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Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

Part 1 amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to specify that a permanent resident or foreign national is inadmissible on grounds of practising polygamy in Canada.

Part 2 amends the Civil Marriage Act to provide for the legal requirements for a free and enlightened consent to marriage and for any previous marriage to be dissolved or declared null before a new marriage is contracted. Those requirements are currently provided for in the Federal Law—Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1 only in respect of Quebec and under the common law in the other provinces. It also amends the Civil Marriage Act to provide for the requirement of a minimum age of 16 years for marriage. This requirement is currently provided for in the Federal Law—Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1 only in respect of Quebec.

Part 3 amends the Criminal Code to

(a) clarify that it is an offence for an officiant to knowingly solemnize a marriage in contravention of federal law;

(b) provide that it is an offence to celebrate, aid or participate in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing that one of the persons being married is doing so against their will or is under the age of 16 years;

(c) provide that it is an offence to remove a child from Canada with the intention that an act be committed outside Canada that, if it were committed in Canada, would constitute the offence of celebrating, aiding or participating in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing that the child is doing so against their will or is under the age of 16 years;

(d) provide that a judge may order a person to enter into a recognizance with conditions to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the purpose of preventing the person from committing an offence relating to the marriage of a person against their will or the marriage of a person under the age of 16 years or relating to the removal of a child from Canada with the intention of committing an act that, if it were committed in Canada, would be such an offence; and

(e) provide that the defence of provocation is restricted to circumstances in which the victim engaged in conduct that would constitute an indictable offence under the Criminal Code that is punishable by five years or more in prison.

Finally, the enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 16, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
June 15, 2015 Passed 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, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
June 9, 2015 Passed That, in relation 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, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at report stage and on the day allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
March 12, 2015 Passed That, in relation 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, not more than two further sitting days shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the second day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.
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Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

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.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it may have been the member for Winnipeg North, but they all share the same view. They all want our asylum system to be focused on economic migrants, on people from safe countries. We have restored the focus of Canada's generosity to asylum seekers by offering it to those who are from countries that are truly in conflict, where people truly face persecution on a massive scale, as we are now seeing a rise in numbers of people from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, et cetera.

Second, we reformed our economic immigration programs. We reduced backlogs. We sped up the process. We now have express entry.

Third, we brought in the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, the first thoroughgoing attempt in a generation to reinforce the value of Canadian citizenship, to ensure that attachment is strong, and to ensure that integrity is at the centre of our citizenship programs.

Finally, we brought in Bill S-7, which caps a whole range of efforts to protect those in our immigration systems, and above all, in this case, to protect women and girls.

We are proud to have done this. It is historic. It will ensure that Canada continues to be a leader in this field for years to come.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his speech.

Many parts of the bill criminalize people who could be considered victims in this tragedy of forced marriage. Unfortunately, as we have seen with a number of bills—for example, the prostitution bill introduced by this government—criminalizing the victims would not only marginalize them even further in these situations, but would have the opposite effect and frighten the victims. In fact, they could decide not to report these crimes. In the end, the victims would remain in this vicious circle that the minister described and defined so well because when you tell a victim that her family will be incarcerated and that she, too, could be charged, then you have failed to protect the victims.

I would like the minister to explain why the government chose the approach of criminalization rather than an approach that protects victims.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regret to inform the hon. member that she is wrong. She probably has much more formal training and legal knowledge than I, but she is wrong in this case when she says that we are criminalizing anyone who could be considered a victim.

What is new in this bill is that it will criminalize those who facilitate forced marriage and early marriage. Yes, those who marry will have to dissolve previous unions and give their free and informed consent. However, the only other criminal penalties are for those who facilitate forced or early marriage.

We certainly want to encourage greater respect and better protection for victims through various measures in this bill and the other reforms we have brought about in recent years.

Let us remember what people like Kamal Dhillon, who testified at committee, wrote in her own account of the violence she faced as a result of forced marriage:

I was violently raped by him on our honeymoon night. From the wedding night onward, I was subjected to emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse that occurred several times per week, and he even attempted to murder me several times.

