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 second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric practices act. This is an important initiative for our government, one that links up with many other initiatives that we have taken over many years now.
The bill has a simple set of principles. First, we are convinced that no young girl or no woman in this country should be subject to forced or early marriage, meaning marriage before the age of 18. Second, we believe that the practice of polygamy in this country on any scale as part of Canadian communities, as part of our immigration system, as part of our visitor streams into Canada, is unacceptable and should be stopped.
We are taking action through this legislation to ensure that there is no place in Canada for so-called honour-based violence. Honour in any of its forms, whether it is widely seen to be in play in a given situation or subjectively seen to be in play by one single person, has no place in the defence of an individual charged with a violent act. Violence must be dealt with by our criminal justice system on its own terms, and an honour defence, in our view and under the terms of this act, would no longer be as readily available as it has been up until now.
We will pursue these changes to our legislative framework through the proposed amendments in the bill to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues across the House who have shown an interest in these issues. I would also like to thank individuals in our ministry. This is a joint effort with the Minister of Status of Women, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Justice, and many others, such as the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was so active on these issues around the world. We are passionate about these issues, as are many members of our caucus, committee chairs, committee members, and individual members of Parliament.
We are fulfilling a Speech from the Throne commitment with this legislation. That commitment recognizes that there are possibly tens of millions of young women and girls around the world who are still subject to forced and early marriage and the violence and the forms of compulsion that go with that. We see these practices as absolutely incompatible with Canadian values, and for that reason are proud to be putting forward concrete initiatives today to ensure that these barbaric practices that represent implicit support for the commission of violence in this country are eliminated from Canada, are discouraged and deterred, and that when they do take place, are punished.
All members will recall the events of April 17, 2009, when Zainab Shafia fled her home in Montreal at the age of 19 because her parents had forced her to marry a man she did not want to marry. Three months later, the bodies of Zainab, two of her sisters and the first wife of her father, who was in a polygamous marriage, were found in a canal in Kingston, Ontario.
These young women wanted a better life for themselves and their family in Canada. They never should have been subjected to constant fear and threats of violence or death solely because they wanted a better life in Canada.
The amendments in this bill would strengthen provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code to add further protection.
The Shafia case reminds us of how catastrophic the consequences of inaction on this issue can be. This was a forced marriage, combined with a polygamous relationship and a so-called honour-based motive for murder. Thankfully, there was a conviction for murder in this case, but none of those elements should have been in place in the Shafia family's life as immigrants to this country. This bill will help to ensure that such a situation never arises again.
These amendments would improve protection and support for vulnerable individuals in a number of different ways, especially for women and girls. This is the summary of the substance of this bill, which I will elaborate upon shortly in more detail.
First, the bill would render permanent and temporary residents inadmissible if they practise polygamy in Canada. In other words, if immigrants and visitors to Canada practice polygamy in Canada with one wife or one spouse, they would now be inadmissible.
Second, the provisions would strengthen Canadian marriage laws by establishing a new national minimum age for marriage of 16 years old, as well as by codifying both the existing legal requirements for a free and enlightened consent for marriage and by codifying the requirements for ending an existing marriage prior to entering another. It seems almost to go without saying to many of us in this place, but these measures have not been part of the Civil Marriage Act and have not been obligatory across Canada until this proposal that is being made under this legislation.
The measures would also criminalize certain conduct related to underage and forced marriage ceremonies, including the act of removing a child from Canada for the purpose of such marriage ceremonies. In other words, anyone knowingly taking a substantive role in solemnizing or officiating at an early or forced marriage of a girl or a boy under the age of 16 years old would face consequences under the Criminal Code that have not previously been there.
Fourth, these measures would help protect potential victims of underage or forced marriages by creating a new and specific preventive court-ordered peace bond when there are grounds to fear someone would commit an offence in this area.
Finally, they would ensure that the defence of “provocation” would not apply in so-called honour killings and in many spousal homicides.
Let me delve into each of these initiatives in some more detail and elaborate on some of the important measures Bill S-7 proposes.
Polygamy is an affront to our values. As such, it has been illegal in Canada since 1890. While it is against the law in Canada to practice polygamy or to enter into a polygamous union, we know that is not the case in every country in the world. According to our most recent analysis, upwards of 60 countries allow polygamy and make it legal to some extent. The rate at which polygamy is practised in many of these countries is very low and may be only a couple of percent of the population, although in some cases it is much higher. However, we in Canada are adamant that this is not featured among our practices. It is antithetical to our values. While it has been on the books as a crime since 1890, it is only in more recent years that the first prosecutions have taken place under that law, so it is a current issue in the criminal justice system as well.
Thus, polygamy is already illegal in Canada. However, we must do more to ensure that this Canadian value is respected by everyone in the immigration system in order to strengthen our ability to prevent polygamy in Canada and to ensure that our immigration system does not in any way facilitate this practice.
Bill S-7 will make polygamy grounds for inadmissibility under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
This would give, for the first time, immigration officers the tools they need to render temporary and permanent residents, visitors, and immigrants inadmissible when they are practising polygamy. The new inadmissibility would mean that those who are entering on a temporary basis and who are are in polygamous marriages abroad can only enter on their own, not with their spouses. This is not presently the case. We do not have the ability to prevent those practising polygamy from coming into Canada, either as immigrants or visitors.
