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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was conservatives.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel (Québec)

Lost her last election, in 2015, with 30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Aboriginal Affairs February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the families of the 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls are also still looking for answers.

While they are getting ready to meet tomorrow to give their testimony to the provincial, territorial and federal delegates who will meet on Friday, we hope that their voices will finally be heard and that this government will understand that the causes of this violence need to be understood before we can move forward.

Will the government finally listen to the families and launch a national public inquiry?

Forestry Industry February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Fortress Cellulose is the victim of predatory and discriminatory tariffs imposed by China on its dissolving pulp.

Despite the company's investments, there have been more layoffs in Thurso. The Conservatives did bring this before the WTO, but it has been dragging on for years and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

What will the minister do to quickly address the situation and reassure our workers?

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the member is understanding me. It breaks my heart1 to understand that women across this country and around the world face incredible violence. I cannot believe that the member does not see that I feel that way about it.

What I am saying is that when women are faced with this situation, they can prosecute. Those laws are there. Would it not be ridiculous if in Canada a woman could not prosecute because she was living in a situation of violence? However, we know that very few women report any kind of violence, let alone make it through the complicated and cumbersome legal system to actual see a conviction. What we need are services and supports. That is what we need to be doing.

I do not understand why the member is accusing me of not understanding that. I do see these things myself. I know women who have been beaten, who have been murdered. It is very important that we address that for all women. We need specific, culturally appropriate services that are helpful, including housing and shelters, across Canada.

This is something that all of us are facing as women. To isolate it as the member is doing is, as I said earlier, simply racist.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, as I have said several times, there needs to be a national action plan to address violence against all women. We need that.

That would include actually consulting with women, all women, to understand what the problem is. Part of understanding what the problem is means having accurate data and doing accurate research. That is a really important thing that is currently missing with the present government, because it does not fund that kind of research.

Also very important is safe and affordable housing. We need to be helping out the shelters that are doing the work on the ground. We can cite specific funds sent to certain specific shelters, and it is good that we are helping, but we are nowhere near to helping as much as we should be. We need to make addressing this problem part of a national strategy. Shelters are where women go to get services and to get help to get out of a situation. That is the front line. That is where we need to be putting our effort.

As I was saying, it is really important to remember that it is not just by doing such things as changing the criminal law that we should be addressing this issue. We need to be giving women a way out.

Very quickly, I am going to quote Deepa Mattoo, who said that women:

....are threatened with deportation by the abusers. Also, the system is built in such a way that they can actually face, as a consequence of that violence, being deported. Irrespective of whether or not they reported it, they can face the consequences of being deported because they were violated or because they chose to report abuse.

Maybe we need to be addressing this issue rather than simply criminalizing it further.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am offended by the fact the member suggested that I had not read the legislation and that I did not know what I was talking about.

I would point to a continued sexism that exists in this House. I really think he misunderstands. Perhaps he was not listening to my speech. I did go into French at some point, so I am not sure if he followed me the entire way.

I am saying that the way he has brought forward this issue is creating an us-and-them mentality, which is evidenced as well by the comment he just made. This is a cultural issue. It is a problem that exists here, and that approach is racist, because we know that violence against women exists everywhere. That does not mean that just because people belong to a community, they are violent toward women, and that is why what the Conservatives are doing right now is problematic.

It is important that we listen to what women want us to do. Currently, there are criminal ways of prosecuting when these things happen, but we need to figure out how not to marginalize. One thing we could be doing is to have better protection for permanent residents and persons without status. That is a concrete action. It is something we could be doing that we are not. Instead, we are trying to marginalize these women by saying that the only option for them is to prosecute.

I am not saying that the way they are living is not horrifying. All violence against women is horrifying, and we need to address all of it.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate.

This issue is very important to me. I am very concerned about violence against all women in Canada. This is my first speech as the NDP critic for status of women, and this is a very relevant issue that is all about violence against women.

This is now the most important issue facing women in Canada and around the world. There is still so much work to do to achieve equality, and one of the first things we have to do is end this violence for the sake of all women. It is very important to take a holistic approach and to recognize that social inequality, which affects all women, is the cause of this violence.

