Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Bill S-210, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I would like to thank Senator Ataullahjan, who has supported me with this bill since I introduced it two years ago. I would also like to thank Senators Ogilvie and Eggleton and the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for their support and discussion about the importance of this bill.
The purpose of Bill S-210 is simple and it only contains a single clause to reflect this. Bill S-210 will repeal the short title of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which dealt with polygamy, national age of marriage, forced marriage and provocation.
The content of the act will not change. The way the act is interpreted will not change. The bill does not affect any of the prohibitions at all. I have not even created another title since I do not wish to start that discussion.
The Senate legal counsel has informed me that there is no need for a title since the act only amends other bills instead of creating its own act.
Senators, I’m going to ask permission to finish the rest of my speech sitting down. Thank you.
In other words, everything contained in the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act has already been integrated into the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code, respectively. In most instances, bills that only amend existing acts do not have short titles for that very reason. However, in this case, the short title still remains in our law with nothing associated with it. In other words, all Bill S-210 will do is repeal that short title, the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.”
I tabled this bill because the use of “barbaric” and “cultural” together in a short title completely reframes the discussion of horrible crimes like forced marriage, polygamy and female genital mutilation.
Honourable senators, when we put “barbaric” and “cultural” together, we take responsibility for the horrific actions away from the person who committed them. Instead, we associate the crime with culture or community and we imply that these horrible practices are a part of it.
Labelling cultures this way has serious implications. To give an idea of the picture that is being painted, I would like to read the definition of the word “barbaric” from the Oxford Dictionary:
Savagely cruel. Primitive; unsophisticated. Uncivilized and uncultured.
In other words, using the words “barbaric” and “culture” together paints entire cultures as cruel and primitive. We portray them as inferior people whom we do not want in our society.
Honourable senators, I know this because I experienced it as a child. I grew up in a colonial country where people like me were called barbaric because of the colour of our skin. When I went to school, we were called barbaric. If we made a mistake or did not speak English properly, our teachers hit us and said we were barbaric.
They tried to make us ashamed of our culture and think of it as less civilized. That is what it means when you call someone’s culture barbaric.
By calling other cultures barbaric, we are going against the very values that lets Canada stand out among other countries. Let us learn from our past. Rather than marginalizing entire cultures and cutting them out of Canadian society, let us sew our different cultures together and promote unity.
I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am not saying that we should take the crimes within the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act any less seriously. I am saying that we should take great care with how we label them as we fight against them.
Each of us knows that crimes like forced marriage, female genital mutilation and polygamy are unacceptable. However, they are not the only horrifying crimes that Canadians find unacceptable.
Many of you are aware that I am currently fighting to end cybersex trafficking of children with International Justice Mission. I fight with them because cybersex trafficking is unacceptable. Sexual abuse is unacceptable. Sexual assault against children is unacceptable.
However, despite this fact, we call the crimes in the act “barbaric cultural actions” while leaving other crimes without labels. This almost implies that crimes like cybersex trafficking of children, sexual abuse and assault are somehow less serious.
We all know this is not true. Therefore, they should not have separate labels.
Further, these crimes happen across cultures, races, ethnicities, gender and age. That is why they’re illegal in our Criminal Code — we realize that individuals from any group could commit them.
Honour killings are murder. They’ve always been illegal. Forced marriages are illegal regardless of what group you belong to. The reality is that crimes do not differentiate between cultures. This is why we call them illegal. We make it clear that no one may ever commit them.
However, despite this reality, the short title of “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” is still being used. This actively hurts our chances of fighting these crimes and reduces the likelihood that those responsible for such horrific crimes will ever face justice for their actions.
Honourable senators, I have spent over 40 years fighting female genital mutilation and forced marriage in Canada. I’ve talked to women and girls from across the country who have suffered due to the crimes that are listed in the act, and each of them tells me the same thing. Labelling cultures as barbaric does not prevent anything. Instead, it silences victims and ensures that no one will ever hear about them.
I would like to share one example with you from when I travelled across the country to study this issue. When I was in Toronto, I ran into a community — which I will not name, to avoid causing any further issues — that was dealing with the issue of female genital mutilation. I will never forget what one of those girls who had suffered from female genital mutilation told me when I asked her why she didn’t speak out. She said, “We want this act to stop. We want to talk about it, but when we stand up to talk about it in mosques, the mosques tell us, the temples tell us, ’You are making us all look barbaric.’”
There are many productive solutions that we can pursue instead of labelling cultures. For example, we could be focusing on the fact that there has never been a single prosecution to address female genital mutilation despite the fact that several laws have been made to prevent it.
Instead of alienating entire cultures, we could be committing resources to protect our young girls.
We could be focusing on the horrifying issue of domestic abuse. On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by an intimate partner. Every year Canada spends a staggering $7.4 billion on the effects of spousal violence.