As a result of his beatings and his rage, I now live in constant pain with an artificial jaw....

All of the people who facilitated the forced marriage of this woman should be brought to justice and face criminal penalties.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, from his seat the Prime Minister heckles across the floor that “it might not be the truth but it sure sounds good” in referring to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's comments. I must admit I am somewhat surprised that no member would stand up to defend the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, because in fact it was not necessarily true.

I admit that what I just finished saying was not necessarily true. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will stand in his place and put all sorts of falsehoods on the record that are not true. I guess what we are looking for is for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to be a little more straightforward with the facts.

We can give many different examples, but let me speak strictly to his comments in the speech that he just delivered. He makes reference to issues and blames the problems of the department of immigration on the Liberal administration of 10 years ago. Would he not agree that after 10 years of Conservative government, the problems in immigration today are not because of the Liberal government of 10 years ago, but because of his performance and the performance of the previous Conservative minister of immigration?

He needs to recognize that truth and start fixing the problems that he and his government have created.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is obviously nonsense. It has been only nine and a half years, but this government has presided over the most dynamic period of reform in Canadian immigration history. The Liberals over a generation cheapened our citizenship. They opened our economic immigration programs to abuse and to backlogs, and they left open the door to the forms of abuse to which they are not even prepared to face up to today.

The first question from the Liberal Party on the bill at third reading makes no mention of forced marriage, underage marriage, honour killings or polygamy. These are all criminal acts, phenomena that exist in our immigration system, unfortunately, which the Liberal Party over its many years in government did absolutely nothing to oppose or eradicate.

The Liberals opposed this bill until they realized which way the wind was blowing, until they spoke to some women and girls, perhaps even to those who were victims of these acts. They understood that opposition to the bill was absolutely reprehensible, unacceptable in this day and age in a world where hundreds of millions of women and girls face forced marriage.

Canada is very active on behalf of them to seek to address their plight. We even accept many of the these women and girls in Canada as refugees fleeing that kind of misery abroad.

The Liberals would have us do absolutely nothing to address these phenomena when they show up in our own immigration programs. It says a lot about their time in government and the legacy they left us.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the outstanding minister for his dedication on this file. To his point that when one lays poor foundations, oftentimes what happens is those foundations have to be rebuilt. Those poor foundations left by the Liberals are being rebuilt by the minister right now, so I thank him for that work.

The bill sends a clear message to individuals coming to our country that harmful, violent, barbaric practices are unacceptable. These practices are incompatible with our Canadian values and will not be tolerated. The minister has consulted from coast to coast to coast and yet the minister in his speech has also said that we know of people still trying to perpetuate these intolerant practices. Polygamy is one example of that. It was outlawed in 1890, and still it is perpetuated today. We have to work very hard to get a grip on that.

Would the minister expand on that?

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member forEtobicoke Centre for his great work in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and for his dedication to these files along with many other members on our side, without whom bills like this, Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act and Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, would simply not have seen the light of day.

Let us draw the contrast. Let us take the case of Shafias, multiple murders, tragic case from Kingston, Ontario. The member for Pierrefonds—Dollard asked what would have been the effect on them of this bill if it had been in place say under a Liberal government, say 10 years ago when we came into office. The amendment to IRPA would have deemed Mohammad Shafia and his wife inadmissible in the first place. They might not ever have gotten here. The amendment to the Criminal Code would not even have allowed the defence of provocation to be used at that time. The amendments to the Civil Marriage Act would have protected the children from early and forced marriage. As we recall, there were multiple cases in that tragic chapter.

Finally, the requirement for dissolution of previous marriage would have protected people like Rona Amir who were not protected when a second marriage took place and the previous one had not been annulled or dissolved.

These actions, which, if we had taken them earlier in Parliament, would have saved lives and would certainly have reduced the misery of women and girls. They are not the majority. They are not even a large share of those who come to our country as immigrants or who live in our country, but they are hundreds and indeed thousands who have suffered from these terrible practices that lead to lifetimes of violence.

