Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to participate in the debate on Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. It reflects the high priority our government places on supporting the ability of women and girls to live violence-free lives.
As a standing member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I am proud of the many actions the government has taken to address violence against women and girls. The bill is another important example of these efforts.
Allow me to provide a little context.
One of the most important actions we have taken is to increase the funding for the women's program at Status of Women Canada to record levels. We have invested over $153 million in more than 750 projects since 2007. This includes over $70 million for projects to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
In fact, through Status of Women Canada, close to $3 million has been provided in support of projects to eliminate harmful cultural practices using community-based approaches. These projects are building partnerships with cultural community organizations, settlement, legal and law enforcement agencies and school boards. This has resulted in the development of comprehensive, collaborative strategies that address violence against women and girls committed in the name of so-called honour.
For example, a project in Montreal, led by Shield of Athena Family Services, is providing training to liaison workers from cultural communities in order to identify at-risk situations and identify sources of assistance for the victims.
We also partnered with the Indo-Canadian Women's Association in Edmonton, Alberta in a project that mobilized the South Asian and Middle Eastern communities, service providers, faith organizations, teachers and students to help develop strategies to end this form of gender-based violence.
The zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act would represent another very important step we could take as a country to end gender-based violence. It would help ensure that no young girl or woman in Canada would become a victim or early or forced marriage, polygamy, violence committed in the name of so-called honour or any other form of barbaric cultural practice.
In the most recent Speech from the Throne, our government highlighted the fact that millions of women and girls worldwide continued to be brutalized by violence, including through the inhumane practices of early and forced marriage. That is why Canada is leading international efforts to address these cultural practices as violations of basic human rights.
In fact, the elimination of child early forced marriage remains a key priority for Canada. At the most recent meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York this March, it was raised again. We are committed to ensuring this cultural practice does not occur on Canadian soil.
The measures in the bill would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code to provide more protection and support for vulnerable individuals, primarily women and girls. They would do it in a number of difference ways. They would render permanent and temporary residents inadmissible if they practised polygamy in Canada. They would strengthen Canadian marriage laws by establishing a new minimum age for marriage at 16 and by codifying the existing legal requirements for free and enlightened consent for marriage, and for ending an existing marriage prior to entering another.
They measures would also criminalize certain conduct related to knowing participation in underage and forced marriage ceremonies, including the act of removing a child from Canada for the purpose of such marriage ceremonies. They would help to protect potential victims of underage or forced marriages by creating a new and specific preventative court ordered peace bond where there were grounds to fear that someone would commit an offence in this area. Finally, they would ensure that the defence of provocation would not apply in so-called honour killings and many spousal homicides.
The bill would send a clear message to anyone coming to Canada and to those who would already a part of Canadian society that these practices would be incompatible with Canadian values. Like all other forms of violence against women and girls, they will not be tolerated here.
However, it is abundantly important to note that all Canadians need to be part of the solution. No single government, or person or community organization acting alone can achieve these goals. We must rededicate ourselves as a society to changing attitudes and changing the conversation by underlining the fact that violence of any kind, including violence against women and girls, is never acceptable or normal behaviour. We need to continue to empower girls and women to speak out. We must keep working together to increase the responsiveness of our system to address the needs of victims and survivors. We must keep taking actions like the measures contained in this bill. As I said earlier, these practices simply will not be tolerated on Canadian soil.
The opposition refuses to take action. It wants more studies and more analysis. However, the time to take action is now. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration spent his summer going from coast to coast to coast, talking to Canadians. It is the victims of these barbaric practices who are asking him to take action. It is the actual victims who are supporting the legislation.
The zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act represents another important step that we can take as a country to help women and girls live violence-free lives. That is why I am proud to say that I will support the bill, and I urge all hon. members of the House to do the same.