Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to this bill. I was on the citizenship and immigration committee when it completed the report detailing how to better protect women in our immigration system. Frankly, I hate saying the short title of Bill S-7, which was created after that study, but I will. It is called the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. It would not do anything to actually protect women from violence, as it claims to do.
It was interesting to hear in the minister's speech that she thought it would potentially protect women when it really would not. Most of the practices that the bill hopes to curb, including polygamy and honour killings, are already illegal in this country, so Bill S-7 would not do anything new, other than focusing on criminalizing other behaviour.
When the citizenship and immigration committee was hearing testimony for its report, experts agreed that women who are experiencing violence need supports, like housing, counselling, and assistance in navigating the complex family, criminal, immigration, and legal systems. The experts also agreed that women coming into this country should be provided with information about our systems before they even come here, or at the borders when they arrive, in languages they can understand, to ensure that women are protected, educated, and made aware of the support systems available in Canada.
We were sad to hear testimony about how conditional permanent residence status had contributed to people being trapped in abusive relationships. Why? It is because the immigration status of the woman is tied to her partner. If she were to report violence in her relationship or to leave that relationship, she would fail her conditional permanent residence status and be deported from this country. That means she could be sent back to a country or situation that is not ideal or safe, or where she could be persecuted or stigmatized for leaving a conjugal relationship or marriage. There are many countries around the world where women are stigmatized, including Canada, for seeking a divorce or leaving an abusive relationship.
In its report about Bill S-7, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario asserted the following:
This Bill appears to extend a trend in this government’s track record to strip permanent residence and deport more and more racialized people from Canada, regardless of how long they have been here.
SALCO'S report continued to assert this:
In the preparation of this legislative and procedural change, they have failed to consult experts in this field about what creates further barriers to accessing safety for women experiencing violence.
The fact is that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration compiled expert testimony on protecting women in our immigration system, and the report did not include all of the good recommendations that came from experts. The committee spent days and weeks studying this topic, and the recommendations in the report are still not addressed in this bill that the government has brought forward through the other chamber.
Let us talk about what Bill S-7 would actually do. It would make being in a polygamous relationship grounds for finding a permanent resident inadmissible in this country. Polygamy has been illegal in Canada since 1892, so what would it really accomplish? Nothing new. Immigration law and policy already contain provisions addressing polygamous unions, so nothing new is being introduced here.
I know the government has asserted that there are hundreds of polygamists already living in Canada today. If that is a fact, then why is the government not enforcing the existing laws? If it wants to get rid of polygamy in this country, why is it not ensuring that the laws that have existed since 1892 are actually enforced?
Moving on to the topic of honour killings, murder is murder is murder, and it is illegal in this country. This bill would preclude a defendant in a murder trial from arguing that an insult to family honour provoked his or her actions.
Canada's courts are sufficiently equipped to sentence somebody for murder, and that is what we have seen happen in this country when somebody has tried to claim an honour killing. We have seen our courts uphold our laws, sentence the perpetrators of these murders, treat them as murderers, and sentence them to jail time. Therefore, I do not understand why the government is pretending that it is creating a new law here when once again nothing is really changing.
Citing data from the South Asian Legal Clinic's study on forced marriage, the bill also criminalizes forced marriages. However, Bill S-7 ignores SALCO's recommendation, which is to protect families and provide adequate support to vulnerable women. Its experts specifically warned against criminalization, as this would be more destructive than helpful.
I am 100% against anybody being forced into a marriage. However, we have to ensure that we are protecting the women who are already in forced situations. We need to ensure they are given the support to leave in a safe way, and ensure that they are safe and secure in the community they are living in.
I want to read a couple of quotes from the Schlifer Clinic in a report that it issued. It states:
If passed, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, introduced on November 5, 2014, will serve as another example of institutional barriers to marginalized communities reporting violence and having access to support. It will serve as another example of how our government is failing to listen to survivors and targeting racialized communities for exclusion and deportation from Canada.
It continues to state the following:
The Schlifer Clinic has grave concerns about the Act, which would result in the exclusion, deportation and criminalization of families (or of women themselves), which only serves to further harm women experiencing violence.
Therefore, we see from experts on the ground that this bill is not helping women and it is not protecting or supporting them; rather, it would end up doing the opposite.
I said earlier that the first time I read the short title I did not want to say it and that I did not like it. That is because it is xenophobic and reinforces prejudice against certain cultural groups by targeting racial minorities for practices that are found in Canadian society at large today.
I keep coming back to the experts because they are the ones who are doing the research on the ground. Here is a quote from Avvy Yao-Yao Go, who is the clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. She states:
From the very naming of this bill to the various legislative amendments it seeks to amend, Bill S-7 invokes racist stereotypes and fuels xenophobia towards certain racialized communities.
Deepa Mattoo, the staff lawyer and acting executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, stated:
Giving it a shock factor name will not eliminate the issue. Instead it will force perpetrators to take this underground, ensuring the victims and potential victims are isolated from any resources. This causes a greater risk to their safety, not to mention their emotional and mental well-being.
That is another example of another expert telling us how the short title of this bill is xenophobic and that the bill as a whole would be more harmful for women in our country.
While I agree that no woman, regardless of her race, citizenship, status, or religion, should be subject to gender-based violence, including the practices of forced marriage or underage marriage, I do not support making women more vulnerable.
I would like to end my remarks by saying that this bill has not had adequate consultation.
As members will notice, I have many more sheets to go in my prepared remarks. However, I will go back to the experts. There is a media release that was sent out by 13 expert organization groups, and I do not have time to name them all. I want to read a small blurb from its introduction.
The announcements in the tabled Bill perpetuate myths about practices of polygamy and forced marriages while misguiding Canadians to believe that violence against women is a “cultural” issue and happens in only certain communities. The government has blatantly targeted marginalized and racialized communities through the racist framework used in the intent, wording and announcement of this Bill. This inflammatory language and the perpetuation of racist myths is itself an obstacle to understanding the harmful effects of these proposed legislative amendments. As organizations dedicated to advancing the rights of all women, we are painfully aware of the challenges faced by all women in Canada from all walks of life and backgrounds to find a safe and secure home. In that regard, immigrant and racialized women face additional challenges because of their race and/or their precarious immigration status. Contrary to what the government has stated, the proposed legislative changes will not result in greater protection for women victims of domestic violence, but will have the opposite effect.