The Liberal Party did nothing about it in its time in office. The NDP still opposes these measures today. It is very clear who in this Parliament is standing up for the protection of women and girls at home and in our immigration system.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House once again to speak 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.

As the minister just said, the NDP does oppose this bill. In my speech, I will explain why it is important for all members of the House to oppose this bill if they really care about protecting women and victims of forced marriage, polygamy and early marriage.

I want to start by saying that the NDP supports the intent of this bill. I am making a point of mentioning this because a number of members have accused us of not supporting women or of not explicitly condemning violence against women. On the contrary, the NDP acknowledges that the crimes we have addressed in the debate on Bill S-7 are unacceptable, cruel and barbaric, if members insist on using that word. Forced marriage, polygamy, early marriage and honour crimes are all crimes that we must combat. I do not think the issue here is whether we recognize the seriousness of these crimes, but rather what is the best way to address them. I would even say that the issue is to determine which of the methods proposed in Bill S-7 could hurt victims. We really need to consider that. The consequences go beyond not having tools that are powerful enough; victims could end up being hurt. Today's debate is therefore very important. We need to listen to the many experts who work in the field and to the Criminal Code experts who raised some red flags and who told us that we needed to reconsider some aspects of this bill.

Some aspects of Bill S-7 are fine just the way they are, and the NDP is prepared to support them. However, at report stage, the NDP asked that four clauses be removed from the bill, which is not a lot. If the House had adopted the NDP's amendments, we would have voted in favour of Bill S-7. We agree with a number of measures that are included in the bill, for example, the fact that it sets a minimum age for marriage and makes officiating a forced marriage a criminal offence. The NDP is not opposed to such measures.

As I said earlier, there are four measures that need to be removed from this bill and examined more closely to ensure that they are not contrary to the intent of Bill S-7 and that they do not further penalize women in forced marriages, for example.

Bill S-7 was examined by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Many experts came to testify. Experts, victims, women and men from all walks of life and with different areas of expertise appeared before us. It is unfortunate to see that, after being examined in the Senate, in committee and at report stage, Bill S-7 is still exactly the same as it was when it was first introduced. No amendments have been made. That is unbelievable. That brings into question the real purpose of examining bills in committee or even debating them here in the House of Commons. We have such a stubborn and ideological Conservative government. It presents bills that originated in the Senate and then makes us study them under time allocation. These are important bills that could give victims certain tools or even take away some of their power. These are fundamental issues that we need to seriously consider.

It is unbelievable that when the bill was being studied in committee, a vast majority of the witnesses told us that it had some significant flaws, but the bill is once again before us and the Conservatives did not agree to a single amendment. Some will say that there were consultations before the bill was introduced. That may be the case, but these consultations were done in private and the minister sent direct invitations. Many people would have liked to have participated in these consultations, but since they were not invited by the minister they were not able to speak. How did they choose the witnesses who participated in these consultations, and what was actually said? We will never know.

What is the real purpose of these consultations? I think they serve partisan purposes so that the Conservatives can promote themselves as a political party. One has to wonder.

I would now like to talk about some of the flaws in this bill. First there is the short title. This bill's offensive title is probably the first thing we heard the public talking about. I remind members that the short title of this bill is the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.

The long title is very specific, since it explicitly states what the bill would amend. The long title is 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. This is a clear title that accurately describes the nature of the bill.

Why did the government choose this short title? I repeat, the short title is the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.

What is the purpose of a short title? There are some doubts about the need for such a title. Quite frankly, we have to wonder why the Conservatives insist on moving ahead with this short title when it is controversial and risks alienating the key players we need to combat violence against women.

I would like to quote a few of the experts who appeared in committee and who called on the government to reconsider the title. Ms. Miville-Dechêne, president of Quebec's Conseil du statut de la femme, had this to say:

...we need communities to be with us and not against us. That is why the title of this legislation must absolutely be changed.

What she is trying to say, if I were to summarize her comments on the short title, is that having the words “barbaric” and “cultural” in the same title is offensive to some people, because they feel as though their entire culture is being described as barbaric.

