Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak during the debate on Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
To begin, I would like to offer a bit of context. Five years ago, the Government of Canada introduced a new citizenship guide called Discover Canada, which is used by prospective new Canadians to learn about Canadian citizenship and to prepare for their mandatory citizenship test.
Since its introduction, the guide has proven to be popular not only with newcomers to Canada but also with many Canadians interested in learning about the rights and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of our great country.
One of the important points made explicit to all readers of Discover Canada is that men and women are equal under Canadian law. The guide states that:
Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings,” female genital mutilation...or other gender-based violence.
Although the equality of men and women is not only the law but a fundamental Canadian value, unfortunately violence against women and girls continues to affect tens of thousands of Canadians each year. Barbaric cultural practices still exist as a reality for many Canadian women. The effects on victims are devastating and far-reaching, and they impact our children, homes, and communities.
In the most recent Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister unambiguously committed to taking concrete steps to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in Canada. Bill S-7 is exactly such a step, and its passage will meet the throne speech commitment by helping to ensure that barbaric cultural practices, including underage and forced marriage, do not occur on Canadian soil.
If and when implemented, the measures in this bill would improve protection and support for vulnerable immigrants, especially women and girls, and indeed all Canadians in a number of different ways. They would render permanent and temporary residents inadmissible for practising polygamy in Canada. They would strengthen Canadian marriage laws by establishing a new national minimum age for marriage of 16 years old and by codifying the existing legal requirements for free and enlightened consent for marriage and for ending an existing marriage prior to entering another.
They would criminalize certain conduct related to underage and forced marriage ceremonies, including the act of removing a child from Canada for the purpose of such marriages. They would help protect potential victims of underage or forced marriages by creating a new specific court-ordered peace bond if there are grounds to fear someone would commit an offence in this area. They would ensure that the defence of provocation would not apply in so-called honour killings and many spousal homicides.
All of these proposed amendments are practical and effective measures that would strengthen the protection of vulnerable individuals in Canada and help address the problems stemming from harmful cultural practices.
In my remaining time, I would like to elaborate on some of these measures. I will start with those that address the practice of polygamy.
While it is against the law in Canada to practise polygamy or to enter into a polygamous union and while that ban has been upheld as constitutional, such is not the case everywhere in the world. Indeed, some newcomers to Canada come from countries where polygamy is legal and culturally acceptable.
To complement existing criminal law and prevent polygamy on Canadian soil within the immigration context, Bill S-7 would create a new inadmissibility in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for anyone practising polygamy in Canada. This would enhance existing immigration tools to render both temporary and permanent residents inadmissible for practising polygamy in Canada, regardless of whether there is a criminal conviction or misrepresentation.
I will now turn my attention to measures in Bill S-7 that would address the problem of early and forced marriage by amending the Civil Marriage Act.
It may surprise some to know that Canada has no national minimum age for marriage. It is only in federal law, applicable in Quebec, that the minimum age is set at 16 years old. In other parts of Canada common law applies, and as such, the minimum age is 14 for boys and 12 for girls, although historically it went as low as age seven. Bill S-7 would set a national minimum age of 16 years old for marriage, which would make it clear that underage marriage is unacceptable in Canada and will not be tolerated.
Other amendments to the Civil Marriage Act proposed in Bill S-7 would codify the requirement that those getting married give their free and enlightened consent to the marriage and would codify the requirement for the dissolution of any previous marriage.
Bill S-7 would also help prevent forced or underage marriage by amending the Criminal Code to criminalize actions that are deliberately taken for the purpose of helping such marriages occur and would create a new peace bond that would give courts the power to impose specific conditions on an individual when there are reasonable grounds to fear that a forced marriage or a marriage under the age 16 would otherwise occur.
Finally, measures in Bill S-7 would also amend the Criminal Code to address honour killings as well as other spousal homicides so that lawful conduct by a victim can no longer be legally considered as a provocation that reduces the seriousness of the murder. This would not only prevent the defence of provocation from being raised in cases of honour killings but would also bring our criminal law in line with Canadian values, which hold people responsible for their murderous rage even where they were verbally insulted or otherwise had their feelings hurt by some lawful conduct of the victim before the killing.
The opposition to this bill is unfounded. The NDP member for Parkdale—High Park suggested that the government give more resources to front-line agencies. Is the member opposite even aware that since 2006, under this government, settlement funding has been tripled from below $200 million to almost $600 million?
In fact, in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, we heard settlement organizations ask us to give them more tools to help with so-called honour-based violence. It is clear that while the NDP refuses to take any action, our government is taking steps to ensure that so-called honour-based violence does not continue on Canadian soil.
The Liberal Party refuses to even admit that these practices are barbaric. The leader of the Liberal Party believes that the title is too harsh. Here is another example of the Liberal Party not standing up for what is right. As usual, it refuses to stand up for victims.
The zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act is an important piece of legislation that would send a clear message to individuals coming to this country that harmful and violent traditions are unacceptable in Canada.
I hope all hon. members will support this bill at second reading.