Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Etobicoke Centre.
As an immigrant to Canada, I must say that the reason for coming to Canada was that this is such a glorious place. There is opportunity from every which way one wants. I am an example of that, having come to Canada some 25 years ago and having had the opportunity to be elected to Parliament. Unfortunately, many countries do not have the laws we have that give us the freedoms that make this country the best country in the world to live in.
Many countries have draconian laws related to the age of consent for marriage, the way women are treated, and many other things in those kinds of regimes. Canada is a magnet for many people who want to escape those systems, yet there are still some people who would like to continue those practices in Canada and change Canada. I am certainly against that, and therefore, I support Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
We should not and will not tolerate spousal abuse, so-called honour killings, and other gender-based violence in our Canadian society, and it is for this reason we are taking steps to strengthen our laws to help ensure that no young girl or woman in Canada, or proposing to come to Canada, becomes a victim of early forced marriage, polygamy, so-called honour-based violence, or any other harmful cultural practice. Our government is taking a strong stance against these practices and is leading international efforts to address them as a violation of basic human rights. Our government will continue to ensure that Canada is protected from harmful barbaric cultural practices and to protect Canadians vulnerable to these abuses.
As I have stated, we are not going to tolerate cultural traditions from other countries in Canada that deprive individuals of their human rights. Our government believes that subjugating a woman to repeated sexual assaults is indeed barbaric. Polygamy is also an affront to Canadian values and as such has been illegal in this country since 1890. This bill would provide immigration officers with the tools they need to render both temporary and permanent residents inadmissible for practising polygamy.
One of the things this bill also introduces is a different level for the defence of provocation. The defence of provocation is that someone was provoked into doing something violent against a woman, such as an honour killing. Now the threshold would be be changed by increasing the threshold for when an accused could plead provocation for a lesser conviction.
Our government is taking a strong stand against perpetrators of honour killings. Under this piece of legislation, an accused could only use the defence of provocation if the victim was committing an act of violence that would lead to an offence indictable by five years or more. Our government is ensuring that wearing a short skirt or dating someone one's family does not approve of would no longer be the excuse that could be used as provocation. As such, we have actually tried to educate some of the immigrants coming to Canada. However, unfortunately, as I said, many countries have different values, different laws, and different systems that allow some of these things to happen.
I relate back to my own province of Kerala in India. I relate to that, because it is one of the few provinces that actually has a literacy rate of almost 100% for men and women. That is not the case in many other countries. In many countries, women are considered chattel and therefore are not educated and are not literate.
CIC has special documentation and special language programs for immigrants and refugee women that are able to address some of the issues, such as family violence, spousal abuse, women's rights, legal rights, and health care, including bridging referrals to other available services in the community.
Through publications such as the Discover Canada and Welcome to Canada guides, we clearly communicate that Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to harmful cultural practices. As such, forced marriages and other forms of gender-based violence are not acceptable.
Through information for sponsored spouses or partners, we advise immigrant women that those who are subject to conditional PR and who are victims of abuse or neglect do not have to remain in an abusive situation. This brochure informs them how to contact CIC and others and where they can find help. This is great, but the problem is that many of them do not have literacy or language skills, even though we insist on some of those being in place before they can come to Canada. As such, it makes it very difficult for them to communicate and let people know what is happening to them in their circumstances and situations.
This is an important thing we are doing. Even though we are doing a lot to make sure that, from a Canadian cultural point of view, information is available to all immigrants, many of them do not get the opportunity to use it, because they are not literate and do not know the language. Some of these things are quite difficult when people come here.
Through the Department of Justice, our government has been holding sector specific workshops on forced marriage and honour-based violence with police, crowns, victims services, child protection officials, and shelter workers. These workshops will assist in front-line capacity building. The Department of Justice has also funded research papers on forced marriage and honour killing, including specific information on those forms of family violence in two public legal education pamphlets. One of these, Abuse is Wrong in any Language, is available in 12 languages. There are a variety of projects to prevent and respond to forced marriage and honour-based violence.
Unfortunately, as I said, many of these immigrants and victims of this violence may not actually even be able to read some of these documents, and because of their language skills, may not be able to contact those who can help them in any way.
Let me move on now to the action our government has taken to increase support for victims of crime, including through the victims bill of rights, which was passed, and the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Since 2007, a total of $2.8 million has been approved through Status of Women Canada for community-based projects that address harmful cultural practices, such as honour-based violence and forced marriage. The RCMP has developed online training on forced marriage and honour-based violence for RCMP officers and plans to make it available to municipal police and other agencies through the Canadian Police Knowledge Network in 2014.
Are we targeting any specific community? Our government is clearly not targeting any specific community. Our government has been clear on its stance against polygamy and other barbaric practices that constitute gender-based violence. This a victims rights issue rather than an issue based on ethnicity.
In August 2013, a report was released citing 219 cases of forced marriage in Ontario between 2010 and 2012. All the individuals in the survey who had been forced into marriages experienced violence. Most victims were young and from various cultures and religions. The majority of victims were unaware of their rights in the forced marriage situation.