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.