June 12, 2015


The House resumed from May 28 consideration 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, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.


NDP

Matthew Kellway

New Democratic Party

Mr. Matthew Kellway (Beaches—East York, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am standing today at report stage on Bill S-7, which has the very unfortunate short title “the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act”. I stand in opposition to the main motion and in support of the NDP's proposed amendments to the bill.

I want to stress that I support the intent of the bill. No woman or child should be subject to any form of violence and certainly not to the forms of gender-based violence, such as forced marriage, polygamy, and underage marriage, the bill purports to address. Further, the fact of these forms of gender-based violence in Canadian society is not in dispute here, and neither is the fact that there are things we can do and ought to do to prevent and respond to the practices at issue.

However, the bill is not the appropriate response and needs at a minimum to be amended, because it threatens to aggravate, not help, existing circumstances and to further victimize or re-victimize those subject to the practices the bill purports to address.

The precautionary principle ought to apply here. The Conservative government has heard enough from enough knowledgeable people on the matter of the bill from those with experience and expertise in these matters to stop this here, to take a step back, and rethink its approach to this issue before it does more harm than good to people who need help.

Here are the main provisions of the bill. It amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to make polygamy grounds for inadmissibility to or removal from Canada of immigrants and permanent residents if there are reasonable grounds to believe that these individuals have practised, are practising, or may in future practise polygamy.

It amends the Civil Marriage Act to make free and enlightened consent to marriage a legal requirement and to require that any previous marriage be dissolved or declared null before a new marriage is contracted and to make 16 years of age the minimum legal age for marriage.

It amends the Criminal Code to clarify that it is an offence for an officiant to knowingly solemnize a marriage in contravention of federal law; to make it an offence to celebrate, aid or participate in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing that one of the persons being married is doing so against their will or is under the age of 16 years; to make it an offence to remove a child from Canada to marry a child against that child's will or if the child is under 16; to allow a judge to issue a peace bond for a period of up to two years if a person is suspected on reasonable grounds of preparing to force someone else to marry, to marry a child, or to remove a child from Canada for one of these purposes; and to address the issue of so-called honour killings to limit the defence of provocation to circumstances in which the victim engaged in conduct that would constitute an indictable offence under the Criminal Code that is punishable by five years or more in prison.

However, stakeholders and expert witnesses have testified before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that the bill is also likely to have many and serious unintended consequences. For example, the bill makes no provision to allow women who are conditional permanent residents to remain in Canada if their polygamist partner is deported.

There is no clear definition of polygamy, leading, likely, to confusion and potentially arbitrary decisions regarding deportation and inadmissibility and discrimination against nationals from certain countries.

UNICEF has expressed concern that the bill would criminalize minors who celebrate, aid, or participate in forced marriages, and UNICEF has recommended exemptions for children and young people from certain provisions in the bill.

Criminalization, in the context of family and social relations, may end up simply driving these practices underground.

In all of this, the bill falls in a long line of socially insensitive, ham-fisted and unsophisticated responses to complex social issues by the Conservative government.

In March 2012, for example, the Conservatives introduced new measures to crack down on marriage fraud, including a requirement for a sponsored spouse to live with the sponsor for two years or face deportation and possible criminal charges. Clearly, this measure leaves women reluctant to report abuse, because they fear losing permanent residency. Consequently, they are vulnerable to abuse.

In April 2014, the Conservative member for Mississauga South introduced a motion that purported to deal with forced marriages by banning marriages by proxy or by telephone, for example, from qualifying for spousal sponsorship. Distance marriages of this sort are largely conducted by refugees, so we have the consequence that this motion would serve to limit family reunification rather than limit forced marriages.

These are the kinds of sensitivities, nuances, understandings, et cetera, missing from the Conservative government's world view, and it is problematic.

Beyond that, and just as egregiously, the current Conservative government forgoes opportunities to even consider, much less heed, the advice of those who actually understand the complexity of these issues. For example, during the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration's study on strengthening the protection of women in our immigration system, most witnesses insisted that newcomers must be informed, in their language of origin, and before coming to Canada, of their rights in Canada and about the resources available to them in Canada. The committee recommended in its report to the House:

... that the Government of Canada expand pre-arrival orientation to ensure sponsored spouses receive information in a language they understand and to ensure that the topics covered include gender equality, women's rights, their legal rights, what constitutes abuse in Canada and how to seek help.

However, no funds were earmarked in the 2015 budget to implement this recommendation.

