Third reading of Bill S-7, 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
Hon. Art Eggleton:
Honourable senators, I am sorry that the very strong arguments and the passion that were displayed by Senator Jaffer have fallen on deaf ears. One has to wonder about how sober second thought is surviving these days. I can’t think of one government bill that has come before this body in the time that there has been a Conservative majority which has been amended — not one.
You might say, “What about that Bill C-377?” That was a private member’s bill. Or there was an amendment to the prostitution bill, but that was requested by the big boss. Other than that, we see a compliant group. Let’s think about that. Sober second thought is certainly taking a beating.
You say, “Wasn’t it the same when the Liberals were in?” Interestingly enough, the Library of Parliament did a study in the years 2001-2004 and it found that 10 per cent of the government bills coming before the Senate were amended. That’s at a time when both the Senate and the House of Commons also had a majority by one party.
We are where we are. We have Bill S-7, which suggests doing some things that are already part of the law. You have to wonder, why is it being recommended that we have a further law on top of the laws that already exist? Things like forced marriages, female genital mutilation, polygamy and honour killings are already
made illegal in this country by existing laws and interpretations of courts. They cover abduction, forcible confinement, homicide, abuse, et cetera. All of these things are covered.
The minister admitted when he came before the committee that there hadn’t been any case where honour killing was successfully used before a court of law. So why have honour killings become the justification for doing this? It’s not even mentioned in the bill, as I think Senator Jaffer pointed out, but it hasn’t been successful, or mere insult in terms of the provocation aspect of things.
If the government wanted to be absolutely sure that mere insult or honour killings was not going to be used in a case of provocation, it could have said so. But it didn’t. Instead it made a generalized change in provocation.
That can work against women, too. There are some times when women are provoked to feel that in their own self-defence, in their own circumstance, that they may commit a crime in the heat of the moment. So, it’s not just men. It may well be women, as well. Yet what the minister said and what we’ve heard coming from the government side is that this has to do with violence against women and children.
Senator Eaton asked Senator Jaffer whether she thought many of these abuses — forced marriage, et cetera — were barbaric. You know what? That’s not even the main point. That certainly is a problem in using the word barbaric here, but what are we doing about it in terms of providing the kind of services that people need? That’s what many of the organizations that came before the committee said — that they can help resolve a lot of these things, if we give them resources.
For example, in the United Kingdom they talk about having a Forced Marriage Unit. They are actually providing services — human services. Instead, this government is just focused on the law and order. It’s just focused on throwing people in jail, instead of being more focused on human needs. That’s really what the issue is.
The many organizations that came to make that point are organizations that do help women and children who are being abused. For example, the Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic assists over 4,000 women every year through their legal, counselling and interpreter services. What do they say about Bill S-7? They say this bill, if passed, will result in increased criminalization and deportation of certain racialized communities in Canada and will re-victimize — I repeat, it will re-victimize — women and children who are survivors of violence. It will create further institutional barriers for already marginalized communities to report violence and receive support.
Again, Senator Jaffer quoted the Executive Director of the South Asian Legal Clinic who came before the committee. In their 2013 report, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario stated, and this is a very instructive point:
Criminalization of FM’s creates barriers for victims who need access to justice. First, victims will be more unlikely to report FM’s because of their internal struggle with placing their family at risk. Second, due to the increased stigma, perpetrators of FM will be more skilled at hiding their attempts at forcing a marriage. The unfortunate result of creating these barriers is that victims will go deeper underground, instead of seeking support.
Now, what sense does that make? What help is being given to women and children? And this is from people who know and deal with these kinds of cases all the time. They pointed out that the Force Marriage Unit in the U.K. does an awful lot more than the implications that result from a law-and-order-type of legislation.
So we have those organizations.
The United Nations Children’s Education Fund, the advocacy group, UNICEF, warns that the barbaric practices bill will criminalize children. Marvin Bernstein, who is the Chief Policy Advisor at UNICEF Canada, says that he understand the intent to project children in this bill, but, by protecting one child, we might be putting another at risk.
