Mr. Speaker, Bill S-7, which I will be speaking to, was introduced in the Senate. It was introduced by people who were not democratically elected by Canadians. I also want to thank my colleague from Joliette, with whom I will be sharing my time, and who will speak at the end of my speech.
First, like the NDP member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, I think that no child should ever be the victim of violence, and that forced marriages, honour crimes, or any form of violence against women and children should not have a place in this country. In that sense, we all agree on the principle and the goal. People who commit such violence against children and women must be punished.
The battle to combat violence against women is one that must be fought on the ground. I tip my hat to the front-line workers, security personnel, border officers and, in short, everyone who works on the ground and witnesses this type of violence and crime. These are situations that are not easy to see or experience. We should commend these people for the work they try to do on the ground. They have to intervene to prevent these crimes and help victims. It is an ongoing battle. That is why I tip my hat to them. I hope they are prepared to keep up the fight to stop violence against women.
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights presented a report on this bill in which it points out that other measures are needed to address the problems of polygamy, forced marriage, or underage marriage. More specifically, the committee confirmed that we need to educate people, raise awareness and provide support services. However, Bill S-7 was passed by the Senate without amendment.
Faced with this major problem and such a complex issue, it is regrettable that all the government is doing is bringing forward legislation when, according to the Senate committee, education and public awareness should be part of this approach.
For people whose memories may not reach back that far, I would like to remind them that about 100 years ago in Canada there were many situations where women were victims of violence and forced to marry. How many young girls were forced to marry to cover up a pregnancy? The only way that they could leave the family home and hope to have a decent life was either to marry or to become a nun. Many women were forced to marry for cultural or socio-economic reasons.
Over the years, a change in attitudes and the education of parents has meant that men and women are equal today, even though there is still work to do on that. The principle of gender equality has been recognized even though in real life there is still work to be done.
As a nurse, I had the opportunity to work with seniors. When you talk to women who are 85 or 95 years old, you realize that their lives were completely different. There are women who were raped by their husbands every night because they were unlucky when they were told that it was time to marry, move on or enter religious life. There were some very difficult situations.
The experience of these women can help us end these practices. Unfortunately, what happened here is being completely ignored as though everything has always been fine for women in Canada. We must take this into account if we really want to change the mindset.
Over time, women have done some historic work to change the culture. This work was not done through legislation but through involvement, by changing attitudes and by getting people who work on the ground and in the communities involved in changing these practices. It could be beneficial for us to look at what has been done in the past.
One of the problems with this bill, especially with respect to polygamy, is that if we recognize that a man has engaged in polygamous relationships, his entire family can be deported. This part of the bill does not make sense. Either women are victims of polygamy or they are accomplices. Based on what I have heard from all members, included the Conservatives—unless I am mistaken, but I do not think so—everyone seems to think that women are victims of polygamy and are not accomplices. If they are victims of polygamy, why are they not allowed to stay here instead of being forced to return to their country with their polygamous husband? They are not even given the chance to stay here, even though we believe that they were victims. That does not make sense.
I think that is very important. We would like to amend the bill so that victims are exempt from fulfilling the requirements of conditional permanent residence, to allow the wives and children of someone who is deported for having lied to the authorities about his marital status to remain in Canada, where they are living. That is essential.
We must also be aware of the consequences. What will happen to a woman when the authorities realize that she is a victim of polygamy? What impact will her deportation to her country of origin have on her health and physical safety? Her husband may believe that it is her fault that he was unable to remain in Canada. What do my colleagues think? Will he give her flowers and a new dress or will he give her the beating of her life? It is important to think this through. I believe that it is clear to all parliamentarians that women are victims of polygamy, and if they are victims, we must ensure they do not suffer any of the negative consequences that deportation may have on their health, their safety and even their lives.
This government has a responsibility to ensure that these women are not doubly victimized. We cannot tell ourselves that they may get the beating of their life but this will not happen in Canada so it is not our problem. That is not a responsible way of thinking. We must therefore make sure that we clearly understand the full scope of our actions when we impose consequences on women who are the victims of polygamy.
We must also ensure that the children who are left behind in their home country are eligible for immigration to Canada and that they have access to the Canadian immigration system. Moreover, we must provide prevention and support services to victims. I want to say that children should not have to suffer because they were born to the wrong one of their father's wives. Children should not have to suffer the consequences of the choices of their father, who is really their father and who, unfortunately, chose another one of his wives. Those children should have the right to settle here if they are not a risk to Canadian society.
I look forward to my colleagues' questions.