Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring some clarity to such a sensitive debate, while the government and the majority are actively causing confusion.
I want to begin by reaffirming my unwavering opposition to polygamy, forced marriage and underage marriage. As it happens, I have met with women who are victims of these practices. I do not have harsh enough words to condemn such violence and how it undermines women's dignity. These are practices I have fought against my entire life.
As a member of Parliament, I would be pleased to support any bill that would provide more protection for the victims or help prevent these crimes. However, Bill S-7 just confirms the government's ongoing trend. In March 2012, the Conservatives introduced new legislative measures regarding spousal relationships whereby the sponsored person must live with their sponsor for a period of two years. These measures include a penalty of deportation or a criminal charge if this condition is not met by the sponsored person. I want to remind hon. members that this provision was harshly criticized, and rightly so. Sponsored women who are victims of spousal abuse have no choice but to suffer the violence under threat of deportation. We see how compassionate the Conservatives can be. In April 2014, the hon. member for Mississauga South moved Motion No. 505 to supposedly deal with forced marriages through proxy marriages. I strongly opposed that motion at the time. I am opposing Bill S-7 for the same reasons.
With these various measures, the government is causing confusion and perpetuating xenophobic stereotypes. The increasing number of laws that associate cultural practices with violence against women shows that the government is willing to exploit this tendency in a thinly veiled attempt to win votes. The bill title alone, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, shamefully equates violence against women with certain cultural communities. This is a disgraceful way of doing things. It is ethnocentric and promotes the mistaken idea that violence against women occurs only within cultural minorities. The government is targeting racial minorities by perpetuating offensive stereotypes rather than introducing constructive measures to prevent violence against women.
This bill, like the other legislative measures I mentioned, is not only shameful, it will be ineffective. It will not solve the problems it claims to address since the Criminal Code, specifically sections 273.3 and 292, already provides recourse for the offences created in this bill. What is worse, as in the previous examples, this bill politicizes the issue of sexual violence, and the criminal offences it proposes will only exacerbate the problem. The fight against violence against women begins on the ground. In order to win that fight, we must work with all of the partners available, including those in cultural communities, in order to develop and implement a preventive approach. The bill title alone is a major obstacle to establishing such partnerships with people that this government considers “barbaric”.
Beyond the matter of the title, some aspects of this bill jeopardize the safety of women and undermine efforts to combat violence against them. Bill S-7 would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to supposedly help combat polygamy. The fact that, under the bill, the mere suspicion of polygamy can result in inadmissibility to Canada or removal orders will have serious repercussions for women.
The testimony of Avvy Yao-Yao Go, the clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, during the Senate committee's study was particularly enlightening:
The bill seeks to deport people who are engaged in polygamy, and that would include the very women that the government claims it's trying to protect.
With respect to forced marriages, the measure providing for a prison sentence for anyone involved could prevent potential witnesses from speaking out.
I strongly believe that the criminalization provisions will be counterproductive. The government should opt to take the constructive method proposed by my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard in Motion No. 503 on forced marriage. This motion called on the government to increase funding to organizations working with potential or actual victims.
The organizations working on the ground, which do unbelievable work, have too few material resources. This causes some serious problems, especially when it comes to getting victims to speak out against the practices that victimize them. The government cannot simply punish people. It needs to give organizations in this field the means to protect victims and prevent these crimes.
We would also like to see a consultation process involving women, communities, organizations and experts to form a true picture of the issue and identify the best ways to address it.
I am astounded that the government is refusing to work with the people involved on the ground and to take the necessary measures to accurately quantify this phenomenon.
Other countries have already studied this issue and implemented measures, and we think we should follow their example. The United Kingdom has adopted a method that allows victims to choose between a civil process and a criminal process in the event of prosecution. Giving victims that power can give them the confidence they need to get help and report an individual without necessarily sending family members to jail. What happened in Denmark is also interesting, but for exactly the opposite reason. In 2008, Denmark introduced criminal offences similar to those set out in Bill S-7. In the seven years since, not one criminal has been brought to justice. This shows that Bill S-7's criminalization approach hurts victims by preventing them from reporting crimes.
Our primary objective should be to fight violence against women and help victims, not hurt them, which is what Bill S-7 could end up doing. We need to put an immediate stop to this stigmatizing rhetoric and adopt the proactive approach outlined in my colleague's Motion No. 503.