If passed, the act would protect Muslim women from early and forced marriages, polygamy, female genital mutilation and all forms of honor killings.
Inside Toronto (h/t Maria J) Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander introduced legislation Wednesday afternoon to ban people in polygamous and early and forced marriages from immigrating to Canada. Alexander said the practices, including female genital mutilation and honor-based violence, are “incompatible with Canadian values.”
Alexander and Minister of Labour and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Dr. Kellie Leitch announced the federal government bill at a news conference Wednesday morning at Rexdale Women’s Centre. Alexander would not provide details of the legislation, entitled the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices, until it was tabled Wednesday afternoon.
“We want to make certain Muslim immigrant women and girls are protected and not subjected to isolation, disenfranchisement and violence once they arrive in Canada,” Alexander told approximately 40 Rexdale Women Centre staff.
Rexdale Women’s Centre is an independent, not-for-profit agency that provided services last year to more than 10,000 clients in the areas of settlement, English language classes, violence prevention, children, family support and post-settlement services.
Fatima Filippi, Rexdale Women’s Centre’s executive director, welcomed Alexander’s bill. “We’re encouraged by the steps being taken even though we have not seen the legislation. We’re encouraged that it will make a difference to the women we work with,” Filippi said in an interview following the ministers’ remarks.
The 2013 Throne Speech promised action to stop early and forced marriages, polygamy, female genital mutilation and so-called honour-based killings. All are issues of concern to the Harper government in light of the multiple murders in 2009 of female members of Montreal’s Shafia family, Alexander said. An Afghan-Canadian man, his second wife and their son, were convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of his three teenaged daughters and his first wife — killed because he felt the girls’ dating and dress brought dishonour to his family.
“As a government, as a society we have got to work tirelessly to make sure that what happened to (these women) never happens again on Canadian soil,” Alexander said. “Young women seeking a better life for themselves and their families in Canada should never be subject to constant fear, threat of violence or death. “The fact is, these practices are occurring on Canadian soil too often with potential for severe and sometimes fatal consequences to the victims of such violent acts.”
The minister said provisions in the bill would prevent perpetrators from arguing provocation or cultural differences as mitigating factors. “Honour-based killings are nothing more than murders,” Alexander said. “We will be making it clear to anyone who may doubt how serious we are that we do not, under any circumstance, accept or allow the propagation, support or enactment of barbaric cultural practices on Canadian soil.
“The bill we intend on tabling later today will show, quite clearly, that our Canadian values do not extend to barbaric acts.” The legislation would eliminate early and forced marriage from Canada’s immigration program, as well as domestically, Alexander said. Changes would also strengthen the ability of immigration authorities to clamp down on polygamy, of which, Alexander said, there are at least hundreds of cases.
Alexander noted the case of an Afghan immigrant accused of stabbing his wife to death last year, allegedly because he felt dishonoured by her independence and search for employment. Leitch related how a 14-year-old girl disclosed to her she was the victim of genital mutilation when Leitch was a medical resident at The Hospital for Sick Children. “As a surgeon, as a woman, as a Canadian that is an unacceptable act,” Leitch said.
While violence against women and girls is unacceptable to most Canadians, it still occurs in homes, workplaces and on our streets, and affects diverse cultural communities, Leitch lamented. “Some immigrant women in Canada may not be familiar with our laws, and may not know that certain harmful practices are illegal, inappropriate and forms of violence,” Leitch said.
“Canada is a free and open society built on a premise of equality for all Canadians and we will not tolerate harmful social practices and conditions that injure any individual.”
Reporters asked Leitch to comment on whether the government needs to do more to protect women amid often non-reporting of workplace harassment and violence in the wake of the publication in the past week of multiple allegations of abuse and harassment by former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. “One is too many,” Leitch said. “Anyone who has been through violence, harassment or cyberbullying, that is unacceptable…We encourage everyone if they are experiencing harassment, please come forward.”
Leitch said multiple government ministers are working together on initiatives to combat harassment and violence. Since CBC fired Ghomeshi on Oct. 26, the Toronto Star and other media outlets have published the accounts of nine women accusing the former host of radio show Q of harassment, physical abuse and sexual assault.