I am sure that was not the Conservatives' intention, but if that is how it is interpreted by people on the ground and by communities and cultural groups, then we need to reconsider the matter, because we will not get anywhere with a title like that if it creates enemies.

Another expert shared the same opinion. Avvy Yao-Yao Go, the clinic director of Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said the following:

...Bill S-7 invokes racist stereotypes and fuels xenophobia towards certain racialized communities.

These people have eyes and ears on the ground because they work there every day. It is important to listen to them. Unfortunately, the government did not do so.

I will not spend any more time talking about the short title because there are other aspects of this bill that are also quite problematic. Let us look at those pertaining to forced marriage.

As I said earlier, the NDP is not opposed to making the celebration of a forced marriage a criminal offence. In short, if officiants, priests, imams and others knowingly celebrate a forced marriage, they could be charged under the Criminal Code. That makes sense to us.

Things get dangerous because Bill S-7 also contains a measure under which the people who attend a forced marriage or know that it may be a forced marriage can be charged under the Criminal Code. That is a problem.

Let us be clear. The NDP is not opposed to criminalizing an act as unacceptable as forced marriage. However, the question is what to do about it and how to proceed.

One of the basic problems with forced marriage is that it happens in secret and is accepted by people who will not seek help or speak out against such a practice. If the 100, 200 or 500 wedding guests could face criminal charges, then how are we going to do anything about this culture of secrecy? How are we going to encourage people to come forward so that criminal charges can be laid?

Many experts told us that this was a dangerous way of doing things. I would like to quote Dr. Lamboley, who did her doctoral thesis on the very specific subject of the express criminalization of forced marriage in Canada. This expert conducted an in-depth examination of the practices that exist elsewhere and the resources currently available in Canada, and she came to a conclusion on the issue. Everyone here will agree that her opinion should at least be taken into consideration.

One of the things she said was that:

...the express criminalization of this type of conjugal union does not appear to be a solution.

Why? She said that, first, we do not fully understand the problem and we need to understand the problem before we can address it. For example, we do not know the extent of the problem here in Canada. That would be important to know. We do not have a specific enough common definition of what constitutes forced marriage and what exactly it is that we want to punish. We need to understand all these issues before we go ahead with solutions.

She also said:

Canada is not without means to face this issue already, to the extent that it is possible to intervene legally under the criminal system to sanction reprehensible actions that arise in a large number of situations in forced marriages (threats, aggression, sexual assault, kidnapping, confinement, false marriages, extortion, intimidation, battery, murder, attempted murder, and so on).

All these measures are already in the Criminal Code. She said that if we currently do not understand the phenomenon and if we do not put anything new in place to help victims, then criminalization is not the way to go. She also reminded us that in the United Kingdom, victims are currently allowed to choose a civil process if they wish. Indeed, a victim can choose between a criminal process and a civil process.

We need to understand that the person is the victim of her social circle and her family. A young 18-year-old woman could find it very intimidating to file a complaint and send her parents, her brothers and sisters and members of her community to prison. If she were given the choice of a civil process, we could then give her the power to choose, to report the situation and put an end to it, without being afraid of losing all contact with the people around her. Even if this woman is a victim of her social circle, she may not be ready to cut all ties with her family and alienate her broader community.

If the goal is to end abuse and violence, criminalizing all those involved in the marriage may not be the only way to do it. Giving the victim the option and the power to choose a civil process may be another way of stopping this abuse.

Another case we need to keep in mind as we study Bill S-7 is what happened in Denmark. That country passed a law similar to Bill S-7 about five or six years ago. Since then, no criminal charges have been laid in relation to actions such as forced marriage. What does that tell us? It suggest that perhaps the concerns of researchers and experts on the ground are justified and that if we go ahead with measures like the criminalization in Bill S-7, the problem of forced marriage will go even further underground. In Denmark, they wanted to help victims by passing measures to criminalize anyone who attends forced marriages. What was the outcome? Radio silence. Victims did not want to report the crime and go through the legal process.

