Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure and an honour to speak in the House on behalf of my constituents of Surrey North.
I have some grave concerns regarding Bill S-7, a bill that has made its way to this House from the other side, the Senate side, which is the unelected, unethical, and unaccountable place. I will not talk about that because we have talked about it at other times.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague, the very hard-working member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
First, the bill is an example of Conservative rhetoric, of doing something yet achieving nothing. It is a waste of taxpayers' time and money and a cruel joke on our democratic system, as most of these measures would not actually achieve anything. Basically, it would duplicate existing laws that are in place. Additionally, a couple of the legislative amendments in Bill S-7 would invoke racist stereotypes and fuel xenophobia toward minority groups, rather than achieving anything positive.
The bill would seek to deport people engaged in polygamy or forced marriages, including the very women the government claims it is trying to protect.
We on this side, the NDP, the official opposition, recognize that violence against women remains a systematic and widespread issue in Canada, and we have shown to Canadians that we are committed to ending violence against women and to protecting them within our immigration system, and system at large. However, Bill S-7 does not intend to protect women; instead, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act intends to further marginalize racial minorities as part of the Conservative agenda.
What is “barbaric” to me is the very title of the bill, which is simply racist. It actually suggests that all cultural practices are somehow barbaric. The title of the bill alone reinforces prejudice against certain cultural groups by targeting racial minorities for practices that are in fact found in Canadian society at large, not only in these communities. The Conservatives are once again politicizing a very serious issue. They are targeting racial minorities with offensive stereotypes, meanwhile claiming that these measures somehow address the issue of gender-based violence when, in fact, they do not.
We have heard from many experts who expressed concern about the purpose of the bill and have stated that the bill would in fact worsen problems of violence against women.
Lawyer Deepa Mattoo from the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario stated that:
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 ^[bill].
Another witness, Dr. Naila Butt from the Social Services Network, also stated that:
Criminalization of forced marriages, without the much needed institutional support for victims, would only further alienate and harm those facing forced marriages and gender-based violence, with the added insult of being stigmatized that they come from barbaric cultures.
Canadians are clear that the current government does not actually care about women's rights.
This is the same government that, time after time, has neglected the very issues facing women in Canada, across our country. If the Conservatives really wanted to tackle the issue of violence against women, they would finally launch an inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women.
Over the Valentine's Day weekend, we saw protests across this country. Women, men, children, boys, and girls were out in full force across this country demanding that the Conservative government hold an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
We have heard, over and over, that there are more than 1,200 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women in this country. The stats are absolutely shocking. Yet the Prime Minister stated this issue “isn't really high on our radar”. This is coming from our Prime Minister.
It is very concerning to me that we have violence that has happened across this country, that 1,200 women are missing or murdered, and the government is not looking into it or calling for an inquiry, yet it claims that it is somehow protecting the women of this country. I find that very appalling. A lot of Canadians find this appalling. I have heard it from constituents in my community. I have heard it from people across this country. They want to know why the government is not calling an inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women.
This kind of attitude, the Conservative government's attitude towards issues of violence against women, is simply a lack of respect toward all Canadians.
This bill also has many unintended negative consequence. The bill follows a pattern of the Conservative government of sensationalizing measures that do not actually achieve their stated goals and instead have unintended negative consequences for many Canadians.
Many witnesses who testified before the Senate committee on human rights stated that Bill S-7 is likely to have many unintended consequences. 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. These are minors I am talking about.
Essentially, this bill re-victimizes women and children who are at risk of violence by imposing criminal sanctions on them rather than protecting them from predators.
Additionally, the Senate committee heard that because the penalties include criminalization and deportation, some women and children will not want to come forward to report forced marriages.
There are many other negative consequences for Bill S-7 and its impact on family reunification. We heard in the immigration committee that, when families are not able to reunite with their family members, it has consequences on women and children.
No woman, regardless of race, citizenship status, or religion, should be subject to gender-based violence, including the practice of forced or underage marriages. Women at risk of violence need adequate support and programs.
However, this bill makes no reference to support services. That is what is needed at the ground level, support services that provide education and additional help for these women. The Conservative government has been cutting the very programs that actually provide these services to women in these situations.
This bill's intentions are only political and are not actually meant to protect women. If the Conservatives were actually concerned about preventing violence against women, they would make a serious investment in services that support vulnerable women.
In conclusion, this bill is yet another example of the government's abuse of power in making useless pieces of legislation that only sensationalize a very serious issue and that discriminate against a part of the population in order to further the Conservative agenda.