Evidence of meeting #45 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was marriage.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Laila Fakhri  As an Individual
Richard Kurland  Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual
J. Michael Spratt  Criminal Lawyer, Abergel Goldstein and Partners, As an Individual
Kamal Dhillon  Author, Black and Blue Sari, As an Individual
Madeline Lamboley  Ph.D. candidate in criminology, As an Individual

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Good morning everyone. This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. It's Tuesday, April 30, 2015. We're studying Bill S-7, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code, and a number of other pieces of legislation.

Appearing before us this morning are two witnesses, Laila Fakhri and Richard Kurland, our favourite witness, who is a lawyer and policy analyst.

Ms. Fakhri, you have up to eight minutes to make a presentation. Thank you for coming.

8:45 a.m.

Laila Fakhri As an Individual

Good morning, everyone. I'm very pleased to be here and to have the opportunity to participate in this discussion on Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric and cultural practices act.

Being an immigrant woman and working with victims of domestic violence, I have learned that certain antiquated cultural practices, such as forced marriages and child marriages, create barriers for women's rights because they are generally associated with increased violence and oppression.

In many ways I support this proposed legislation because I believe in equal rights for all men and women in political, economic, cultural, personal, and social activities. I do want to mention that while I see many a strength in this bill, I also believe there are many flaws in it as well. I am against barbaric and cultural practices that prevent women from achieving equal rights.

We need a policy as clear as Bill S-7 to end these old barbaric traditions in Canada and abroad, because we live in the 21st century and things, such as our social structure, have progressed.

We need to develop a strategy to end all forms of gender-based violence. Fortunately in Canada, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadian immigrants have the right and freedom to practice any religious belief without any repercussions. However, certain immigrants will continue to carry on their own ideologies in the area of matrimony that may not necessarily be in line with Canadian values and may possibly infringe upon women's rights and freedoms. In the name of freedom, these cultural practices are carried out at the expense of the liberty, well-being, and happiness of the women and girls involved. Freedom that allows individuals to practice old traditional cultural beliefs that oppress other people is not freedom at all; it is tyranny.

It is morally incumbent to support Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, to protect women who grew up in western society. This category of women may be in constant clash with their families who would rather see them partake in traditional practices. She may face huge pressures to accept her family's or community's wishes. If she is from a very traditional family, the wrong decision may be life threatening. Two extreme Canadian cases of this are the four females from the Shafia family in 2009, from Kingston, Ontario, and Ms. Nasira Fazli in 2013 in Ajax, Ontario. As well, many other women are and continue to become victims of domestic violence.

I wish to highlight the following major factors that predispose immigrant women to domestic violence.

First is conditional permanent residency. There is a period of two years during which the permanent residency of the sponsored person is conditional on the person remaining in a conjugal relationship and cohabitation with their sponsor. This is a flaw that I see in the act. If they don't fulfill these conditions, their permanent residency could be revoked and they could be deported. In most cases, the victims are uninformed about their rights and the cultural norm in Canada. Out of desperation, they will remain in the relationship due to this requirement.

Second, women are financially dependent on their abuser or their spouse. I should emphasize that the first point is deemed to be the most complicated and, perhaps, has the greatest impact on increasing the risk of domestic violence against immigrant women. While I support this bill in many ways, I want to make it clear that this is an area where I see flaws.

I propose the following recommendations to help address some of the challenges I have mentioned. First, an information booklet on fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular women's rights, should be distributed to applicants of the sponsorship program as a mandatory requirement for review, prior to approval of entry into Canada.

Second, immigrant women who lack financial independence might be dangerously dependent on their husbands for financial support. The repercussions of this type of financial dependency for women may include reduced self-confidence, increased isolation, and psychological, mental, and social health problems. Language classes after the women arrive in Canada should be compulsory.

By passing Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, the government is obligated to create more programs and services. More work needs to be done. If we Canadians believe that Canada is the world leader in the promotion and protection of women, women's rights, and gender equality, what do we need to do to bring this talk to a walk?

Polygamy, forced marriages, and honour killings are heinous and barbaric practices. It's time to say no to these practices. These practices add to the issue of domestic violence.

The elimination of gender-based violence is value driven, not valueless. In order to do this, the Canadian government needs to take serious steps to increase programs and services and to educate front-line workers—police, doctors, counsellors, and settlement workers—the legal system, and overall, all citizens.

Women who live in Canada and around the world deserve to live free of violence and abuse. I request that our government protect women from facing the harsh consequences of barbaric and cultural practices on Canadian soil. If the Canadian government is open to bringing immigrants to this country, we need to educate them in culturally acceptable practices, values, beliefs, and Canadian law.

