Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-7, which has a rather odd title. We are debating the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.
I listened to several colleagues on the opposite side of the House, and also on this side, talk about the title. We are talking about the title because the government clearly intends to start this debate in a rather extreme way. The government is generalizing. That has been the trend recently with the government and the Prime Minister. We also heard several Conservative members attack a culture or a cultural community that has already been targeted by a great deal of generalization. The Conservatives clearly intend to breed a culture of fear, whether through the debate in the House on what will happen with Canada's intervention in Iraq or through its practice of pigeonholing certain communities.
As a member of a cultural community myself, I believe that the government is intentionally seeking to divide people with its approach. The government wants to tackle this issue. We see that. Obviously, the Conservatives came up with a certain directive so that they could go back to their ridings, go on the radio and tell women to go back where they came from if they do not like how things are done in Canada. Unfortunately, that is what the chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities did. I am a member of that committee.
To come back to the debate we are having today on Bill S-7, let us be clear: the NDP is against forced marriage, underage marriage and polygamy. These issues are clear. Despite the rhetoric that we are hearing from the other side of the House, I think everyone here and all Canadians agree on these issues.
However, the government's level of debate is somewhat shameful. I am talking about form. With regard to the substance of the debate, when we listen to the Conservatives speak, we hear a bit about the main objective. However, the problem is the same as it is with many bills. I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for a short time and I saw Conservative bills that created criminal offences. When it comes to criminalization, the Conservatives' motto is law and order. As a result, they are making everything a crime. They are going to put people in prison. They are going to build megaprisons and that is how they are going to solve society's problems. Unfortunately, that is a very dogmatic approach that is so typical of the Conservatives. It really is their way of doing things. However, the problem with that is that they do not think about the people who will be affected.
In this particular case, when we talk about forced marriage, for example, we are talking about women and children, who are the most likely victims. They will technically be victims of the Conservatives' bill. That is why I will explain why I oppose this bill. The government comes in with a sledgehammer and says that we will throw people in prison without looking at the facts or listening to stakeholders. The government makes a broad generalization and then says that this is the solution. The government has no data on forced marriages, and we have no statistics to know what is going on in Canada. What is really happening?
As sensible legislators, we must look at what other countries are doing. I want to cite one of the examples given today, which I will continue to reference. If we look at what happens in Denmark, for example, we can see that a bill somewhat similar to the government's bill was passed in 2008, if I am not mistaken. Since then, not a single charge has been laid and there has been no meaningful impact.
Once again, the government has come to us with a bill that claims to change everything and fix everything, but in reality it does not address a real problem. Let me clarify. I am not saying that the situation is not a problem. I agree that forced marriages are a problem and that we are against them. However, the government's reaction is excessive. I am not defending the practice. I am simply thinking about the victims.
They want to deport or imprison people who practice polygamy, but that would victimize the women and children. The fact is that most of the people who practice polygamy are men, but the women, who do not always know it, end up suffering the consequences of this crime. Basically, I am worried about these children and these women.
Some of the measures in this bill are already in the Criminal Code. For example, we know that polygamy is not allowed in Canada, and that makes sense. The same applies to forced marriages.
The NDP is opposed to the government's approach because we have a different philosophy: prevention. It is not right to make such practices a crime without considering the consequences for families, women and children. We think prevention should come first. That is why I am so proud of Motion No. 563, which was moved by my colleague, our immigration critic. This motion outlines all of the measures we need to take. Here it is:
That, in the opinion of the House, forced marriages are a crime that constitutes violence against women and consequently, the government should: (a) strongly condemn the practice; (b) increase funding to organizations working with potential or actual victims; (c) consult with women, communities, organizations, and experts to form a true picture of the issue and to identify the best ways to address it; (d) allow women with conditional permanent resident status to remain in Canada if their partners are deported due to polygamy or forced marriage; (e) invest in information programs tailored to immigrant women; (f) develop culturally appropriate training programs for service providers dealing with immigrant women such as the police and social workers, as well as officers of the Canada Border Service Agency and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration; (g) restore funding to Status of Women Canada; and (h) implement the NDP’s national plan for a strategy to address violence against women.
I am proud of this motion moved by my colleague, our immigration critic, because it clearly explains our vision and our proposal. At the risk of repeating myself, the Conservatives favour criminalization while ignoring the consequences and without any prevention measures. When we talk about criminalization, it is all about a deed already done. It is about introducing punitive measures and putting people in prison.
We in the NDP believe in investing in prevention and education. It is not through bills with titles that include terms like “barbaric cultural practices”—and so many other Conservative bills—that we will promote dialogue and education. On the contrary, this shows a certain closed-mindedness.
I am not saying that the practices targeted by this bill are acceptable. On the contrary, they are completely unacceptable. However, as an elected member, it saddens me to hear the Prime Minister, some members and even ministers say things that make an entire cultural community in our society feel like it is under attack. This is not coming from me. Unfortunately, the Conservative government clearly had every intention of attacking certain cultural communities for purely partisan political purposes. It is troubling.
For that reason, and all the other reasons I mentioned earlier, I will be opposing this bill at second reading. The government should listen to what the opposition has to say, consult the experts and, above all, do its homework so that it really understands the consequences of its actions for the people it is trying to protect.