Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak today in support of Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
In October 2013, our government committed to ensuring that early and forced marriages do not take place on Canadian soil. Bill S-7 delivers on that very promise. The bill proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code to enhance the existing protections against harmful and violent practices that are perpetrated primarily against women and girls.
I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on the bill and to compare our government's measures to some of our peer countries.
As Canada's citizenship and immigration minister explained before the Senate committee on human rights, all violent acts committed against women and girls are unacceptable in a democratic Canada. That is why our government has taken action, and continues to, to address various forms of violence against women and girls.
Bill S-7 supplements Canada's robust responses to violence against women and girls by addressing some areas where gaps have been identified, such as the response to early and forced marriages, and it strengthens the legislative tools in relation to other forms of gender-based violence, such as polygamy, so-called honour killing, and spousal homicide.
The bill addresses certain forms of violence against women and girls that reflect antiquated notions of women as property or as mere vessels of family honour and reputation. These notions are clearly inconsistent with the fundamental Canadian value of equality between men and women.
The zero tolerance for barbaric practices act introduces important legislative measures that would protect potential and actual victims of early and forced marriages.
I would like to turn now to the proposed new Criminal Code offence of active participation in an underage or forced marriage ceremony.
There has been significant debate about how best to address the issue of forced marriage and about whether a criminal law provision would make reporting more difficult. Nonetheless, many international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the United Nations, have been calling on states to specifically criminalize forced marriage. For example, UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, recommends that:
Legislation should criminalize forced marriage, and should acknowledge that any child marriage is by definition a forced marriage.
This is exactly what Bill S-7 proposes to do with the new offence of forced and underage marriage. Moreover, at least 11 similarly situated countries have introduced criminal offences in relation to forced marriage over the past decade or so. The following countries have enacted forced marriage offences, with maximum penalties ranging from two to seven years of imprisonment: the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, and Norway.
Mr. Speaker, it looks to me like you are about to tell me that my time is up for the moment. I look forward to continuing after question period.