Again, I would like to express much gratitude to all of you for your courage and for being here with us. Together, we will see change.

Thank you.

8:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you for your presentation, Ms. Fakhri. In a few moments, some of my colleagues will probably have some questions for you.

Mr. Kurland, welcome again.

8:50 a.m.

Richard Kurland Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It's again a deep honour and privilege to be here before this committee.

Today I thought I'd share with the committee an intelligence report from the Canada Border Services Agency migration intelligence section in the intelligence operations and analysis division of the enforcement and intelligence operations directorate. The report provides intelligence indicators. The purpose, in a fact-based system, is to provide the committee with an intelligence report that justifies entirely the direction of the proposed legislation.

I have only three sentences to read. They are important. The CBSA intelligence report to Immigration Canada, among other enforcement partnerships, illuminates a disturbing trend. It is as follows:

Another disturbing trend is that of mut'a (an Arabic word relating to joy and fulfillment of enjoyment and compliance when used in terms of marriage and observing the requirements of the marriage contract in Islam) where women are purchased and forced to marry wealthy Muslim men from the Middle East and Africa for short periods of time for sexual purposes and then divorced in short order. One article refers to it as “Islamic sexual tourism.” The practice happens in southern India because the cost to do so is one-third of the price in the men's homeland

The purpose of this report was to warn our embassy system globally of a factor in marriage fraud. That's the immigration purpose.

When I read this—and it was released through appropriate channels—it signalled to me that this committee that's observing the present legislation needs to know that there are, out there, facts that support the very direction taken in the proposed legislation. Now, I am sure the CBSA may be willing to provide additional information on this topic; however, in my view, there's nothing wrong in proposed law to signal to the world, as a beacon of Canadian values, what will not be tolerated in Canada.

Those are my opening remarks.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Menegakis.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank our witnesses for appearing before us today.

This is a very important piece of legislation for our government. Following up on the previous study, we spent the better part of almost a full year studying the strengthening of protecting women in Canada's immigration system during which, Ms. Fakhri, I'm happy to tell you, the issue of conditional PR came up considerably. There was also the important recommendation coming out of the report that we should inform immigrants before they come to Canada of their rights when they come here, because they are in fact not forced to stay in an abusive marriage. There are so many channels that they can avail themselves of; however, we found in that study that they were not aware of them. One of the recommendations there dealt with informing people before they come here what their rights are so that, when they come here, they do not feel imprisoned in the relationship that they're in.

In December of this year, Antonio Guterres, who's the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, had an initiative put through. He put out a release marking 16 days of activism against sexual and child-based violence. These 16 days of activism led up to international Human Rights Day on December 10. This year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' office's theme is protecting the rights of and preserving childhoods, working together to address child marriage. Mr. Guterres urged governments to take action, saying:

We must advocate with governments for child marriage to be prohibited by law, and for this to be effectively enforced.

I'm very pleased and proud to see that our government is taking the lead on this issue because this is something that we started well before Mr. Guterres' latest initiative.

I wonder if you could comment on this. In particular, do you have any knowledge of what other governments are doing to help prevent this issue worldwide? This is not just a phenomenon that affects Canada; it affects other governments as well.

Perhaps I can start with you, Mr. Kurland.

8:55 a.m.

Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual

Richard Kurland

Governments worldwide is too broad a subject for me, unfortunately.

Each country in their own way will reflect values through the legal system. Each country will reflect through the legal system the appropriate pains and penalties for an inappropriate act. Here's where the pedal hits the metal, so to speak. In western societies the fundamental societal organizational rule is that everything is permitted except that which is prohibited. Due to that touchstone of societal organization, some countries have a more difficult a time dealing with the particular issue at hand, theocracies aside.

So where do some western countries draw the line? It has been a political third rail in the last 20 years in western European societies to adequately capture, ensnare, and punish the impugned activity. More can be done, and the value here is not so much the pain, the penalty, to be imposed by the proposed law here in Canada. The value is a signal to other countries, particularly western Europe, who are grappling on the ground with this kind of issue but not identifying the gorilla in the room for what it is, and I'm talking France.

Now that Canada is taking initiative, I would say that at global level, to combat on the plane of values what will be tolerated and not tolerated, in my view Canada is going to be the country looked at by other countries in the world, notably western Europe, as a model, just as Canada now is looked at by western European countries and countries in Asia as a model for immigration structure and law. This is the next step.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Ms. Fakhri, I want to touch a little bit on the title of this bill, because we have some members of the opposition who take issue with the word “culture” in the title. The title, as you know, is “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”. We maintain that “culture” does not refer to any one particular culture. In fact, we have seen elements of this bill affecting a number of different communities.

