Defence Minister Jason Kenney Register file photo

Barbaric practices act moving forward

  • March 21, 2015

OTTAWA - The Conservative government is pressing ahead with its controversial Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, Bill S-7, voting March 12 to limit the time for debate.

After passing the Senate as a private member’s bill, Bill S-7 was introduced last November as a government bill by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander who said the Act would close loopholes in the Criminal Code and other legislation to prevent honour killings, polygamy and forced marriages.

“We are morally bound to take a stand on behalf of all women who are victims of abuse, especially on behalf of young girls, the most vulnerable in our immigrant communities,” said Alexander when defending the decision to pass a motion to limit the time for debate before a vote that would send the bill to committee for further study. “That is why we are moving forward with this legislation. That is why we want it to become law sooner rather than later.”

While all parties oppose polygamy, forced marriages and honour killings, opposition to the legislation revolves around whether the word “cultural” in the Act’s name is xenophobic, and also whether the bill would harm women who are victims of some of these practices.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who spent more than seven years as Minister of Multiculturalism and almost five years as Minister of Immigration, told the House the use of the term “barbaric” in the Act’s title was deliberately provocative to draw attention to the debate and to “drive home the fact that these practices are unacceptable in our society.”

“We believe that compelling people to adopt the aberrant practice of polygamy should be discouraged and ultimately prohibited in our law,” Kenney said.

He stressed Canada’s support for multiculturalism does not equate to “cultural relativism.”

“Canada’s tolerance and diversity do not include certain barbaric cultural practices, such as so-called honour crimes, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, violence against women and other practices, which we condemn in Canada and which are severely punished under our law,” Kenney said.

NDP MP Christine Moore told the House one flaw in the bill is the fact a man’s entire family will be deported if he is found to be in polygamous relationships.

“This part of the bill does not make sense. Either women are victims of polygamy or they are accomplices.”

NDP MP Francine Raynault called for strengthening existing legislation and implementing “a national action plan to combat violence against women and invest more in organizations that provide assistance to women who are victims of sexual violence.”

NDP MP Tyrone Benskin accused the Conservatives of fanning “flames of fear and intolerance.”

“Using the word ‘cultural’ in these days unfairly creates an image of ‘other,’ ‘them’ and ‘those who are not us,’ ” Benskin told the House. “When we go as far as adding the word ‘barbaric’ to ‘cultural,’ on top of that, we go back directly to a time of colonialism, to a time when those others were referred to as savages, as barbarians.”

The Liberal Party also requests a name change for the bill.

“Some form of domestic gender abuse has existed in all societies, and there is no need to tie in the word culture,” said Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux.

The House rose for a March break March 13 and returns March 23 and debate will continue before a second reading vote.

Both the Catholic Civil Rights League and REAL Women of Canada, groups that frequently intervene on religious freedom court cases, are on record as supporting the legislation.

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