Let us start, though, by speaking about and understanding what forced marriage is in Canada. I will read some of the great work that has been done on the issue of violence against women in the form of forced or non-consensual marriage, because I think it will give us a good idea of what it is to live in a forced marriage.

This is from the report entitled, “Report on the Practice of Forced Marriage in Canada: Interviews with Front Line Workers”, prepared by Nai'ma Bendriss, presented to the Department of Justice in November 2008:

Although contrary to the law and an infringement of human rights under international law, forced marriage is most often the repetition of a cultural practice and a significant part of matrimonial traditions in families which practice it.

It continues:

A marriage is regarded as forced when the people who bring it about are not concerned about the consent of the individuals involved and put pressure on them in order to achieve their goal. Violence is always present, whether verbal, psychological or physical, and mainly targets young women. Because it is a taboo, this practice is still greatly underestimated if not completely ignored in Canadian society, and victims keep it a secret so as not to bring public disgrace to their families. The secrecy is heightened by the fact that the situation occurs in private.

It further states:

...women who are in a position of dependency and a relationship of subordination with their husbands because they have been sponsored by them. This situation can hinder women’s independence and strengthen the spouse’s hold over them and thereby create an unequal relationship. This is the case with many women who met our respondents, who were married against their will and sponsored by their spouse and who, in addition, are victims of conjugal violence, making their lives a series of painful events [that] can leave them increasingly vulnerable.

It goes on to state:

Because...they are vulnerable because they are in a dependent situation precisely as a result of their status as a sponsored family member, which ties them to their husbands and can be used by the husbands for all sorts of blackmail, threats and humiliation.

Bill S-7 would further chip away at these women's opportunities. This legislation would greatly exacerbate the problem, in other words, and I want to talk about why and why the government needs to understand the issue better.

It happens far too often now that we throw legislation at a problem and say, “We've changed the rules. This is now in the Criminal Code, this is now illegal and, therefore, the problem is solved”.

In this particular case, there are already Criminal Code routes to address this. It is not as though one cannot be prosecuted for beating one's wife just because it happens to be an honour killing or because it a case of a forced marriage. Those are still prosecutable crimes. They are not changed based upon where one comes from. That is something to keep in mind.

However, I wonder if this is really what this is about, because we recently heard comments by the Prime Minister singling out niqab-wearing women and antagonizing them, which is simply a way of dividing and singling people out and creating a national debate about something that really should not be happening, when we really should be working on empowering people rather than antagonizing them and creating and “us and them” narrative. This “us and them” mentality, this idea that violence against women is barbaric in some cultures, is simply unfortunate, because it seems to imply that if it is not part of a cultural community or something done by new immigrants, then it is simply some bad choice or not something systemic or societal. That is something I cannot support. I think it is incredibly important to ensure that we look at all forms of violence against women, no matter which community someone comes from.

Experts who came before the Senate committee and studied Bill S-7 told us that criminalization is not enough to solve the problem and that it will have the opposite effect and exacerbate the problem. While survivors and victims rarely choose to take legal action in cases of forced marriage, a number of provisions in the Criminal Code already provide legal recourse with regard to the offences named in this bill.

Instead of politicizing the issue of gender-based violence, the government could and should strengthen the legislative measures already in place and invest in the organizations that provide services on the ground, where the real work is done. I sincerely believe that we need to have a national action plan to end violence against women, because violence exists in every community.

The short title of this bill, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, is truly xenophobic. It isolates a community, calling it barbaric for its violence against women. This is a problem that exists everywhere. It does not make sense to target one community in particular. It is an extremely serious problem that we all experience, and we should do everything we can to stop it. However, it is racist to isolate a community in this way. This title reinforces the prejudices against certain cultural groups by targeting them. We have to address the problem as a whole instead of marginalizing these women.

As I said, current legislation sufficiently addresses the issue. Civil and common provincial laws require marriage to be entered into with free and enlightened legal consent. Canadian criminal law provides recourse relevant in most cases involving force, minors, threats, abduction, confinement, sexual offences, et cetera. Further, Canada is a signatory to multiple international treaties, including CEDAW, which is the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. These are already things that we are doing.

