Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. Before I do that, I would like to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga South.
The amendments contained in Bill S-7 would improve protection and support for individuals at risk, especially women and girls, including in the following ways: establishing a new national minimum age for marriage at 16 years; codifying the existing legal requirement for free and enlightened consent for marriage; codifying the requirement of ending an existing marriage prior to entering a new one; criminalizing certain conduct related to underage and forced marriage ceremonies, including the act of removing the child from Canada for the purpose of such marriage ceremonies; creating specific preventive court ordered peace bond when there are grounds to fear that someone is at risk of underage or forced marriage; and ensuring that the defence of provocation would not apply in so-called honour killings and many spousal homicides.
In my speech today I would like to focus on the measures in Bill S-7, which would require a minimum age for marriage, free and informed consent to marry and dissolution of prior marriages before new marriages.
I will start by highlighting the fact that there is currently no national minimum age for marriage in Canada. We therefore need to modernize and clarify marriage legislation applicable across Canada.
This area of law is very confusing to many people because they assume that a minimum age for marriage already exists.
Setting the absolute minimum age for marriage is a matter of federal jurisdiction, however, there is currently only one piece of federal legislation with a minimum marriage age and it only applies in Quebec. The Federal Law—Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, which reconciles Quebec's unique civil law at the provincial level with common law at the federal level, sets age 16 as the minimum age for marriage in Quebec.
For the other common law provinces, the case law is extremely old in this regard, which causes some confusion. In general, the common law is interpreted as age 14 for boys and age 12 for girls.
Setting a national minimum age of 16 years old for marriage would establish a consistent standard across the country and would make it clear that Canada would not permit underage marriage.
I would also like to clarify that the national absolute minimum age for marriage is a separate legal concept from the provincial jurisdiction to legislate on minimum age pertaining to the conditions of celebration of a marriage. Existing territorial and provincial marriage law will continue to contain protections for children between the new minimum age for marriage and the age of majority, usually set by the province or territory at age 18 or 19.
In the exceptional circumstances in which a child under the age of majority is mature enough to marry, these provincial and territorial laws currently require parental consent, and in some instances also the consent of a judge, to ensure that the child fully understands the legal consequences of marriage.
Bill S-7 also proposes to amend the Civil Marriage Act to codify the requirement of free and enlightened consent to marry and codifying the requirement for the dissolution of any previous marriage.
At the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, we had the opportunity to hear from numerous witnesses. Lawyer Kathryn Marshall explained why it was important that we codify the national minimum age. She told the committee that the common law was very open to interpretation and that our government was taking an important step by codifying the legal requirements. We also heard from a lot of witnesses.
The committee had the opportunity to listen to victims of such marriages, victims like Aruna Papp, whose name has already been mentioned in previous comments and speeches. She said:
I commend the government for its leadership in taking a stand on a very difficult issue and for defending the human rights of vulnerable women who are unable to speak for themselves. I'm thrilled to support this bill.
There are numerous others. We talked with lawyer Kathryn Marshall on April 23. She said:
With the passage of this bill, Canada will be joining other nations that have taken a strong stance against forced and child marriage by making it illegal. It is important this law include criminal consequences for people who organize, participate in, pressure, and facilitate child marriage and marriage without consent. It is often the pressure from family and community that is forcing these young women and girls to engage in these marriages.
I have been a member of the committee for some time. I mentioned the peace bond in my previous comment to a question asked by my colleague from the NDP. The legal requirement that any previous marriage must be dissolved prior to a new marriage would now apply nationally to all Canadian residents. Also, family members and others would be subject to prosecution where they actively and knowingly participate in a forced or early marriage ceremony by transporting unwilling or underage daughters to the ceremony or acting as a legal witness. A person who knowingly performs a forced marriage or early marriage ceremony, would also be subject to prosecution.
Our government is taking strong steps to ensure no young woman or girl is a victim of early or forced marriage. I heard a couple of previous speakers from the NDP. There was a lot of misinformation. I honestly wish that on sensitive issues like this, we would all work together, instead of making out that government bills are all part of the Conservative agenda, but even if it is part of the Conservative agenda, what is wrong with getting a good agenda out and helping Canadians?
I urge all my colleagues from all parties to please support the bill. Let us protect those who need protection.