We want to send a clear message that we will not tolerate cultural traditions that are barbaric here in Canada. Children cannot grow up here and be forced to go back to their parents' country because they were promised at some point to be married to somebody. Lo and behold, they arrive there, they are 14 years old, and then they are in a wedding situation. We maintain that these are barbaric acts. They are cultural practices in some communities, not one specific one but several. We want to make sure that this is evidently clear in the title as well.

Do you agree that these practices, rooted in some cultures, are indeed barbaric and should be criminalized?

9 a.m.

As an Individual

Laila Fakhri

For me, being an immigrant coming from a community—I am from Afghanistan—as well as being in contact with many other immigrants, I do see clear examples of these issues still existing. We need to pass a clear message. Even though the title might sound a bit harsh, we need a clear title saying “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” to pass a clear message to people that this is what today's life is. That is what Canada believes in, and that is what Canada's values are when it comes to women's rights and equality.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We have to move on. We have time limits. I'm sorry.

Madame Blanchette-Lamothe, go ahead.

April 30th, 2015 / 9:05 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for their participation today in our study of Bill S-7.

I want to begin by saying that the controversy around this bill does not concern the existence or non-existence of barbaric practices against women. I can assure you that everyone around this table is in agreement that there are barbaric and unacceptable practices against women here in Canada, and probably in all countries. Of course, there are certain practices that are to be found more frequently in other countries. The debate regarding the title is not about whether or not barbaric practices exist.

There is not a doubt that we must fight these practices. We all agree on that. Violence against women, whatever form it takes, is completely unacceptable. We have to do everything in our power to stop it and to bring about equality between the sexes, as you said.

I think it is important to somewhat reframe the opinion of people attending this committee with regard to violence against women. We do not agree on the most effective way to fight against this type of violence against women. That is what the debate centres on in connection with this bill.

Ms. Fakri, you explained earlier some of the things that make women vulnerable. These elements mean that women may encounter certain types of violence more easily in their environment, such as forced marriage. You emphasized financial dependence several times. That seems to be an important point for you. However, there is nothing in Bill S-7 that adresses that issue.

Recently, the committee did a study on the vulnerability of women in our immigration system. That is one thing that came out of this study, but since the publication of the report, there is still nothing being done on that.

Since you work on the frontline with women, what concrete measures would you propose to improve newcomers' gender equality, which is tied to financial independence?

9:05 a.m.

As an Individual

Laila Fakhri

As we know, the issue of domestic violence is very complicated, and we all know it's not only a cultural issue. It happens in every culture, every society, and so on.

From my experience in working with victims of domestic violence, I have seen women come here, having been sponsored, who have been in Canada for a year or two years and still don't know how to use the bus or how to call 911. Her husband is not on welfare and they are independent. She is not going to school—she is prevented from going to school—but she has nobody to turn to.

Somehow one out of a hundred might be lucky enough to find somebody—a neighbour or somebody—to call for her, and then she gets to ask for help.

I believe that for any process of sponsorship when a spouse sponsors their wife or their partner from overseas there is a period of waiting for two or three years until the process finalizes and the person enters Canada. If they gave a booklet in the sponsored person's language and told them to review it and said that it would be part of the interview questions, people could enter Canada with knowledge, knowing that that they are choosing the country and that these are their rights in going there. I believe it would make a difference, if you knew that there are services existing.

I hear so many women say that they didn't know that these services existed or they would have left a long time ago. But they are coming, they enter Canada, but they are still under the control and power of their partner.

It is the same thing with finances. Women depending on their abusers, in terms of financially depending on the person who has sponsored them, causes a huge issue. These women have never had access to money, never had a bank account. We have to take them by the hand to show them how to open a bank account. They have never had their own bank account.

These are the steps we need to take to maybe eliminate some of the issues of domestic violence, like working with settlement workers. There should be, at least for two years, mandatory involvement of settlement workers with those newcomers, and regular meetings without the presence of the husband. We need to somehow educate all the women and their children who are trapped in these conditions. This is a new country for them. They have nobody. They have nobody to go to. The only person they know, in some cases, is the person who has sponsored them.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

That is very interesting. Thank you very much.

9:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Laila Fakhri

I hope they look at these things and can consider this stuff when they are passing the bill.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

That is something we would like to see.

We are a bit disappointed to be debating a bill like Bill S-7 while in our opinion, and as you also mentioned, there are some very concrete measures that could help vulnerable women. Those measures were mentioned in the last report, or in the complementary report submitted by the NDP on the vulnerability of women.

