Mr. Speaker, in preparing for this brief speech I was not exactly sure how I wanted to begin. However, after reading my background notes I am left to wonder why this piece of legislation has even been introduced. It is becoming evident to me that the current Conservative government really is not interested in making Canada a better place in which to live. In fact, sometimes I think it is the opposite.
We have seen a number of pieces of legislation introduced with sensational titles such as this one, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, that play to the emotions but often lack substance. We have seen this with various so-called tough-on-crime bills introduced in the past years in spite of the fact that our crime rate is falling. In the U.S., which has an alarmingly high rate of incarceration, there are discussions to reject this punitive and primitive approach that is not working and determine which other measures are needed to ensure that those found guilty can return safely and become productive members of society. In other words, that is the approach we have always had in this country, at least until very recently.
A lot of what is presented by the government I would say is meant to increase fear amongst Canadians with respect to problems that may not even really exist. Let us look at Bill C-51, which gives sweeping powers to the government to infringe upon our rights and freedoms. Thousands of Canadians took to the streets last Saturday to protest against the draconian measures of this bill. The sad truth is that we already have adequate measures to protect us from terrorist threats under existing legislation.
I believe and will venture to say that a lot of these bills are just a simple waste of time. Rather than concentrating on crime and fear, perhaps we could realistically tackle issues that are facing us, such as climate change, poverty, the lack of affordable housing, the erosion of our health care system, and the thousands of working poor we have in this country.
Experts who appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights explained that criminalization will not solve the problem and instead will exacerbate it. In fact, several Criminal Code provisions already provide legal recourse with regard to the offences targeted by the bill. Instead of politicizing the issue of gender-based violence, the government could strengthen the legislative measures already in place. It must also commit to implementing a national action plan to combat violence against women and invest more in the organizations that provide services to women in forced or underage marriages.
Naturally, we agree that no woman should be subject to gender-based violence, including the practices of forced marriage and underage marriage. The bill could have serious unintended consequences, including the criminalization of the victims of polygamy, criminalization and deportation of children, and separation of families.
As an aside, I sometimes get the impression that a lot of the bills that are presented here are not really thought out. A bill is presented and then we get an opinion back from the legal profession saying that it may not stand up to court challenges or that it is not well written and thought out. I think this bill falls into that category.
Instead of a sensationalized bill that does not get at the root of the problem, the minister should commit to widespread and meaningful consultations with community groups and experts so that the real issue of gender-based violence is addressed in an effective manner.
The government should also increase investments in organizations that provide services such as safe and affordable housing, counselling and help for families that are often traumatized by the fact that they must navigate complicated legal and immigration systems.
The thing is that what is happening with this bill, what I have learned in going through some background information, is that the information here often duplicates our existing laws. For example, the bill would change the Civil Marriage Act to make free and enlightened consent legal requirements for marriage, but these requirements are already part of the civil code of Quebec and common law in other provinces. The bill would limit the defence of provocation, ostensibly to exclude honour killings, but courts have already ruled that the concept of honour and the culturally driven sense of what is an appropriate response do not count as provocation under the Criminal Code.
Canadian criminal law already provides recourse relevant in most cases involving forced marriage, prior to and after the marriage, as well as in cases of travelling with a minor with the intent to force her or him to marry.
I am just going to list what it includes because it is important for my colleagues here to understand that we have adequate measures in our current legislation for a lot of this information that we are discussing and we are voting on.
For example, it includes uttering threats, section 264.1 of the Criminal Code. It includes assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, abduction of a young person, procuring feigned marriage, removal of a child from Canada, extortion, sexual offences against children and youth, failure to provide necessities of life and abandoning children, abduction of a young person and, moreover, spousal abuse, abuse of a child and abuse of a position of trust and so on.
We have to ask ourselves this. If in fact we have provisions in our current legislation to address these issues, why are we taking time to do another bill? I would like to submit that perhaps we are doing this because the Conservatives want to sensationalize certain aspects of our society and play to the base, to the fear factor that I talked about before.
Witnesses at the Senate committee hearings pointed out that immigrant women often have significantly less information about the Canadian immigration and legal systems than their sponsoring partners, which allows their sponsors to threaten and manipulate them. However, this bill would make no provision for providing women with basic information about immigration rules or with adequate integration services.
Families who have suffered from violence and harmful practices need adequate supports and programs, especially since the challenges faced by survivors of forced marriages are unique. However, this bill makes no reference to support services. That is an interesting point. We have seen, for example, the sensationalism about Bill C-51, this anti-terrorism bill, and all the provisions that are going into the bill. However, there is really very little about resources to people in the field, to our police and to others who keep our society safe or, in this case, resources that are provided for the safety of women.
It is no secret that under the current government, women's centres have lost funding, that the organizations that support and work with women who are undergoing violence and spousal abuse do not have the resources that they had a decade ago. At the same time, we see a bill that supposedly would address the situation, but there is nothing on the ground to help those people when they approach a centre, if in fact the centre is still allowed to exist.
According to UNICEF, if Canada wants to ensure the protection of children from human trafficking, it must recognize that Canadian children who become victims of trafficking largely end up that way as a result of a series of failures in the protective system.
Many children live in low-income families without adequate access to community support services that could prevent the risk of exploitation. Many need educational support and mental health services, but do not receive them.
In 2008, Denmark's parliament unanimously passed a law making it a criminal offence to force anyone to marry. However, six years after the law was enacted, the police have not yet charged a single person and the courts have not convicted anyone under the act. Why? Susanne Fabricius of the national organisation of women's shelters in Denmark said that she did not think this had any impact on protecting women and, in fact, might have backfired and driven the problem underground. I rest my case with that.