Of course we need to reinforce these things. That means we need to help shelters and organizations that work with communities and women on the ground. That is how we do that. We give tools to law enforcement. We give tools like legal aid, and we give mental health and health services as well. Simply going about it in having a law that specifically targets one community is a one-track way of doing it and it is not looking at the whole problem in totality.

Further, criminalization would prevent individuals from seeking help. It would marginalize the women. Over and over, we have heard front-line workers and women and girls saying that they do not want protection from police, that they do not want to prosecute their parents and family, and that they do not want to see them go to jail.

We need to keep what they are asking of us in mind. We need to listen to these women. They will often withdraw charges rather than see someone in their family prosecuted. I completely acknowledge that it is a difficult situation, but we do need to work with them. We need to recognize that where there is the desire to prosecute, those laws are there and if there is no desire, then we still need to find a way to intervene. That is why a national strategy is important.

They may often also be financially or otherwise dependent on the person who is violent toward them. They may be afraid of the repercussions of revenge by other family members, or something like that, or other people in the community.

Victims have reported that being forced to break up family ties forever can lead to rejection, stigma, ostracization, a sense of shame and dishonour, and depression. We need to keep all these things in mind.

I want to quote from the testimony given by Hannana Siddiqui, head of policy and research in the United Kingdom, during the Senate hearings. A women's minority organization called Southall Black Sisters works on the needs specifically of black and minority women who face gender-based violence in the UK. Dr. Siddiqui said:

We obviously wanted to condemn forced marriage as a practice within communities, but we disagreed on the need to criminalize it. The problem for us was that we worked directly with survivors and victims. A lot of them are girls and young women who say to us, “I do want protection from the police, but I don't want to prosecute my parents or my family. I don't want to see them go to jail.” They clearly said that if they went to the police and they were going to prosecute, then they would withdraw their charges...I think the concern was that the whole problem of forced marriage would be driven underground, particularly at a time when we were trying to encourage victims to come forward. The other thing victims said was that if you criminalize it, then it may mean that they have to break up family ties...

That is important to keep in mind. This is from someone who has been through the legislative process in the United Kingdom saying that this is exactly what is happening in this debate.

Furthermore, this legislation is inherently racist, as I said. Treating violence toward immigration women specifically as somehow being more barbaric than any other kind of gender-based violence is simply ridiculous because all violence should be considered unacceptable. Therefore, specifying “particularly” is really just adding a racist dimension to it. This makes it a cultural problem rather than a gender one, which is what it really is, therefore making us forget that we need to tackle it in all communities.

It is also important that I quote from the FEWO committee. Just two weeks ago Dr. Deepa Mattoo appeared before us. She said:

—it's not only marginalizing women, it's also marginalizing the communities they come from and targeting certain communities more so. I think it takes us away from the discourse and the reality that violence against women happens across cultures and across people's historical backgrounds, and more so when there has been a history of colonization and there has been a history of marginalization of other kinds.

Not considering violence against women a holistic issue and coming up with the discourse that there is some kind of barbaric culture in certain communities and new immigrants are necessarily more violent than people living here in Canada I think is very problematic.

As I mentioned as well, it also drives people further underground because they do not know what to do. They cannot come forward and prosecute because they do not have the resources in the community and the services to help them. The only option they have is to send a family member to jail, which would result in a very difficult situation for the individual in the community.

This bill would also politicize the issue. That is what we would be doing. Like I said, it is this us and them mentality. This is a cultural problem. It is not a gender problem. It is not something we all need to be addressing. It is specific to this community. That is very problematic as well.

It is also important to mention the lack of work or consultation with stakeholders. It does not listen to women, to survivors. It does not listen to their story, and that is also incredibly important to point out.

While the bill purports to protect and support vulnerable individuals, arguing that these practices exist as a result of immigration and that the government is committed to ending it, it is really a problem that is gendered.

In the time I have left, I want to talk about violence against women.

Violence against women happens all across Canada and around the world. The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. That can include, and this is very serious stuff we are talking about, physical abuse such as slapping, choking, punching, using hands or objects as weapons, threatening with a gun, a knife and committing murder. That is physical abuse.

Sexual abuse is using threats, intimidation or physical force to force women into unwanted sexual acts.