Here is another example of the government ignoring expertise and forgoing data and information and in so doing putting people at risk, sacrificing vulnerable people on the altar of political expediency. I call it political expediency quite deliberately, because the truth here is that so much of what is in the bill actually duplicates existing laws.

For example, the bill would amend the Civil Marriage Act to make free and enlightened consent legal requirements for marriage, but these requirements already exist as part of the civil code of Quebec and of common law in other provinces. The bill would limit the defence of provocation, ostensibly to exclude honour killings, but the courts have already ruled that the concept of honour and a culturally driven sense of what is an appropriate response does not count as provocation under the Criminal Code. The Canadian Criminal Code also already provides recourse that is relevant in most cases involving forced marriages, prior to and after marriage, as well as in cases of travelling with minors with the intent of forcing them to marry.

There is a broad range of existing Criminal Code provisions on everything from intimidation to forceful confinement to sexual assault that deal with these issues already.

So much of what we are talking about here today in this House stands as so fully representative of the four years of the 41st Parliament and the style and substance of the current Conservative government. It takes complex social issues, with real victims, and responds the only way it seems to know how, with its reflex to criminalization without regard to evidence, experience, expertise, or the potential of the unintended consequences of its reflex.

Witness its response to the over 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women: no inquiry, no search for intelligence or understanding, just criminalize, as though that helps victims, as though that will somehow prevent having more victims.

With so few days left in the 41st Parliament, this elected chamber is here considering a bill put forward by a chamber of unelected people. We have a Conservative government giving priority or ceding priority to an ill-considered, reactionary, and potentially harmful bill from the unelected Senate while at the same time it is shutting down debate in this elected chamber, as it has done 100 times already, as has been the fate of nearly 60 bills to date, on matters that elected representatives of this chamber want to debate.

In all, what a fitting way for the current government to close out the final days of this Parliament, and what an unfortunate way for Canada and Canadians.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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LIB

Adam Vaughan

Liberal

Mr. Adam Vaughan (Trinity—Spadina, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with care to my colleague's speech. I am struggling to find in this bill something that is not already illegal. It is almost like we are making it illegal twice because we hate it so much. In doing so, we are ignoring what I think is the real cruelty in the government's current legislation with respect to marriage, in particular marriage that spans the globe, which is that families have had their separation extended from 11 months to 29 months almost arbitrarily.

I was in a restaurant on Queen Street, in my riding, when a young chef came out from the back of the fast-food restaurant and said, “What happened? My spouse was told that she would have to wait 11 months to come to this country. I just checked the website, and it is 29 months”.

I am not very familiar with the cultural customs on the Barbary Coast from 1,500 years ago, but it seems to me like a cruel practice to make young people suffer like that, yet that is legal in this country. Yet all the steps in this bill simply make what is illegal already illegal twice. It is like the Conservatives like it so much they thought that doing it twice would make it even more of a vice.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Matthew Kellway

New Democratic Party

Mr. Matthew Kellway

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a habit the current government has of not paying attention to the criminal provisions that already exist in the Canadian Criminal Code across a broad range of issues. The Conservatives put forth legislation in this House that duplicates existing provisions, as though these things are not already taken care of. What is most problematic is not just the reflex to criminalization but the insensitivity to the fact that when they deal with matters of family and social relations through criminalization or immigration only, they are inevitably catching in their web family issues and are doing harm to families.

At committee, there were experts talking about this issue. For example, Dr. Hannana Siddiqui, head of policy and research at Southall Black Sisters in London, the United Kingdom, said:

Anything that you introduce around immigration is not going to affect just the perpetrator but the whole family—the women and children in that polygamous relationship; and that can have a detrimental effect on them as well.

According to Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the bill seeks to deport people who are engaged in polygamy, and that would include the very women the government claims to be trying to protect. These are the unintended consequences and the insensitivities I talked about in my speech.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Claude Gravelle

New Democratic Party

Mr. Claude Gravelle (Nickel Belt, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beaches—East York for his wonderful speech on this matter. I would appreciate it if the member for Beaches—East York could tell us a bit about the amendments that were suggested by the NDP at committee, which were rejected.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Matthew Kellway

New Democratic Party

Mr. Matthew Kellway

Mr. Speaker, the member will recall that at second reading, the NDP actually put forward a motion in response to this bill. It was rejected. It was a comprehensive motion that was intended to capture a whole bunch of issues that this bill, in its reflex to criminalization, did not capture. The issues dealt with the need for support for families and for social services.

