Mr. Speaker, for the last comment, if it were just an issue of semantics, as the hon. member just finished stating, then why not drop the word “culture”?
At the end of the day, the Liberal Party is supporting Bill S-7, and we have highlighted what we believe is a significant shortcoming in the name that has been associated with the bill.
The government's ability to defend its position has been found lacking. The government has not been able to clearly demonstrate why the word “culture” needs to be in the short title.
However, it speaks volumes about why the government is bringing forward legislation of this nature, from my perspective, at this juncture of the government's mandate.
There are a few things I would like to get on the record in debating the bill. I will start off by talking about the process we are in today. Once again we have a bill before the House for which the government House leader has moved time allocation. Never before in the history of our country have we seen a government abuse the rule of time allocation on legislation that Canadians are concerned about.
Ever since this Conservative/Reform Party acquired a majority, its attitude for this chamber changed dramatically. There is a lack of respect for democratic process in debating legislation, and it goes beyond the chamber. It goes into committees.
It does not matter whether it is a non-controversial bill, whether political parties are supporting the bill or are in opposition to the bill, the government continuously invokes time allocation, thereby preventing individual members, whoever they might be, from being able to participate and get engaged in the debate on the legislation.
Then we talk about the committee stage. Again, this majority Conservative/Reform Party is headed by a Prime Minister who says, “We do not accept amendments at committee stage”. If we looked at the hundreds of amendments that have been brought forward to legislation at the committee stage, we would find that if it comes from the opposition side, if it comes from Liberals or New Democrats, then it does not have a chance of passing.
I have even seen legislation where Liberals have brought amendments to the bill and the Conservatives will vote them down in committee stage; then it will be the Conservative majority in the Senate that will ultimately have to bring in the very same amendment that the Liberal Party brought in at the committee stage, but they had too much pride. They have that directive from the Prime Minister's Office saying that they do not accept amendments coming from Liberals or New Democrats. It has to be a Conservative amendment.
I bring that up because this legislation, I would suggest, could use some amendments. The Liberal Party has talked at great length in regard to the issue of culture in the short title. We want to bring forward an amendment that will delete the word “culture”. I am not overly optimistic, for the simple reason of the government's attitude toward amendments in general. Whether it improves the legislation or not, the government does not recognize the value that opposition amendments can, in fact, have at the committee stage, and it does that by continuously voting down every one. I find that most unfortunate.
We are in a debate in the House where once again the government has invoked closure on legislation. I know the government House leader will say that it is about too much repetition. Members on all sides of the House represent the people of Canada, our constituents, who want to hear what their members of Parliament have to say if they choose to address a particular issue. If it is somewhat repetitive, that is okay.
I can assure government members, in particular the government House leader, that when their party was in opposition, there was likely a considerable amount of repetition. There is nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong is when a government invokes closure time after time to the degree in which it has become part of the process. Closure has now been invoked 90 or 91 times. Imagine the number of hours we have had to vote on the motion of closure, some 45-plus hours, not to mention the question and answer portion, which would be another 45-plus hours. We are talking about weeks of a session just dealing with the government and the Prime Minister's desire to limit contributions to debate on very important issues. I have a difficult time with the government on that.
Here we are in the dying months of the Conservatives' mandate and the Conservative Party is desperate to give all kinds of impressions. I indicated the Liberal Party will support Bill S-7, and why not? When I look at the details, minus something like the short title, the content of the bill has some value. It deals with issues like polygamy, forced marriages, early marriages, domestic violence, and I will go into detail on those in time. These are all wonderful initiatives to take some action on.
However, why did the government wait this long? Conservatives have been in government for eight-plus years and in the dying months of their mandate, they decide to act on the issue. The issue has been there for three years. Why the sudden urgency now? Why has the government now brought in a bill and has forced through closure to limit debate and dialogue on it? Why is it doing it now? I suspect it has a lot more to do with politics than anything else.
This is somewhat unfortunate, but it is not the only case in the type of legislation the government is bringing forward in the dying months of its term to send out a political message. I will give the Prime Minister credit. No one can spend tax dollars like the Prime Minister when it comes to political spin. We have seen in excess of $750 million tax dollars spent on advertising all about Conservative spin. Not only should it have been the Conservative Party paying for those ads, but the Conservative Party should also be reflecting on how it is abusing its office of governance. Canadians will be looking for change in 2015 because the attitudes of the government do not reflect well on its future.
