbid, or an agent who is receiving financial benefit for a forced marriage or someone who is in a relationship of influence or intimidation or has even threatened one of the parties to the marriage actively and knowingly facilitates a forced marriage, a union in which free and enlightened consent has not been given, under Bill S-7 that person would face consequences under the Criminal Code of Canada.
We are also seeking to limit the defence of provocation, because honour, in whatever form, is not an excuse for violence. We do not want Canada to be a country where a crime takes place and the explanation given either by the defendant or the defendant's lawyer in court or in public is that the violence happened because someone had been dishonoured. There are no words that can be uttered, no insults that can be given, no failure of conjugal duty or duty in a marriage that can justify violence.
This defence of provocation has not been successful in many cases in Canada. There has been perhaps one case in which a conviction was downgraded from murder to manslaughter, but it is still used in innumerable cases to explain violent behaviour and it still accepted in courts as a legitimate defence that deserves to be heard. That is absurd in this day and age, and after the passage of Bill S-7, it would no longer be permitted.
The defence of provocation will be limited to cases in which the victims themselves have, on the evidence, committed an indictable crime that would be punishable by up to five years imprisonment. In other words, if the victims themselves commit a serious act of violence that led to other violence, then that needs to be part of the case. That needs to be part of the chain of events that led to the result, whatever it is. That needs to be taken into consideration, but not words, not gestures, not failure to perform in a marriage, and certainly not honour-based arguments of any kind.
Finally, this bill would establish access to peace bonds to prevent forced or underage marriage and prevent the removal of persons from Canada for those purposes.
Why is that important? It is important because these crimes are often committed in very intimate settings, in family settings, among people who really do love one another and depend on one another, and who, for whatever reason, have strayed from the path of mutual respect and have forced a family member into marriage. It is then very difficult for one member of a family to press charges against another and take the other to court, even when a forced marriage happens and a criminal act has been committed, because criminal charges would be brought and a conviction might very well follow.
Peace bonds allow a different option. They allow for the behaviour of those who would commit forced removals or engage in forced or underage marriages to be regulated with the supervision of the justice system without recourse to a criminal case and the conviction and punishment that would go with that.
As we know in Canada, from a wide variety of phenomena that need to be addressed through the criminal justice system, peace bonds are an important tool. We hope to see them actively used as a result of Bill S-7 to literally stamp out and eliminate the phenomenon of underage and forced marriage from Canada as quickly as possible.
I should also say that there are changes to regulations that have been brought as a result of Bill S-7 or in conjunction with Bill S-7. Requirements in our spousal sponsorship program and our family reunification program are now stronger than ever in Canada.
Thanks to those generous programs, 70,000 family members are being brought to Canada as permanent residents in this year alone. However, as a result of our actions under this bill, it would no longer be possible to sponsor a spouse from abroad who is under the age of 18 to be a permanent resident. That is because 18 is the age of majority in this country. It is the age for free and enlightened consent from persons being married or who are already married. The consent does not come from their parents.
The spousal sponsorship program has been subject to abuse. We do face marriages of convenience and forced marriage on a wide scale beyond our borders, and we do face cases of marriage fraud all too often. We need to limit spousal sponsorship to those 18 and over in order to address these issues as effectively as we possibly can.
I am very proud to be part of a team that has brought this bill together relatively quickly. It took work across government. The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health, and the Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women were involved in the elaboration of this bill. John Baird, the former minister of foreign affairs, brought his great familiarity and activism on forced marriage globally to bear on this bill, which will have a decisive effect, we hope, on the phenomenon of forced marriage domestically. This product has moved through Parliament only thanks to the work of my colleagues and thanks to the chairman of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the member of Parliament for Dufferin—Caledon, who has been running that committee effectively for nine years in the most prolific era of reform for Canada's immigration, citizenship, passport, and refugee programs in Canadian history.
We started with the reform of the asylum system. If we had stayed with the Liberal tradition that we inherited in 2006, we would have seen our asylum claims dominated by claimants from safe countries.