Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill S-7, zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.
The measures contained in Bill S-7 are the culmination of the Government of Canada's commitment to improving protection and support for vulnerable individuals, primarily women and children.
In the most recent Speech from the Throne, our Prime Minister acknowledged that millions of women and girls around the world continue to suffer from violence, including the disturbing practices of early and forced marriage. The Speech from the Throne underscored our government's commitment to ensuring that such barbaric cultural practices do not occur in this country. They have no place here in Canada.
In his appearance before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights on the bill, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration made it clear that any practice that involves violence directed at women is barbaric. I think if we asked most Canadians across this country, especially women, they would agree with that statement.
The measures in the bill would help vulnerable women and children in a number of ways.
First, it 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 render permanent and temporary residents inadmissible if they practised polygamy in Canada. 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 marriage ceremonies.
It would also create a new and specific preventive court-ordered peace bond to help protect potential victims of underage or forced marriages where there are grounds to fear someone would commit an offence. They would ensure that the defence of provocation would not apply in many spousal homicides and so-called honour killings.
I would like to take a few moments to focus specifically on those measures in Bill S-7 that address early and forced marriages, practices that contradict Canadian values and cause great harm to their victims.
There is currently no national minimum age for marrying in Canada. Provincial and territorial legislation set out certain ages for additional requirements, such as parental consent for those under the age of majority, or court approval for even younger children. However, they lack the constitutional jurisdiction to set the absolute minimum age below which no child can marry. Again, it is lacking.
Federal law currently sets the absolute minimum age at 16 years old, but only in Quebec. In other parts of Canada, the common law applies because there is no federal legislation. The common law minimum age causes uncertainty. It is usually interpreted as a minimum of 12 years of age for girls and 14 years of age for boys. That is 12 for girls, and 14 for boys.
Amending the Civil Marriage Act to set a national minimum age of 16 years old for marriage would make it clear that underage marriage is unacceptable in Canada and will not be tolerated. Even though, in practice, very few marriages in Canada now involve people under the age of 16, it is important that we clarify the law.
Other significant amendments to the Civil Marriage Act proposed in Bill S-7 include codifying the requirement that those getting married must give their free and enlightened consent to marry each other. The amendments would codify the requirement for the dissolution of any previous marriage as well.
Continuing on from proposed amendments to the Civil Marriage Act, Bill S-7 also contains measures that would amend the Criminal Code to help deter and prevent forced or underage marriage. These measures would criminalize knowingly officiating at an underage or forced marriage; actively participating in a wedding ceremony, knowing that one party is marrying another against his or her will or is under 16 years old; and removing a minor from Canada for a forced or underage marriage.
There is also a new peace bond, which would give courts the power to impose conditions on an individual when there are reasonable grounds to fear that a forced marriage, or a marriage under the age of 16, would otherwise occur. The ways such a peace bond could be used to prevent an underage or forced marriage include requiring the surrender of a passport and preventing a child from being taken out of Canada.
This is important for young women, women across this country, and for our children. It would help to prevent family members from taking them out of the country to be forcibly married, without being placed in the difficult situation of requiring individual women or girls to press criminal charges against another family member.
All of the provisions in Bill S-7, including those that address underage and forced marriage, would help to ensure that women and girls are protected from isolation and violence.
Women seeking a better life in Canada should never be subjected to fear and threat of violence or death simply for seeking better opportunities for themselves and living their lives the way they choose to.
We know that immigrant and newcomer women and girls may face additional barriers in protecting themselves and seeking assistance compared to women who are born in Canada. We want to ensure that the protection and assistance they need is available when they need it. Everyone here in Canada deserves the same protection.
All violence directed against women and girls, including the practices for early and forced marriage, have a very negative impact on families and society in general. They also seriously affect all those who are directly involved, from influencing immigration outcomes, to breaking down opportunities for integration and success and creating isolation and fear.
Bill S-7 would strengthen our laws, protecting women and girls from violent and barbaric cultural practices. I am sure we would all agree that we must stand up for all victims of violence and abuse and take the necessary actions to prevent these practices from happening in Canada.
By enacting Bill S-7, our government is sending a strong message to those in Canada, and also those who wish to come to Canada, that we will not tolerate activities in this country that deprive individuals of their human rights. We are sending a signal that we respect the freedom of choice of all individuals, regardless of gender.
That is exactly what we would do by ensuring that the bill is passed into law. I urge all of my hon. colleagues in the House who will be voting on the bill to stand up for the rights of vulnerable women and children, vulnerable women and girls, and join me in supporting the passage of the bill.