Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate on Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Willowdale.
This bill reflects our government's priority for supporting women and girls to live violence-free lives, because a building block for women and children in reaching their full potential is being able to live life free of violence and free of the threat of violence.
As Minister for Status of Women, I am proud of everything that we are doing to eliminate gender-based violence. Bill S-7 builds on our efforts in that regard.
Bill S-7 sends a clear message to people who come to live in Canada and those who live here already. It says that we are committed to ensuring that no girl or woman in Canada becomes a victim of polygamy, forced marriage or violence committed in the name of so-called honour. In other words, these customs are inconsistent with Canadian values, and like every other type of violence against women and girls, they will not be tolerated.
As hon. members know, millions of women and girls throughout the world are victims of violence and inhumane treatment. That includes customs such as forced or underage marriage. That is why Canada is leading the international effort to ensure that forced marriage and underage marriage are recognized as basic human rights violations. Eliminating these practices is one of Canada's top international priorities. We raised it at a session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March, and I am proud to say that I led the Canadian delegation at that session.
We are committed to helping ensure that these cultural practices do not occur on Canadian soil, through measures like those in Bill S-7. This 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.
These amendments would improve protection and supports for vulnerable individuals, especially women and girls, in a number of different ways. They would render permanent and temporary residents inadmissible if they practise polygamy in Canada. They would strengthen Canadian marriage laws by establishing a new national minimum age for marriage at 16 years and by codifying the existing legal requirements for free and enlightened consent for marriage and for ending an existing marriage prior to entry into another. They would criminalize certain conduct related to knowing participation in underage and forced marriage ceremonies, and they would include the act of removing a child from Canada for the purpose of such marriage ceremonies. They would help protect potential victims of underage or forced marriages by creating a new and specific preventive court-ordered peace bond where there are 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.
This legislation is a very important part of the multifaceted approach our government is taking to help women and girls live violence free.
Another key action we have taken is to increase funding to the women's program at Status of Women Canada to record levels. In fact, we have invested more than $162 million in more than 780 projects through the women's program since 2007, including more than $71 million for projects to end violence against women and girls. Through Status of Women Canada, we have provided funds for projects to eliminate harmful cultural practices using community-based approaches. These projects are building partnerships with cultural communities; settlement, legal, and law enforcement agencies; and school boards. They result in the development of comprehensive, collaborative strategies that address violence against women and girls committed in the so-called name of honour.
By way of example, a project in Montreal led by Shield of Athena Family Services provided training to liaison workers from cultural communities in order to identify at-risk situations and identify sources for assistance of victims.
We also teamed up with the Indo-Canadian Women's Association in Edmonton, Alberta. The association mobilized local South Asian and Middle Eastern communities as well as a range of partners, including service providers, faith-based organizations, teaching staff and students.
Together they came up with strategies to eliminate this kind of gender-based violence. These initiatives demonstrate that our government is committed to giving communities the tools they need to combat gender-based violence.
We are also committed to eliminating violence against aboriginal women and girls. That is why we launched our action plan to address family violence and violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls back in April.
This action plan takes immediate and concrete action to prevent violence, support victims, and protect aboriginal women and girls through new and ongoing commitments of approximately $200 million over five years.
That action plan includes a secretariat to improve co-operation among all stakeholders, including those at the federal level and all other levels of government. That has also been in place since April. Along with the secretariat, we also created a website, where we have posted links to the various funding mechanisms used as part of our action plan.
I am proud of each of these actions by our government that I have spoken about today. However, we all know that no single government or person or community organization acting alone can end violence against women and girls. All Canadians need to be part of the solution.
We must continue to underscore that violence is never acceptable or normal behaviour. We must continue to empower women and girls to speak out. We must keep taking actions like the measures in Bill S-7. This legislation sends a strong message to those who are already in Canada and to those who wish to come to this country that we will not tolerate cultural practices that deprive individuals of human rights.
Bill S-7 is another important step we are taking as a country to help women and girls live free of violence. That is why I am proud to say that I am supporting Bill S-7, and I urge all of my colleagues to do exactly the same. It is in their interest and it is in the interest of human rights that we support these initiatives.