Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. It is great to see so many MPs speaking to this bill.
One of the reasons I got involved in politics from the very beginning was to work on issues like this, to empower women to fight for equality, liberty, and more than anything, an end to violence. Since being elected in 2006, this government and this government alone, under the Prime Minister's leadership, based on our values of pluralism, tolerance, and respect, has acted as one of the loudest, most determined governments in the world in pushing for safe communities and environments for women. We have taken the strongest measures in Canadian history to protect vulnerable women.
We raised the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years to protect young people, including girls, from sexual exploitation by adult predators, and we strengthened peace bond provisions concerning those who were previously convicted of sexual offences against children. It might sound like a small thing, but we have also improved the availability of testimonial aids for vulnerable adult victims and witnesses, including women, who have experienced violence and have to go through the justice system. As someone who volunteered in women's shelters in my life before politics, I can say that these measures make a huge difference for victims and women who are at risk of violence.
Human trafficking is a heinous crime that adversely affects women and girls, especially aboriginal women and girls as young as 12 years old. Our government amended the Criminal Code to create specific offences that prohibit the trafficking of persons for any exploitative purpose—including forced sexual exploitation or forced labour—receipt of a financial material benefit from the trafficking of persons, and the withholding or destroying of traveller identity documents to facilitate the trafficking of persons.
These measures, of course, are all designed to protect vulnerable women from these predators, prosecute the traffickers, and prevent these serious crimes and human rights violations. It is also why this government supported the creation of a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison for the trafficking of a person under the age of 18.
For all of the Liberals' talk about their support for aboriginal women, it was this government, under our Prime Minister, that after 100 years, introduced matrimonial property rights on reserve to provide aboriginal women with basic rights and remedies on the fair division of the family home when there is a breakdown in relationship. As well, it was this government that guaranteed people living on reserves the same protections as all Canadians enjoy under the Canadian Human Rights Act, so that aboriginal women also have the same legal protections and supports that are afforded all Canadian women.
These are some of the important actions that our government has taken to improve the legal equality of aboriginal women, but our government is also working to improve the lives of other groups of vulnerable and disenfranchised women in our country. That is why we have introduced Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. It sends a very clear message that harmful or violent cultural practices are unacceptable in Canada. These practices, whether they are gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, early, forced, or polygamous marriage, or of course, so-called honour-based violence, are incompatible with Canadian values and will not be tolerated in our country.
Bill S-7 builds on our government's record of taking very strong action to ensure the equality, safety, and security of all women and girls in communities across Canada by strengthening our laws to prevent and respond to harmful cultural traditions that deprive individuals, particularly women, of their human rights. I am especially proud that this government will not fall victim to political correctness and cultural relativism by ignoring these problems or ignoring the problem of violence motivated by so-called honour. These heinous acts are an extreme and brutal violation of the values that we hold dear, and it is shameful that there are those who encourage them.
It bears repeating, when discussing this issue, that all forms of violence are fully prohibited by the Criminal Code, whatever the motive.
Bill S-7 would amend the Criminal Code to limit the defence of provocation, ensuring that culture could never be an excuse for murder or violence when the victim committed a lawful act that made another person feel so enraged or so dishonoured or insulted or humiliated or ashamed that the person would inflict violence.
The defence of provocation can currently be raised by persons with what are, in my view, warped values who are found to have committed a crime even as serious as murder where they claim that they did so in the heat of passion and in response to what was a wrongful act or insult by the victims themselves that caused them to lose their self-control. If successful in the defence, even though they are found to have committed murder, they are instead convicted of perhaps manslaughter, which has no mandatory minimum sentence unless a firearm is used. By contrast, a conviction for murder carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment, with a minimum of 10 years incarceration before being eligible for parole.
The defence of provocation has been raised in several so-called honour killing cases in Canada. It has been raised on the basis that the victim's behaviour, such as choosing one's own marriage partner or dating partner, or even making other personal decisions, such as what kind of clothing to wear, without the support or permission of the father, usually, or sometimes the mother or extended family, amounted to a wrongful act or insult.
This so-called wrongful act or insult, when considered in the context of the cultural community to which the family belonged, apparently would provoke the accused to inflict violence, and maybe even kill, over a sense of damaged honour or reputation. The defence has been invoked in spousal homicides of women in response to legal conduct of the victim, including cases in which the victim was simply trying to end the relationship or said something that the killer found insulting, as well as in cases of real or perceived infidelity.
All Canadians know about some of these very high-profile cases, but what they do not know about is the insidious nature of this kind of oppression that they may not have read about in the paper or the Ottawa Citizen. It would make Canadians sick to know that an attempt could be made to excuse a murder because the killer was insulted, embarrassed, ashamed, or humiliated, or suffered some other emotional upset based on the concept of honour. It is unacceptable, of course, to excuse murder that is committed because a person was unable to control the actions or decisions of another person.
In Canada, I think all of us agree that men and women are equal under the law, and the ability to make one's own choices in life is a cornerstone of our democracy. No one deserves to be oppressed or to experience violence because their legal choices are unwelcome to a spouse, a parent or brothers, or by anyone else in their community. Accordingly, Bill S-7 proposes to restrict the application of the defence of provocation so that it would no longer be available to those who intentionally kill another person in response to conduct that was legal.
The harmful practices that this bill seeks to end—gender-based violence; early, forced, or polygamous marriage; and so-called honour-based violence—typically affect women and girls. They are heinous abuses of human rights and have no place in Canadian society.
Our government has been clear on this issue from the beginning. Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to such barbaric cultural practices, and we are sending a very strong message, both to people in Canada and to people who wish to come to Canada, that we will not tolerate cultural traditions that deprive individuals, specifically women and girls, of their human rights. The preservation and promotion of human rights, our deep respect for fundamental freedoms, and a wholehearted commitment to the universal dignity of all persons stand at the heart of who we are as Canadians.
I hope that all members of this House will join me in supporting Bill S-7, which signals to Canadian society and, most importantly, signals to women and girls all across Canada and to the rest of the world that ensuring the equality, safety, and security of all women and girls in communities across Canada is paramount.