Repeatedly we see that these things are not dealt with by the government. It is a bill that is missing, for example, the social support required by people caught up in a web of domestic violence. It omits, for example, as UNICEF has called for, educational support and mental health services for people who are caught in these circumstances.

Most critically, and we hear this time and again, this is a bill that is missing anything on affordable housing. We had a budget tabled not long ago by the current government that was missing the same thing. Affordable housing is cited by many as the single most important factor in permitting women and children to escape circumstances of domestic violence and abuse. There is nothing in the Conservative budget to deal with affordable housing. There is nothing to deal with that practical response here in this bill. The amendments proposed by the NDP are intended to build into this bill some of those critical supports for people caught in these cultural practices.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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CPC

Jim Eglinski

Conservative

Mr. Jim Eglinski (Yellowhead, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate on Bill S-7, the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act. This bill proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code. The amendments proposed in Bill S-7 would provide more protection and support for vulnerable individuals, most especially women and children.

The passage of Bill S-7 would render permanent and temporary residents inadmissible if they practice polygamy in Canada. It would strengthen Canadian marriage laws by establishing a new national minimum age for marriage of 16 years and by codifying the existing legal requirements for free and enlightened consent for marriage and for ending an existing marriage prior to entering another. It 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 marriages. It would help protect potential victims of underage or forced marriages by creating a new specific court-ordered peace bond where there are grounds to fear someone would commit an offence in this area and ensure that the defence of provocation could not be used in so-called honour killings and many spousal homicides.

Undertaking these measures would support the government's throne speech commitment to ensure that barbaric cultural practices do not occur on Canadian soil. Women seeking better lives for themselves and their families in Canada should never be subject to constant fear and threat of violence or death simply for living their lives and pursuing better opportunities for themselves. Practices that include early and forced marriages, polygamy and any so-called honour-based violence run counter to Canadian values and democratic norms. They often contravene basic human rights, especially subjecting women and girls to brutal and inhumane treatment.

The negative impacts these practices have on families and society in general range from influencing immigration outcomes to reducing opportunities for integration and success while also limiting the free choice of vulnerable women and children. We know that there are additional barriers for immigrant and newcomer women and girls who wish to protect themselves and seek help. We want to ensure that help and protection is available if and when they need it.

I would like to speak on one specific measure proposed by Bill S-7. I would like to focus the remainder of my time on the provision that aims to augment tools that currently exist to counter the practice of polygamy.

As we know, polygamy has been illegal in Canada for 125 years. For many years we have recognized in this country that this practice is an affront to Canadian values. Polygamist marriages are not legally valid in Canada and are currently prohibited in the Criminal Code. As well, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already specifies that polygamist spouses cannot be sponsored.

When he upheld Canada's criminal law ban on the practice of polygamy, the hon. Chief Justice Bauman of British Columbia's Supreme Court recognized the physical, psychological and social harms associated with the practice of polygamist marriage. For these reasons, it remains against the criminal law in Canada to practice polygamy or to enter into a polygamist union.

While the responsibility for the prosecution of most crimes, including polygamy, rests with the provincial attorneys general, the prohibition in the Criminal Code upheld in 2011 is the responsibility of this Parliament. In turn, this Parliament and the Government of Canada also have jurisdiction over immigration laws and their enforcement. Since polygamy does occur in some countries from which Canada draws immigrants, we need to ensure that our immigration system has the necessary tools to counter it. Bill S-7 would give us these additional tools.

Bill S-7 would create a new ground of inadmissibility in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for practising polygamy, increasing our ability to prevent polygamy from occurring on Canadian soil and ensuring that the immigration system is not enabling this practice in any way.

The bill would give immigration officers enhanced tools with which to render both temporary and permanent residents inadmissible for practising polygamy. The new inadmissibility would mean that those in polygamous marriages abroad wanting to enter Canada on a temporary basis would only be able to enter this country alone, without their spouses. Those who cease to practise polygamy would, of course, no longer be inadmissible.

It also means that permanent residents found to be practising polygamy could lose their status and be removed from Canada on that basis alone. Further, we would no longer need a criminal conviction or a finding of misrepresentation in order to begin removal proceedings.

We know that more needs to be done to protect women and girls in our immigration system, despite all of our government's best efforts and intentions. That is why it is so important that the measures in Bill S-7, including the additional measures I have discussed regarding polygamy, are enacted. If passed, they would strengthen our laws to protect Canadians and newcomers to Canada from barbaric cultural practices.