The legislation has its merits, and I will provide some of those to the House, but before I do that let me make this suggestion with respect to priorities.
Although the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and a few others within cabinet are excited about this legislation and are keen to act, I have dealt with immigration for over 20 years as member of both Parliament and the Manitoba legislative assembly. Over the past few years, my office has dealt with 400-plus immigration or temporary visa files on average in any given month. There are many serious issues with which the government has failed to deal, and they have a real impact on the daily lives of people. We are not talking about a few dozen or a few hundred people, we are talking about thousands of Canadians and permanent residents in every region of our country.
I do not question that it is an important issue. However, we have the political priority agenda of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and cabinet saying that this is it and that they want to force it through. However, where is that same attitude when dealing with the many other issues within the Department of Immigration, let alone the other departments?
I know of a young girl who has waited close to two years to come to Canada to be with her father. She was born in another country and is four or five years old today. She still has not been reunited with her father. I have had discussions with immigration officials through my office. Based on the explanations that have been provided to me to date, I am concerned about a process that does not allow a father to be reunited with his child for close to two years.
There are many examples I could give of spouses who are abroad, whether male or female, who are trying to come to Canada in a more timely fashion.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration seems to be keen on dealing with issues of this nature. Because of that, he has gone to the government House leader, or perhaps vice versa, although I suspect the link goes from the Prime Minister's Office to the government House leader to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and has said that this is an important message to convey to the public and a good way to do that is to bring in legislation. Then, through all kinds of media attention, the government can show how tough it is on certain issues, citing this as an example and making it a priority issue. Many other priority issues have been found wanting.
I am a bit biased and have a passion for the immigration and citizenship file. However, contrary to all its bogus spin, the government has not done well on the immigration and citizenship file. I am afraid there is not enough time in the day, let alone the time limits I have for this speech, to go through some of the details with respect to that. However, it is important.
To get right to the bill and the part I highlighted at the beginning, it is unfair to link what is, at its core, domestic violence to culture. Every society struggles with gender-based violence. It is not confined to any specific cultural community. As the Liberal Party critic, that is why I and others within the party have challenged the government to amend the short title, “zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act”. We think it should read “zero tolerance for barbaric practices act”. There is no need to tie in the word “cultural”. We need to recognize that every society has issues of violence that are gender-based, and there is no need to incorporate the word cultural.
I will outline why the Liberal Party will vote in favour of the bill.
Some research has been provided to me that deals with the issues of polygamy, forced and early marriages, and domestic violence. I will just expand on that.
We recognize that Bill S-7 would establish a national minimum age for marriage at 16 years of age. Most Canadians would be quite surprised to find that there currently is no minimum set age. Only Quebec has a legislated minimum age, while other provinces rely on common law definitions, some of which would allow marriage as low as age seven.
The bill would also codify the requirement for a free enlightened consent for a marriage or a divorce.
The legislation would also create new code offences for knowingly officiating a forced or early marriage; knowingly and actively participating in a forced or early marriage; and, removing a child from Canada for the purposes of an early or forced marriage. These measures are similar to the current laws related to bigamy in the actual code.
It should be noted that Bill S-7 would also create a peace bond regime with regard to early or forced marriage, which would allow a person to petition a court for a peace bond to prevent an early or forced marriage. Violating the requirements of this peace bond would be an offence, and justifiably so. The peace bond provision would create an opportunity for someone from outside the affected family to petition the courts. That would include social workers, or teachers or people of that nature, especially if they have been made aware of a certain issue.
Dealing strictly with polygamy, it is already illegal in Canada. We know that. However, Bill S-7 would address it by amending Canada's immigration rules through IRPA to make those planning to practise polygamy in Canada inadmissible to the country. It would also make it clear that those seeking permanent residence in Canada must stop practising polygamy and would be permitted to immigrate with only a monogamous spouse. A practical effect of these provisions would be that people who practised polygamy legally in their home country, seeking to visit Canada, would not be allowed to enter the country with any of their spouses.
It is important to recognize the gender violence issue. There is reference, which the Conservatives continually use, based on honour. It is important for us to recognize that Bill S-7 would further restrict the use of the provocation defence in order to combat gender violence.
I appeal to the government to recognize that the opposition should be allowed full and healthy debate on the pieces of legislation that come before the House. It is wrong of the Prime Minister and his office to use the tool of time allocation and abuse it to the degree he has.
I can only hope that we will see significant change in the fall, thereby restoring more confidence in the democracy of the House of Commons.