I think that if we want to introduce something here, we should look at what other countries have done and the results they have seen. Doing so amplifies our concerns and reservations about Bill S-7 as written.

I would now like to quote a few experts on the ground. I already quoted a researcher who did her Ph.D. on this subject, but there are other exceptional people who work with victims every day and who have raised the red flag once again. Also regarding the provisions on forced marriage in Bill S-7, Deepa Mattoo, staff lawyer and acting executive director at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, had this to say:

We stand for victims and survivors of gender-based violence, whose voices have told us, time and time again, that they would not come forward if it meant criminal sanctions or deportation of their families.

Victims right here in Canada have told us that if it meant that family members would be sent to prison and deported, they would not report anything to the police.

It seems to me that if we will not listen to the experts, we should at least listen to the victims we are trying to help. Coming up with a solution and saying that that is the only solution, without listening to women and victims, shows a macho and sexist attitude. It is like saying that we here in Parliament know what violence against women is all about and we are going to tell them how to solve the problem, but we refuse to listen to the women who have experienced the violence. That is a ridiculous attitude to take.

Another expert, Naila Butt, executive director of the Social Services Network, said:

Criminalization of forced marriage, without the much needed institutional support for victims, would only further alienate and harm those facing forced marriage and gender-based violence....

In short, not only is criminalization dangerous, but when there is a lack of services and support, it can be disastrous. The victims must know their rights, know where to go for help and be supported all the way through when they decide to file charges or simply embark on a journey of personal healing. At present, that is not the case. If we really want to do something for these women, we can provide more resources to ensure that they get the help they need.

Another element of this bill concerns polygamy. This bill would allow for the deportation and the inadmissibility to Canada of persons who have practised or are practising polygamy or who are suspected of possibly practising polygamy in the future. That is very broad, and it does give rise to several problems.

Ms. Desloges, a lawyer, appeared before the committee and said that the definition of polygamy is not clear or specific enough to move forward with such a measure. In short, what is polygamy? What definition of polygamy is used to deport someone or prohibit them from entering Canada? Not even that is clear. Before moving forward with such a measure, we should at least know who is guilty of what.

Even if the definition were clearer, that does not mean this measure would be adapted. The concern is that people applying to immigrate will be discriminated against. Immigration applicants could be denied entry to Canada if immigration officers suspect that they will practise polygamy in the future. There is a risk of adding a layer of discrimination to how our immigrants and tourists are selected.

What is more, are only men polygamists or do women practise polygamy as well? If our goal is to protect women who are victims of polygamy, but we include a measure in the bill that might get women who are victims of polygamy deported, then what is the point? If we really want to protect women, then we need to take another look at this measure and ensure that women who say they are victims of polygamy are not deported with their polygamous husband.

On that, I would like to quote Professor Rupaleem Bhuyan from the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto:

I am most concerned with how this bill increases discretionary powers among immigration officers.

A little further on she also says:

The low burden of proof may lead to racist discrimination against immigrants from particular regions of the world.... This provision would also put women who are spouses of polygamous men at risk of being deported or being separated from their children.

These are just some of the concerns about the polygamy measure. Since I do not have much time, anyone who is interested can go see the evidence from the committee's studies.

If Bill S-7 is not the way to go, what is? As I said in my introduction, the NDP supports the intention of the bill. We need to do something for these female victims. A single crime is one too many. We need to implement good measures that will really help women, not hurt them.

The NDP has given the government several proposals, but the government has not responded yet. Maybe that will change. For example, the NDP wants to get rid of conditional permanent resident status, which causes too many women to fear deportation if they report their spouse's violence. They get help and disappear. They change their names and live in Canada with no official status because they are afraid to report the violence and risk deportation. Conditional permanent residence is part of the problem.

Another thing we need to do is to ensure that women are aware of their rights and the resources at their disposal. We can do more to ensure that before women even come to Canada they are aware of their rights and know what services are available. Furthermore, newcomer women are not the only ones who need this information. Often, women who have been in Canada for several generations are not aware of all of their rights. If we truly want to do something for these women, we can take action and we can do better.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on the member opposite's speech.