This bill sends a clear message to anyone coming to Canada that such practices are not acceptable and run counter to our principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act stands up for immigrant women and girls who have come to Canada for a better life and better opportunities, ensuring that they have every chance to succeed and make their own choices about the way they want to live their lives.

As legislators, it is our responsibility to prevent those practices that abuse vulnerable women and children, such as polygamy, from happening on our Canadian soil. By ensuring the passage into law of the zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act, we will be taking a major step towards the goal by increasing the Government of Canada's ability to prevent polygamy from occurring in this country.

I strongly encourage all members to join me in supporting Bill S-7.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe

New Democratic Party

Ms. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe (Pierrefonds—Dollard, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. We are both members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, so we participated in the same study. I am surprised that he did not talk about the many expert witnesses who expressed concerns about Bill S-7. Maybe he remembers that everyone, including all of the witnesses who appeared before the committee, agreed with the intent of the bill, which is to protect women. However, the debate actually centred on aspects of the bill that could put some victims at risk and make them even more vulnerable.

Experts on the ground who work with these victims every day told the committee to be careful because this could discourage victims from seeking help or result in women being deported or fearing deportation if they report their husband. It is unbelievable that this is not reflected in the amendments to this bill or in the speeches by my colleagues who heard what these experts had to say.

Lawyers and people who are experts on the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Criminal Code agreed. They said that some terms are poorly defined and will be open to interpretation. They also said that many of the provisions could do more harm than good because the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already contain provisions that cover these practices.

Does my colleague remember hearing from the experts who expressed their concerns to us? Why did he not say more about that in his speech?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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CPC

Jim Eglinski

Conservative

Mr. Jim Eglinski

Mr. Speaker, I did hear those arguments coming from our witnesses, but we had many witnesses there.

I take into consideration the statements made by people such as Aruna Papp who said it is about time. She said:

I commend the government for its leadership in taking a stand on a very difficult issue and for defending the human rights of vulnerable women who are unable to speak for themselves.

She is a victim. I listened to her. I listened to many victims. I listened to many lawyers. I listened to many other people. People will always argue on the rights and wrongs, but I believe this bill is the right bill for Canada and for the women and children of this country.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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LIB

Adam Vaughan

Liberal

Mr. Adam Vaughan (Trinity—Spadina, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member talk about the needs of victims to be addressed in a proactive manner: to craft legislation and government action to try and prevent victimization, as opposed to simply respond to victimization; and rather than simply respond to a problem, actually anticipate the problem and put in place the measures needed to protect people ahead of them being harmed, as opposed to simply tracking the perpetrators afterwards.

If that is the value system and the approach to solving legal challenges and moral dilemmas in this country, why on God's earth are the cases of 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women being responded to with a data bank for DNA instead of housing; investments in education; and investments in aboriginal, first nations, Métis and Inuit communities?

Why, if proactive action is the order of the day, is the Conservative government so silent on the 1,200 Canadian women who are missing, and it is unacceptably tolerated by this House?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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CPC

Jim Eglinski

Conservative

Mr. Jim Eglinski

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that question, but I am not exactly sure where he wanted me to go with it.

I will only deal with the first part: What have we done to protect these people prior?

Let us look at the CIC-funded organizations, which provide targeted programming for these individuals. In addition, special language programs are available for immigrant and refugee women. There is a Canadian citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, and the Welcome to Canada orientation guide, which explains the rights of newcomers to Canada, the rights and wrongs, what we expect in Canada and what we tolerate in Canada. CIC also disseminates a brochure and information for sponsored spouses or partners.

We are actively participating in meeting with immigrants before they even come to Canada. We make sure that they see the information they need so that they will understand what the laws are in Canada and how they can protect themselves when they arrive here.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to share some thoughts in regards to Bill S-7.

The Liberal Party will be supporting Bill S-7. I have had the opportunity in the past to stand and express a great deal of concern in terms of the title of the bill, but there are aspects of the legislation that do warrant support. Therefore, the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill.

However, I will pick up on an issue that my colleague for Trinity—Spadina just made reference to, which is the 1,200-plus murdered and missing first nations aboriginal women and girls, and the lack of action.

I bring this up, and I suspect my colleague brought it up, because if we take a look at this piece of legislation before us, it attempts to deal with gender-based violence or biases. We need to emphasize that every society has some form of gender-based violence.

