Mr. Speaker, it is with a great sense of purpose that I am participating today in this debate on Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
I am supporting this legislation because I believe that men and women are equal, and our government believes that men and women are equal. Passing this bill is critical to ensuring that immigrant girls and women have the same chances to position themselves for success in Canada as men and boys do.
Canada has opened its doors to many people who have left their home countries to come here for a better life. Many have come for the rich opportunities. Many have fled persecution in search of safety and security. We want to ensure that they can live here in safety and security. We want them to know that they can live freely, because Canada upholds the enduring principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Those apply equally to men and women. We cannot just talk the talk; we have to walk the walk. This bill is an example of that today.
Even in this House, we can see that immigrant women are making great contributions to Canada. I think of my fellow colleagues who are immigrant women, the MPs for Vancouver South, Richmond, and Fleetwood—Port Kells, just to name a few who were born elsewhere. They have been elected to Parliament, and they work every day toward a better Canada.
As legislators, we all owe it to immigrant girls and women to ensure that they are not hampered from making great contributions to Canada by discriminatory cultural practices and barbaric cultural practices, such as early and forced marriage, polygamy, and yes, so-called honour killings, which have no place in this country. Indeed, we have zero tolerance for such practices, and this bill sends that strong message.
To that end, the Government of Canada is taking concrete steps. Already our government is providing women who are newcomers to Canada with a whole range of services and programs to help them build their skills so they can enter the workforce and get great jobs here. I have had the opportunity to participate in graduations from some of these programs. I have to say that they truly are inspiring. They have such vim and vigour and a desire to get out and make a contribution.
Two great organizations in my community, among many, that are doing this work are the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association and Immigrant Services Calgary. They do things like co-op programs for professional women, job retraining, and mentorship.
However, shockingly, groups that work with many of our immigrant women and girls also report that when they have left countries where barbaric practices are common, they find themselves subjected to them here.
In the most recent Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government committed to ensuring that barbaric cultural practices do not occur here on Canadian soil. The Government of Canada, the people of Canada, will not tolerate barbaric cultural practices that hold women back. That is the bottom line.
It is up to us to ensure that immigrant women and girls are not being subjugated through isolation and violence. This bill codifies that in law. It says that practices like early and forced marriage, like polygamy and honour-based violence, will not be tolerated.
Women and girls seeking a better life for themselves here in Canada should never be subject to living in constant fear under threat of violence or death simply for living their lives, for choosing whom they wish to marry, and for seeking better opportunities for themselves.
These practices are antithetical to the fundamental Canadian values of freedom and gender equality in which I firmly believe. According to Justice Canada, reports from criminal court cases, the media, and refugee decisions, there were at least a dozen killings from 1999 to 2009 committed in the name of so-called honour. These were premeditated killings, killings of girls and women, murders by family members.
I am haunted by a case in my own home town of Calgary in March 1991, when 20-year-old Kulvinder Dulay was gunned down with her husband and a friend in a parking lot outside the mall by a family member. Ontario was rocked in 2009 when four strong, vivacious women, the Shafias, were murdered by their own family in Kingston.
We are prosecuting such crimes under our current laws, but we know that immigrant and newcomer women and girls face additional barriers when it comes to protecting themselves and seeking assistance compared to women who are born in Canada.
There were a reported 219 cases of forced marriage from 2010 to 2012 just in Ontario, and all of those individuals reported being victims of violence. These practices have a very negative effect on families and on society at large as well as on the communities in which they occur. Bill S-7 is the latest example of this government taking strong action to protect women and girls.
Our government has also recently updated Canada's citizenship guide, called Discover Canada, and the newcomers' orientation guide, called Welcome to Canada, to clearly state for people coming to Canada and people who want to be citizens that Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to harmful cultural practices like forced marriage or gender-based family violence. This is a great step. I have talked with our Minister of Citizenship and Immigration recently about expanding the scope of the distribution of these guides to all of our embassies worldwide.
However, our efforts do not stop there. Status of Women, a committee on which I am privileged to sit, has also invested $2.8 million for community-based projects that address harmful cultural practices. Justice Canada and the Status of Women co-chair an interdepartmental working group on early and forced marriage, honour-based violence, and female genital mutilation. Since 2009, Justice Canada has been busy holding workshops. It has held six sector-specific workshops with police, crowns, victims services, child protection officials, and shelter workers to build capacity among the people who deal with these issues on the front lines.
As I said, we know that more needs to be done to protect girls and women in our immigration system. That is why Bill S-7 is necessary. To ensure the effectiveness of the measures in this bill, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration consulted with immigration advocates and others in this field for many months, across the country, to formulate the policies that would stop violence and abuse. Those experts told us that barbaric practices still occur on Canadian soil and that we need to act. They gave advice and made very important recommendations that were included in this bill. That led us to where we are today.
The zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act would send a clear and unambiguous message to Canadians and newcomers that such practices are verboten. It would strengthen our laws to protect Canadians and newcomers from these harmful practices by ensuring, for example, that people know that it is a crime to participate in these barbaric cultural practices. We would remove the defence of provocation in the case of so-called honour killings. We would declare that the practices of some cultures are not consistent with Canadian laws and that Canadians will not tolerate cultural practices that deprive individuals, girls, and women of their human rights.
To repeat, this bill would support women and girls who have come to Canada for a better life. It would make it clear that under no circumstances do Canadians accept or allow the propagation or enactment of barbaric cultural practices that target women.
Aruna Papp, who was a victim of early and forced marriage, says this about Bill S-7:
The government's Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act recognizes the plight of these women. In presenting this bill, the government of Canada has said, in effect, “as a Canadian citizen, you, too, deserve to live a life free of violence and coercion.” For this, I am grateful.
For this, I too am grateful. This bill needs to become law to prevent more young victims like Aruna Papp.
I implore the opposition members who refuse to stand up for those victims and who say that action is not needed for such a small problem to support this bill, to think of Aruna Papp, of Lee Marsh, of the four members of the Shafia family, and of all the victims of these barbaric practices.
I know that members of both opposition parties say that they are in favour of women's rights. Yet both parties voted against Bill S-2, which gave aboriginal women long-denied matrimonial property rights last year. That is a game changer for them.
I encourage all of my hon. colleagues, and especially those members of the opposition who sit with me on the Status of Women committee, to lead their colleagues and stand up for women and girls. I ask them to vote for Bill S-7 and stand up for victims of violence and abuse.