How is that? Well, he says that if a child can be forced into a marriage situation and that is a concern that we’re trying to protect against, then why are we not contemplating that children could be forced into a situation where they are witnessing, celebrating or forced in some way to facilitate a forced marriage, including another child’s?
So, this matter of criminalizing people who participate in some way in a forced marriage, who witness a ceremony — again, these could be children. They’re not necessarily all going to be adults, so we could have a serious problem there.
Now, the Justice Department officials who came before the committee, when I asked them these questions, they said that, well, no, that’s not the intent and they don’t think that prosecutors will do that.
Well, we do operate under the rule of law, so it’s not just a question of good intentions that is important here. It’s important what the law says.
So UNICEF asked for some changes: that children be exempt from amendments made to the Criminal Code; that law enforcement authorities consult with children protection specialists before pursuing the legal process; and that children have access to Canada in cases where they are left behind in their home country by a father who dissolves a polygamist union in order to immigrate to Canada. Even in the polygamy case, you can see that women and children can be victimized.
It’s also known that sometimes when a man comes to Canada and sponsors his wife to come over, that it can sometimes prove to be an abusive relationship. Yet the woman would be very hesitant to say anything about it, because the minute that there is the risk of the sponsor no longer financially supporting her, she rightfully fears — given the way that immigration is now enforced in this country — that she could be deported. She could become a victim again.
So, trying to protect women is not exactly what I think this legislation is about. I think this legislation is far more political in nature. You can tell that when you get to the title of the bill.
The title of the bill, I think, is very unparliamentary. I know this government has had a creative nature in dealing with the titles of bills. I understand that, but I think a lot of them go too far. This is one of them. This one says “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural
Practices Act.” I think that is unparliamentary and it should not be part of this bill.
You put the words “barbaric” and “cultural” together and I think you are casting aspersions on communities — not just on the individuals who carry out the acts, but on the community as well. If you look up the word “cultural” in the dictionary, it says things like “a particular society that has its own beliefs and ways of life”, et cetera. Another one says the “customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” Still another definition is, “the customs, acts, social institutions and achievement of a particular nation, people, or social group.”
Well, I think when you put these two words together, that’s what you’re getting. You’re casting aspersions on communities and that’s certainly what witnesses who came before the committee said. More than 90 per cent of the witnesses who came before the committee thought it was a very unfortunate title.
Again, the Executive Director of the South Asian Legal Clinic, Deepa Mattoo, said:
Unfortunately, this bill actually says that violence is cultural when it is not. Violence is violence. . . .
It blatantly targets marginalized and racialized communities through a racist framework. . . . it’s inflammatory language.
That’s what somebody who deals with these kinds of issues all the time is saying.
It wants to stop these issues as much as I think everybody in this place wants to stop these kind of problems — we all agree with that — but I just don’t think that this bill is going about it in the right way. It’s concentrating on putting more people in jail, convicting more people, as opposed to solving the problem. It will re-victimize, in effect as they say, women and children.
The other thing I find interesting in view of some recent press reports is the use of the word “barbaric.” I guess we could call the federal government barbaric. Why is that? Well, we find out that the government supports the extensive use of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement for the mentally ill is for many a death sentence; and we saw that in the case of Ashley Smith and in the case of Edward Snowshoe. The number of people who die in solitary confinement is about half the number of people who die in the prison population; and the people who die in the prison population do so at a much higher rate than in the general population.
These practices go on for far too long: Edward Snowshoe was 162 days in solitary confinement, and he hanged himself. Ashley Smith was 2,000 in solitary confinement over a period of time, and she committed suicide.
Solitary confinement is a particularly evil thing. If you’re going to impose it, as the government seems to want to do, and it has no desire to make any change, then it needs to at least look at how long a person is held in solitary confinement and their mental condition at the same time. I want to quote a couple of people on this. Nelson Mandela said:
I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks.
Senator John McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said:
It’s an awful thing, solitary. It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any form of mistreatment.
That sounds barbaric to me. It’s inappropriate for this word to be in the bill.