I'm from the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, a not-for-profit, community-based organization that provides free legal services to low-income members of the Chinese and Southeast Asian community. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to talk about Bill S-7.
I want to thank the committee for studying this issue. The stated purpose of the bill is to protect women from violence and, as such, I think we need to examine the efficacy of the bill against its stated purpose.
At its core, violence against women is a Canadian problem. Domestic violence affects all women in Canada, whether they are Canadian born or foreign born. Many studies have talked about the extent to which this problem exists in Canada. For instance, one study shows that half of all women in Canada have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Every six days a women in Canada is killed by her intimate partner, and on any given day more than 3,000 women and children are forced to sleep in shelters to escape domestic violence.
So without question, violence against women is a serious problem that warrants the attention of all levels of government, and urgent action is needed to stop it.
The only question we need to ask ourselves is what would be the most effective way to combat violence against women in Canada? It's from that perspective that we're commenting on Bill S-7 and from that viewpoint we respectfully submit that there are serious concerns.
To start, the bill seeks to deport individuals who are engaged in polygamy, including the women that the government says it is trying to protect. The denial of permanent and/or temporary resident status to people involved in polygamous relationships will not have the desired effect of protecting women. It will simply bar women in such relationships from coming to Canada in the first place.
Likewise, criminalizing forced marriage will not end this practice, as we have heard from the expert from Denmark. It would only drive it further underground and harm survivors of forced marriage, many of whom, while desiring to leave the relationship, don't want to see family members being prosecuted.
In cases where a women is involved in a forced marriage or a polygamous relationship and has come to Canada as a sponsored spouse, she's currently at risk by virtue of the conditional permanent resident requirement, which forces a sponsored spouse to cohabit with her sponsor for two years or lose her immigration status.
In addition, there's serious concern about the naming of this bill which invokes racist stereotypes and fuels xenophobia toward certain racialized communities. It mocks the practice of polygamy elsewhere as a sign of cultural inferiority, while ignoring the fact that polygamy is being practised in Canada by certain Canadians. In fact, too many relationships in Canada break down due to extramarital affairs involving one or both parties in the marriage. It detracts from Canadians having a real and honest discussion about domestic violence and from seeing domestic violence for what it really is, namely, an issue of gender inequality and not an issue of cultural identity.
At the end of the day there is simply no evidence to suggest that violence against women is more prevalent among certain immigrant populations, but there is ample evidence to suggest that violence against women commonly occurs outside of polygamous relationships or forced marriages. So attacking the issue of domestic violence through the lens of immigration law and through increasing criminalization is not necessarily the right way to go.
If we are serious about protecting women from violence, including women who are in forced marriages, we believe that the government should look for more effective solutions outside the law and outside the legal framework. For instance, we call on the standing committee to make the following recommendations to the government:
First, it should repeal conditional permanent residence for the sponsored spouse. Second, it should grant permanent resident status to non-status women victims of violence. Third, it should provide support to victims of forced marriage in the form of housing, counselling, and other kinds of social support. Fourth, it should increase funding for the immigrant settlement sector. And finally, it should enhance employment opportunities for immigrant women through employment equity measures, training, and other kinds of support programs.
In conclusion, the most effective way to protect immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence is by ensuring that these women have access to unconditional permanent resident status without fear of removal, and by providing them with all the support they need to fully integrate into Canadian society.
Thank you. Those are my comments. I'll speak to any questions you may have.