Emotional or verbal abuse is threatening to kill, whether it be the woman, her children, her loved ones, or pets: threatening to commit suicide; making humiliating or degrading comments about her body or behaviour; forcing her to commit degrading acts; isolating her from friends or family; confining her to the house; destroying her possessions; and other actions designed to demean or restrict her freedom and independence.

There is financial abuse such as stealing or controlling her money or valuables. This is particularly a problem with regard to older women. Forcing her to work or denying her the right to work is also including in this.

There is also spiritual abuse such as using religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control.

Criminal harassment and stalking is considered violence against women, following, watching in a persistent, malicious and unwanted manner, which is important to underline, and invading privacy in a way that threatens personal safety.

There are so many ways in which violence against women exists in our society, and who is affected? All women are affected, young women, elderly women, working women, mothers, teachers, sex workers, CEOs, members of Parliament, indigenous women particularly and immigrant women as well because they face these double whammies of racism and sexism. That is why, when we look at intersecting a violent problem, we need to do it in a lens that is all-encompassing toward ending violence against women. It happens as much to women in Toronto as it does in rural Saskatchewan, so we really need to look at it holistically.

This is what we need to do, and I want to cite Deepa Mattoo one more time. When they started to work on the issue, she said:

—one thing that we have been clear about is that it is part of the continuum of violence against women and nothing else. It should be dealt with within that same framework. We were never wanting it to be dealt with any differently....we wanted the systems to be sensitive and alive to the issue of the distinct experiences of the women who faced this form of violence, but we wanted it to be included in the violence against women framework. But unfortunately it has been somehow discussed in a way...and we know there's Bill S-7 that is on the table at this point as well.

There is an assumption that is coming that somehow the current legal system does not have enough in it to address this issue, whereas our education from our clients, the survivors, and our education from the communities, very much tells us that the existing systems and the structures are enough to serve the needs of the population if they want to access the law and justice in that way. Unfortunately, I think we haven't learned enough from what we see, that women don't necessarily want to report.

We need to support those communities. We need legal aid. We need to listen to the women who come forward. We need to consult our stakeholders that are able to list recommendations of specifically what needs to be done, and that includes supporting women when they do immigrate to Canada. This means really ensuring that economically, socially, physically and politically, women are equal, all of us, and that means structurally, helping out the organizations on the ground and really listening to women.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would follow up by asking the minister whether she realizes that this bill would further marginalize women whose family members have put them in this situation of violence and who are, therefore, not able to bring forward criminal charges. They often do not want to.

They need resources and tools available to them, rather than our simply changing the law and saying that we are going after this problem in isolation, when we are just going to drive these women further underground.

Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Minister of Status of Women in Canada if she thinks we need a national action strategy to prevent and end violence against women.

The issue we are talking about today is really violence against women. Why does the government want to isolate one community by saying that it is different and it is cultural? We are talking in general about violence against women. This is a problem that we have to consider in its entirety, not in a piecemeal way depending on culture and different groups, such as aboriginal women and newcomers. We need to approach this problem the same way for everyone, not propose an essentially racist bill.

Poverty February 6th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the plan proposed by Dignity for All is ambitious and seeks to reduce and eliminate poverty in Canada once and for all.

In a country as rich as ours, it is inconceivable that 4.8 million Canadians are struggling to make ends meet. The plan proposes six areas for action: employment, food security, health, income security, housing and early childhood education. It is all mapped out. All that is needed is the political will to act.

Why are the Conservatives not making the fight against poverty a priority?

Red Tape Reduction Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the worst part is that the Conservatives know what they could be doing. They cancelled the hiring tax credit for small businesses. We wanted to enhance it because it would have created direct jobs.

It would be easy for the government to change the credit card fees that big corporations charge businesses, and that would have a direct impact not only on businesses but on all Canadians.

Regulation is not bad in and of itself, but the Conservatives see it that way. Unfortunately, that attitude has gotten us into some difficult situations. For example, if the rail safety reports produced by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities had been implemented, then what happened in Lac-Mégantic could have been avoided.

This aversion to regulations is actually a threat to the health and safety of Canadians. We have reached the point where we can no longer trust the Conservatives. We have no choice but to oppose this bill. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are allergic to regulations. This should not be about getting rid of regulations; it should be about finding the best way to protect Canadians and create jobs at the same time.