Very briefly, since I have very little time left, would you agree that one of the problems that occur in forced marriages, and regarding violence against women in general, is the issue of silence? We have to find ways of encouraging women to disclose these situations, as if they do not do so, we cannot punish the guilty. The first step is to ensure that they are all given means to disclose that type of violence, such as forced marriages.

9:10 a.m.

As an Individual

Laila Fakhri

That is certainly a very important matter, but we need to find a way to give her the courage to speak out. She might be under fear of deportation. She might be under pressure from family. She might not know how to speak and where to go, how to call certain numbers, and how to reach for help.

It might be easy to say that they should speak, but it's not easy when you are in her place because, for her, coming to a new country, where she doesn't know the language, where she is not aware of her rights, where she has no access to any money to pay for a bus to go one stop from her house, or to call for a taxi, these are all barriers that she is facing.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Go ahead, Mr. McCallum.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome to the witnesses.

Mr. Kurland, I was certainly struck by your testimony on this mut'a point. But since we basically agree with the substance of the bill, I'd like to focus on a couple of more technical issues that might improve it.

The first of these is the possibility of being deported for polygamy. One of the witnesses before us earlier said that there was no clear definition of polygamy in the courts. I think that poses a risk, because if you tell people that they will be deported for a certain offence, but you don't define the offence, then that's a recipe for trouble down the road.

My question is this. Perhaps only for the purposes of this bill, rather than more generally, could there be some definition of polygamy, for which a person could be deported, and then that wold bring greater clarity to the bill? There may be problems with doing that, but I wonder if you have a view.

9:15 a.m.

Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual

Richard Kurland

Certainly, sir.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

You have a view on most issues, so I thought you might.

9:15 a.m.

Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual

Richard Kurland

With this particular issue, the points raised were points I've been addressing in the last few days. On the one hand, enforceability—in Canada or outside Canada. My sense is that the primary target may well be protecting Canada's borders from individuals entering. In anticipation of your question—it does happen—I'm looking at the Canada Gazette Part II, volume 149, number 8, from April 1, 2015. It's a regulation amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. This amendment formalizes electronic travel authorizations. The gain here is to have the prospective traveller to Canada complete tombstone data online. If it turns out that the prospective traveller has more than one spouse, automatically the file would be queued for review and potentially the ETA would not be announced.

Here's where we get to the rub. Our foreign policy so far is to allow forward individuals to Canada on a temporary basis who are known polygamists on the condition they promise not to practise polygamy in Canada during their stay. Well, I'm hoping that your question will raise literally hundreds of millions of dollars for our treasury because as a proposed remedial measure to this, I would add on to the ETA system a template that would allow the prospective traveller to be treated as we treat individuals with drunk driving offences. For $400 you can access a temporary resident permit to overcome your inadmissibility to Canada for a temporary purpose. This would allow individuals—the millions, if not tens of millions of individuals who are in polygamist relationships—to enter Canada in compliance with our immigration law for a temporary purpose, and we collect $400 per traveller.

Once in Canada, my concern is that it's shared. How do we remove people from Canada who run afoul of the proposed law that will, let's face it, have retroactive impact? I have great difficulty with that. There is a weakness potentially in that there's no clarification as to a best before date. When does this apply, retroactively or not?

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Okay, I think implicitly you have put forward a definition: if you're married to more than one person. But sometimes the definition is broader. I'm not sure if we're on a point of high principle opposed to this practice. We'd say it's okay if you pay us $400. That's another issue.

But I don't want to run out of time. I have one other issue, which is the defensive provocation, and I think perhaps that sends a bad message. I have two suggestions I'd like you to comment on. First is to remove the defensive provocation. I think that might be beyond the scope of the bill. Second, if you can't do that, then right now certain minor crimes like theft or mischief are included, but instead of that, have a list of more serious violent crimes that would fit the bill, rather than make it broad the way it is now.

9:20 a.m.

Lawyer and Policy Analyst, As an Individual

Richard Kurland

I'm in favour of clarity over generality when it comes to the bite of our legal system. I'd add a prescribed list of known activities.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Right.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Kurland, you're a criminal lawyer. I don't know whether you have the bill in front of you. I'm looking at clause 8 and I don't know whether I thoroughly understand it or not, but maybe you can help me with it. This bill will make it an offence to take someone outside of Canada with the intention of having them marry against their will if the person is under the age of 18. However, the new offence of participating in a marriage within Canada, where one of the persons being married is doing so against their will, seems to have no age limit.

Why is there an age limit for the offence of forcing someone into a marriage abroad? That's one question.

The second question is this. Does this mean that where a person aged 18 or older is taken into another country for a forced marriage, the individuals involved would not have committed an offence?