Instead of targeting specific communities for the actions of individuals, we could be working together to help end an issue that takes the lives of many Canadians every year. Instead of disempowering victims and making them afraid to speak, we could be giving them more resources.
The United Kingdom has a system that I dream of having here in Canada, where children can call a crisis line if they think they’re about to be forcibly married. They can say, “I’m being taken to India on this date. I will be at this address. My parents tell me I’m supposed to return on Y date. If I do not return, please come looking for me.”
We do not have that here in Canada. We do not have a crisis line in Canada. The children have nowhere to turn and often disappear because it becomes impossible to track them once they leave our country.
Honourable senators, if we are truly committed to this battle against female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy, we should be doing everything we can to fight those crimes. This means not wasting our time by using language that propagates xenophobia and makes victims even more vulnerable. It keeps victims silent.
As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to consider the impact of our words and to find constructive solutions. I am not alone in this belief. When the bill went before the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights in the previous session, I heard from several witnesses at the committee, and I would like to repeat their words. Sharryn Aiken, a professor at the faculty of law at Queen’s University stated:
I am not in a camp for being an apologist for violence — not at all. Let’s not make any mistake about that. It’s rather the pairing of “barbaric” and “cultural” that’s the problem, because it seems to imply that the people who are perpetrating harmful practices and/or the victims of harmful practices are somehow relegated to some select cultural communities.
As we know, that is a patent falsehood. We know that family violence, domestic violence, wife assault, and other forms of abuse are endemic across Canadian society. They affect newcomers, long-term residents, aboriginal Canadians and citizens of many generations. They affect Canadians right across the social strata of this country.
That’s the problem with the short title. It is suggesting that somehow there are only some communities that we need to be concerned about, rather than dedicating ourselves to eradicating violence everywhere.
Ninu Kang, Director of Communications and Development at MOSAIC, a settlement organization in Vancouver, said:
. . . this particular legislation targets immigrant communities. . . . It creates the phenomena of us and them — “us” being Canadians — and somehow that we as Canadians are humans and have good values and practices, and those who come from other parts of the world are barbaric . . . Furthermore, there is legislation that already addresses the issues in this legislation around polygamy and so one, so I guess the question is what is the need for this legislation? What is the purpose of calling this zero-tolerance to barbaric practices and to what cultural group is this targeted?
Nalia Butt, Executive Director of Social Services Network, stated:
We agree that the practices the Bill aims to restrict are undesirable. However, the title of the Bill has connotations suggesting that a select, privileged few have the status of the civilized preaching to the uncivilized barbarians. This language in a multicultural, open and democratic society like Canada, where the majority of the people are immigrants, will not be conducive to reaching the goals the Bill has set to achieve.
Suzanne Costom of the Canadian Bar Association stated:
On a broader level, the Canadian Bar Association has consistently recommended that the government refrain from using short titles that seek, in our opinion, to inflame the emotions of the Canadian public rather than inform.
Finally, Avvy Yao-Yao Go, Clinical Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, testified:
. . . at the end of the day, if we go back to the drawing board, some of the provisions might well be kept, but then you need to change the conversation as a whole because, right now, the conversation is not just about whether the families are engaged in criminal acts but whether they are doing so out of their barbaric culture.
Honourable senators, I agree with all of them. That is why I have introduced Bill S-210. It is time for us to repeal the short title of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.
I would like to repeat and emphasize that nothing within the act itself will be changing. The laws will remain the same. The interpretation of these laws remains the same. Canada will remain as committed as ever to fighting genital mutilation, forced marriages, polygamy and other crimes. All that will be changing is the title.
I do not wish to muddy the waters by including other things in this bill. All that Bill S-210 will do is repeal the short title of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.
Before concluding, I would like to take a step away from the practical considerations of this bill and speak on what the current short title says about us as a country.
Canada promotes multiculturalism and understands that its diversity is truly its strength.
Canada is a country that will always treat you fairly regardless of your race, creed, religion or sex.
In fact, that is why I am proud to be here in Canada. I came here with my family, my parents. I knew I would be able to be accepted here among my fellow Canadians. My family came here because we knew that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never have to experience the same struggles that we experienced when we were younger. We knew they would never be called barbaric like we were when we were younger. Our children and grandchildren would never have to feel ashamed of who they are and could take pride in their roots.
Honourable senators, I ask you to consider that when we put “barbaric” and “culture” together, we separate our communities. That is not the Canadian way. That is why I rise today and ask you to join me in supporting Bill S-210 and repealing the short title.
Honourable senators, I ask you to support me in repealing the short title. I ask you to do this because there is a lot of work that needs to be done in our country. When we do us and them and divide cultures by calling them barbaric, we stop the real work.
I ask you for your support. Thank you very much.