Certainly, I appreciate that the NDP supports the intent of the bill. The bill is targeted to assist and protect women from activities that would cause them harm, a lot of which come from a barbaric cultural practice within their own family.

The member said that we do not want to turn family members against other family members, and we agree. The intent of the bill is not to create problems within families. What it is intended to do is to protect young women from these barbaric cultural practices where they are forced into a marriage and subjected to abuse which obviously is not consensual.

I wonder if the member can comment on the peace bond aspect of the legislation. It is a warning to the family and can assist when a member of that family says, “I am in danger of being forced into a marriage that I do not want to participate in, and I am worried about my well-being and future.” The peace bond can assist that family member.

I wonder if the member could give us her position and the position of her party on the peace bond aspect of this piece of legislation.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

The NDP has no problem with the peace bond aspect or the order to keep the peace, if I am not mistaken. As I said earlier, the NDP would be prepared to support a number of aspects of this bill. That is why the NDP asked to remove four clauses at report stage. If that had been done we would have supported the bill. The peace bond aspect was not one of the four clauses we wanted to remove from the bill.

However, the member who just asked me a question was at every meeting. He heard one expert after another share their concerns about the bill. It is sad that he did not listen to them. He had the power in committee to make amendments to address the concerns raised by the experts, but he did nothing. Not only did he reject the NDP's amendments, but he also did not propose any amendments himself. It is as though he refused to listen to the experts who appeared before the committee. I think that is shameful.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent work on this bill. Clearly, it is a very divisive bill and one that is hard to understand. It contains several harmful measures, and while it also contains some useful and interesting things, some problems must be corrected. In Canada, violence against women, especially racialized women, is a serious problem.

The hon. member did not have enough time to speak because there are many inadequate elements in this bill. She did a great job of explaining the bill's shortcomings and our reasons for opposing it.

I would like to give her an opportunity to describe where the NDP wants to make changes that would give more power and more services to women in these situations.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I respond to the question from the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I want to say what an exceptional member of Parliament she is. She has been working for years to improve the status of women. She is the chair of the NDP women's caucus and a dedicated advocate for change. We must take our hats off to her. She also worked hard to create a national plan for a strategy to address violence against women. She has worked with me on Bill S-7 to propose constructive amendments to the government.

We must consider the intent of Bill S-7. If the intent of this bill is to protect women, we must ensure that these women have access to better services and that they are aware of their rights. Also, they must be empowered to act. This kind of bill does not give them a choice. We are taking away their power. We must ensure that they take power into their own hands. In order to have this power, they must know their rights. In addition, there must be people who support women in choosing their own paths. These are extremely important elements.

I would like to remind the House that, according to Dr. Lamboley, the criminalization set in motion by Bill S-7 is dangerous if not accompanied by better support and information services regarding victims' rights. We must remember that. Bill S-7 has good intentions, but they are superficial if they are not accompanied by real measures to really help women.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is very rich to hear the member opposite comment about the activities of the committee. She was at most, if not all, of the meetings. When it comes to hearing the NDP speak about protecting women and protecting Canadian citizens in general, I will refer to the record of the member opposite and her party. They voted against the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. They voted against the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act. They voted against the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act. Now they are going to vote against the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. We always hear this partisan rhetoric and attacks.

We heard from a number of witnesses at committee who clearly support this legislation, particularly victims. We on this side of the House listen to the actual victims.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices ActGovernment Orders

June 16th, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, members opposite cannot keep quiet when somebody else is speaking because that is the NDP way. When we throw the truth at them, they cannot answer and instead start yelling and hollering left, right and centre.

The fact of the matter is that victims spoke loudly and clearly. One lady had to have her jaw reconstructed. After many years of abuse in a marriage, she had the courage to stand up and speak out. Those are the people the Conservative government listens to. Unfortunately, the NDP have deaf ears when it comes to listening to the actual victims.