Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for LaSalle—Émard.
It is always an honour to rise in the House on behalf of my constituents of Surrey North to express my opposition to Bill S-7, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other acts, or as the Conservatives have titled the bill, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
Right from the start, with the title of the bill, it is evident that the intent of the legislation is only political. I have heard the concerns of many witnesses who have told us some of the measures were useless and would actually further marginalize victims. Following advice from these expert stakeholders, it is my obligation to stand firmly against Bill S-7.
First, most of the measures in the bill do not actually achieve anything at all. They only duplicate existing laws, and the few measures that Bill S-7 does introduce could actually have negative consequences that defeat the very purpose it claims to have, which is to protect women.
Violence against women and children is unacceptable. Much work needs to be done in Canada to prevent and combat these crimes. However, we have to listen to the recommendations of experts, stakeholders, and victims, who are on the ground dealing with these situations on a daily basis and are familiar with our Criminal Code and immigration act, for an appropriate response that offers an actual solution to this very serious problem.
We listened to many witnesses express their concerns with the purpose of the bill and state that it would in fact worsen problems for women. However, Conservatives are not listening.
Lawyer Deepa Mattoo, from the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario stated:
Bill S-7 lacks the understanding of the complex issues of violence faced by women and children and does not achieve the goal that the government desires to achieve with this.
Dr. Naila Butt, from the Social Services Network also stated that:
Criminalization of forced marriage, without the much needed institutional support for victims, would only further alienate and harm those facing forced marriage and gender-based violence, with the added insult of being stigmatized that they come from barbaric cultures.
These are individuals who work at the ground level. They are familiar with what is going on in the community; they are the very stakeholders, the ones who work with the victims. Conservatives are once again ignoring the opinion of experts, stakeholders, and victims in order to benefit their political agenda.
I have said this before and I will say it again. If the Conservatives really want to tackle the issue of violence against women, how about they finally launch an inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women? As of 2010, there have been 1,200 known cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. The statistics are absolutely shocking, yet the Prime Minister actually stated that this issue, and I quote him, “... it isn't really high on our radar...”. That is shameful.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs did not even have the decency to stand up during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. The government has literally failed to stand up for women's rights.
Conservatives like to pretend and brag they are tough on crime, but they are continuing to fail to protect Canadians by introducing political bills that offer empty solutions and are only put in place to benefit the Conservative agenda, like this bill. I know when the Conservatives pretend to be tough on crime. I know when they brag about being tough on crime.
There have been 30 shootings in my riding over the last number of months. That shows that whatever they have been doing for the last 10 years is not working in my community. We have been asking for police officers over a number of months, but the Conservatives cannot come up with concrete plans to even bring them into our city.
Violence against women remains a systematic, widespread issue in Canada. It is appalling but unfortunately not surprising that the Conservatives would want to politicize such a serious issue as gender-based violence.
We in Surrey are familiar with the current government's political tactics. The Conservatives like to sensationalize issues, but then they fail to provide any real solutions. For example, they have been saying that they will fix the crime problem in my community since they formed government. However, we have yet to see any real commitments or concrete solutions for my city. We see a lot of talk coming from these guys, but no action. It is clear that the current government is not committed to lowering crime in my community, just as it is not committed to tackling forced and underage marriages.
It is obvious that its intentions are not to combat gender-based violence. It will not even listen to the experts when it comes to something as effortless as changing the short title of this bill. The title of this bill, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, was of major concern to many of the witnesses we heard from at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, since it invokes racist stereotypes and further marginalizes minority groups. The title insinuates that all cultural practices are barbaric and reinforces prejudice against certain cultural groups by targeting racial minorities for practices that are in fact found in Canadian society at large and not only in these communities.
We put forth amendments to change not only the short title but also other aspects of the bill. However, all of our proposed amendments were rejected by the Conservative majority. A shock factor name will not help combat violence against women. Instead it sensationalizes the issue, and, as some witnesses suggested, it could force perpetrators to further isolate potential victims from resources.
As we were told at committee, this bill could also have serious unintended consequences that should not be ignored. For example, UNICEF expressed concerns that the bill would impose criminal sanctions against minors who attend, celebrate, or help organize a forced marriage, effectively impacting their future with a criminal record. This bill would re-victimize women and children who are at risk of violence by imposing criminal sanctions on them rather than protecting them from predators. The penalties would include criminalization and deportation, so some women and children would not want to come forward to report forced marriages.
If the Conservatives really have the interests of victims at heart, they would listen to the experts, the stakeholders, and the victims. They would conduct proper consultations before adopting measures that might harm the very people they are claiming to protect.
Canada needs a national plan to end violence against women and to protect women within our immigration system. However, the intention of this bill is only political. Its intent is not to protect women. Bill S-7 is yet another example of the current government's abuse of power to make useless pieces of legislation that only sensationalize an issue and discriminate against a part of the population in order to further its political agenda.
When will the government start listening to Canadians and come out with legislation that actually addresses Canadian issues? I will answer that question. The Conservatives will not have time to do that. They have had 10 years, and Canadians have had enough. They are tired.
We will have a new government on October 19 of this year. The NDP government will clean up a lot of the messes that the current government has made over the last 10 years. We will ensure that we come up with plans to protect our women and children. The Conservatives have failed to do that over the past 10 years, and it is time for them to go.