Currently, visitors who practise polygamy in their countries of origin are generally allowed to enter with only one spouse at the time of seeking entry. It is unacceptable that our immigration system would allow this practice to continue. To ensure polygamy is not practised on Canadian soil, this bill proposes to ban foreign nationals who practise polygamy from entering Canada with any of their spouses, even on a temporary basis. It would also mean that permanent residents found to be in polygamous marriages would be removed on that basis alone.
The anecdotal evidence is considerable. The number of immigrants who have come to this country in polygamous unions but disguised that fact and misrepresented themselves as either not being married or not being in a polygamous union is substantial. Under these provisions, we would, for the first time, no longer need a criminal conviction or a finding of misrepresentation in order to begin deportation proceedings. We would simply need the evidence of the practice of polygamy.
Measures in Bill S-7 would also amend the Civil Marriage Act in order to address the problem of early and forced marriages. In Canada, as things stand now, there is no national minimum age for marriage. Specific federal laws that apply only in Quebec set the minimum age at 16 years old; in other parts of Canada, the common law applies.
There is some uncertainty about common law minimum age, which is sometimes interpreted as setting a minimum of 12 for girls and 14 for boys, although in some instances the legal records, the precedents in the common law, set an age as low as seven years old. I think everyone in the House would agree that this is completely and unequivocally unacceptable. It hearkens back to the Middle Ages and to other periods when those traditions, if they were such, would certainly, from today's perspective, be considered barbaric. The medical evidence of harm to young people below mature ages is overwhelming, and setting a national minimum age of 16 years old would make it clear that underage marriage is unacceptable in Canada and will not be tolerated.
Other amendments to the Civil Marriage Act proposed in Bill S-7 will codify the requirement for free and enlightened consent of the parties who intend to marry and the requirement that any previous marriage be dissolved.
This might seem quite obvious to us, but it is extremely important to those who, to date, have had no say in their own marriage. We must ensure that the voices of all those who embark on the joyful journey of marriage are heard and respected.
On behalf of the voiceless, we are acting in many cases in these measures to codify a minimum age for marriage and to prevent forced marriage. For those who have been compelled into unhappy unions, unions that have resulted in violence or have subjected women to sexual assault on a repeated and continuing basis, we need to make sure that we can take action for their sake to prevent such violence against women, and violence generally.
Building on the proposed amendments to the Civil Marriage Act, Bill S-7 also contains measures that would amend the Criminal Code to help prevent forced or underage marriages, including, henceforth, making it a criminal act to knowingly officiate at an underage or forced marriage; to knowingly and actively participate in a wedding ceremony in which one party is marrying another against his or her will or is under 16 years old; or to remove a minor from Canada for a forced or underage marriage.
For example, if a parent, a mother or a father, who received payment from another family in this country or outside this country to marry off one of their children to a member of that other family, but who did not seek and certainly did not obtain the enlightened and free consent of the child involved, were there simply as the parent of the bride or the groom, even if they were not officiating at the marriage ceremony, would be committing a crime. The crime would be that they had brought forward a child, compelled a child, to be married without their consent, against their free will. This should be a crime, and I think we all agree on that in Canada today.
There is a very clear distinction between this and an arranged marriage, where families introduce children, parents want the union to happen, and the parties to be married themselves consent and agree, where they have truly decided that this is the right choice for them. That type of marriage is not affected by this bill. However, a forced marriage, where the parents or anyone else who is involved in a transaction or in the compulsion agree, but the parties themselves do not agree, would henceforth place those responsible, those with a substantial role in arranging the marriage, in a position where they are committing a criminal act.
Other proposed amendments would create a new peace bond that would give courts the power to impose conditions on an individual when there are reasonable grounds to fear that a forced marriage or marriage under the age of 16 would otherwise occur. This is particularly important in our efforts to prevent those who know that a forced marriage would not be tolerated in Canada from having an underage child, or any child, removed against their will so that the marriage could take place in another jurisdiction.
We will have the tools under Bill S-7 to take action against those who would choose this unfortunate and, indeed, dangerous course of action as well. Such a peace bond could be used to prevent an underage or forced marriage by requiring, for example, the surrender of a passport, as well as preventing a child from being taken out of Canada. This is a very important option for a young girl, for example, who wants to stop her family from taking her out of the country for a forced marriage, but does not want to press charges against her family members, a situation that arises quite commonly. She would have that important option and would be able to save herself from an unwanted fate.
Anyone who wonders whether this is widespread or necessary need only pick up the phone or come to speak to any of us at the citizenship and immigration committee, who will put them in touch with people in our global network, those retired or those still in service, who will tell them that this is happening. Forced and underage marriage is a reality in Canada, and the removal of young people to face these dreadful consequences abroad is also all too common.
Measures in the bill would also amend the Criminal Code to address so-called honour killings. Unfortunately, we have seen these cases too often on our soil. In fact, while there is not a large number—several dozen in recent decades—there have more cases in the last 10 or 15 years than in the previous 20 years, according to the available studies. So called honour-based violence is usually perpetrated against family members, usually women and girls, who are perceived to have brought shame or dishonour to the family.
These honour killings are usually premeditated and committed with a certain level of approval from family members and the community, and sometimes with their participation.
However, in some cases, they may also be alleged to be spontaneous killings in response to behaviour by the victim that is perceived to be disrespectful, insulting, or harmful to a family's reputation. Under the Criminal Code, anyone charged with and found to have committed murder can raise the defence of provocation in seeking a reduction to the lesser charge of manslaughter. Under Bill S-7, that option would no longer be available.
We think, taken together, these measures represent important progress against barbaric practices that are all too common in the world today and still present in Canada. I appreciate the opportunity to present them to the House.