Mr. Speaker, I rise once again in the House to speak to Bill S-7, which is before us today. You just read the motions that were moved by the various opposition parties, and if I am not mistaken, you did not read out any motions from the Conservative Party. That is because there probably were none, just like there were none proposed by the Conservatives in committee. Furthermore, just like all of the opposition's amendments in committee at second reading stage, all of these ones were rejected.
I obviously support the idea behind Bill S-7, which is to address violence against women and children, particularly in the context of forced marriages, child marriages and honour crimes, and also to address polygamy. This is the type of violence that Bill S-7 supposedly addresses.
The NDP, like all the parties in the House, wants to ensure that we have meaningful measures to address violence against women and children. Everyone supports that. I wanted to point that out, since some members claim that other members do not care about protecting women and children. That is an all-time low of partisanship in a debate like this one.
We also support other aspects of this bill. We are not necessarily opposed to all aspects of the bill. For example, we support the establishment of a minimum age for marriage, and we also support making it an offence to knowingly solemnize a forced marriage. We support these two measures. However, there are other measures in the bill that are worrisome and that we must review carefully.
The NDP is proposing amendments at report stage that would entirely remove certain parts of Bill S-7, because the Senate's study of this bill and that of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration brought to light a number of worrisome points related to the specific measures we are seeking to remove.
When so many experts working on the ground with the victims tell us that we are at risk of making the victims we wish to protect even more vulnerable, we must take these warnings seriously, withdraw the elements that cause serious concern from the bill, re-examine them and propose measures that will not make the situation worse for victims. So far, unfortunately, the government has not shown any willingness to consider these necessary changes.
The first clause we wish to delete is the short title, “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”. The NDP proposed a motion to amend it, but that motion was rejected by the Conservatives.
This title has stirred a debate among Canadians, because many people felt they were being singled out, as if they were part of a barbaric culture. In fact, saying “barbaric cultural practices” makes one think that certain cultures are in favour of violence against women and children.
In the Canadian cultural context where considerable racism, discrimination and—we must say it—Islamophobia exist, we must be careful with the words we use. If certain cultural communities living in Canada feel hurt and targeted by such a title, the simple solution is to get rid of it.
Are the practices mentioned in the bill barbaric? Indeed, they are cruel. They might be called “barbaric” or “unacceptable” but are they cultural? That is the problem. In the title of a bill, the word “cultural” does not add much.
How can it prevent us from achieving the purpose of this bill? That is the question.
Julie Miville-Dechêne, president of Quebec's Conseil du statut de la femme, said:
...we need communities to be with us and not against us. That is why the title of this legislation must absolutely be changed.
If the title of a bill antagonizes the very people on the front lines who can help us solve this problem, that is problematic. That is what is happening. Associations of Muslim, South Asian and Chinese people—women—tell us that this title does not work for them. It threatens and hurts them. Why not remove that word to gain as many allies as possible in the fight against violence against women?
Yao-Yao Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, also said that the title invokes racist stereotypes and fuels xenophobia towards certain racialized communities. Why not change the short title of a bill when it could undermine the very purpose of the bill?
The second amendment we are proposing today also deletes a clause, clause 2, which deals with denying access to Canadian territory to persons charged with polygamy. I would like to give a little more background on this.
This targets not only people charged with practising polygamy, but also people suspected of having practised it or currently practising it, and people who might practise it in the future. Based on suspicion alone, an immigration officer can deny entry into Canada not only to people who want to live here, but also people who want to visit Canada. Officers can also deport individuals suspected of having practised polygamy or currently practising it, and people who might practise it in the future.
The officers' latitude of interpretation is problematic, and some people have suggested that we need to be very careful. Telling officers they can guess whether someone might eventually practise polygamy opens the door to discrimination. The last thing we want is for any particular group to be discriminated against as a result of this.
On that point, Rupaleem Bhuyan, a professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, added:
The low burden of proof may lead to racist discrimination against immigrants from particular regions of the world who are considered undesirable. This provision would also put women who are spouses of polygamous men at risk of being deported or being separated from their children.
That is another problem. If we deport people who practise polygamy because we want to protect women, let us not forget that the women are also part of the polygamous relationship. If, in order to protect women, we deport them with their husband, then how exactly are we protecting them? Perhaps that was an oversight by the people who drafted this bill, but it raises serious concerns about the fact that the women we want to protect will be made even more vulnerable because of this bill.
Chantal Desloges also mentioned another problem with this provision in the bill. She said:
If there will be serious consequences such as deportation attached to this behaviour [polygamy], I think we need to draw a clear line in the sand so that people can amend their behaviour to know if they're going to be onside or offside of the legislation.
There is no clear definition of polygamy and that in itself is a problem.
We also want to get rid of the part of this bill that makes it a crime to attend a marriage ceremony knowing that one of the persons being married is being forced to do so. The NDP does not have a problem with criminalization, but the goal here is to protect the victims. If they know that by reporting the people who attended their forced marriage they are helping to criminalize them all and put them in prison, then many victims will remain silent for fear of criminalizing their entire family or community. People who work in the field tell us that this is a real danger.
For example, I will quote Ms. Siddiqui, the head of policy and research at Southall Black Sisters. She works in the United Kingdom, a country that has explored several approaches to criminalizing forced marriage. She says that the young girls and women she has been working with in the field for many years have told her that they want to be protected by the police, but do not want their parents or families to be prosecuted or to go to prison. These victims say that if they talked to the police and their family or community were accused of crimes, they would refuse to lay charges. When such pressure is put on the victims and secrecy is encouraged about something—forced marriage—that is already too much of a secret, there is a problem.
In short, Bill S-7 does not address our major concerns; it does not make it possible to achieve its stated goals; and it even threatens to make the victims more vulnerable. That is why we have proposed the amendments the House is debating today.