This is one of the reasons we opposed the short title of the legislation, which has a lot more to do with the spin that the Prime Minister's Office wants to see than it does in terms of what Canadians want to see. That is the reason for the bizarre title, “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”, and many would suggest racially based rationale that the Conservatives threw in the word “cultural”. This has offended many people in every region of our country, many different stakeholder groups, because of the Conservative government's attitude toward culture.

When we talk about the violence and exploitation that takes place, as I said, every society has some form of gender-based violence. Here in Canada even, we will find it time and time again, and I am one of the members of Parliament, and only one, who has raised the issue of the first nations aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered and missing over the years. In fact, many of those young ladies and girls at one point were in Winnipeg North—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Philip Toone

New Democratic Party

Mr. Philip Toone

Are you the only one who spoke out on the first nations women—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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CPC

Barry Devolin

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin)

Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg North has the floor.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux

Mr. Speaker, I will allow the New Democrat member of Parliament to reflect on and perhaps read what I said, and I am sure he will answer his own question and assertion. I indicated that there have been many members of Parliament. If the member would listen a little closer, maybe he would be better informed.

The issue is of critical importance. We have raised the issue and will continue to do so. The government has been found wanting on that very important issue.

Before us today is Bill S-7, and there are aspects of the bill that could be supported. I will spend a minute or two on that issue first.

With respect to polygamous marriages, I would suggest that there would be few individuals who call Canada home who would support that. It is a barbaric practice, something that defies what we believe are Canadian values.

Forced marriages are completely unacceptable based on Canadian values. The idea of setting a minimum age for marriage is something that could be supported, as many Canadians would respond quite negatively to the idea of a 12-year-old girl being married off. This, again, is one of the reasons there is some value in the clarity that the legislation brings to the Criminal Code.

I will emphasize the fourth point, which is domestic violence, something that again goes against Canadian values.

Therefore, I would suggest that although there is concern with the title of the bill, as well as concerns that other members have raised with respect to the legislation, members would find that there is value in supporting the bill.

The name is something that I have made reference to and is the greatest issue with respect to the legislation. I talked about the Prime Minister and his office. It is not the first time we have seen these names drawn up to appeal to the public at large as opposed to what makes sense for the legislation itself. I have asked numerous questions on behalf of the Liberal Party, and other members have asked, with respect to why the government has chosen to incorporate the word culture in the short title of the bill, which is called the “zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act”. We know, through canvassing and talking with stakeholders and a good number of Canadians, that the incorporation of the word culture is not necessary.

We believe that the Prime Minister, through his office, has instructed that this name be tagged to the legislation, and at a fairly significant cost. At times it appears that the government gives an impression that many would interpret as being of a racial nature, such as with this piece of legislation. Yesterday, during question period, the Liberal critic for immigration questioned comments by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration with respect to answering why the government chooses words in order to sensationalize. That is what is happening. The government is sensationalizing certain issues, which ultimately have a fairly negative impact on racial tolerance. This is not new.

When I was the immigration critic, I saw a picture of a boat that came to the shores of B.C. The minister of immigration talked about boat people landing in Canada and how we were going to get tough and bring in legislation to prevent that from happening.The whole “let us get tough” talk does not match the reality or the complexity of many of the different issues that come before the House.

It is interesting that the government has been so keen to bring forward Bill S-7. It has been pushing on this legislation. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has made it a personal priority to make sure that this legislation passes, and he has spent a great deal of resources on it.

An earlier speaker made reference to immigration and another form of cruelty there. I would suggest that there are other priorities that the government, particularly the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, need to get their heads around and start acting on. One of those is processing times for marriages. It is getting worse. The government has created a problem with huge unacceptable delays, and it wants to blame that problem on an administration from years ago. The minister needs to take responsibility for his actions and start cleaning up the mess they have created.

I only wish he would put as much energy in wanting to clean up his mess in processing times as he has in pushing Bill S-7.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe

New Democratic Party

Ms. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe (Pierrefonds—Dollard, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. He talked about a very wide range of things and addressed some aspects of the bill. His position on the bill at the final stage still is not entirely clear, so perhaps he could clarify whether he supports it or not.

Perhaps he could also talk about the fact that in committee, many experts who work on the ground shared their concerns regarding the fact that the bill could victimize people and make the victims even more vulnerable.

Yes, criminalization is needed; yes, we must intervene to provide assistance to victims, because it is definitely a problem. I agree with my colleague that we need to do something for the victims. However, is Bill S-7 really the right approach, when the experts told us in committee that it could make the victims even more vulnerable?

Would a responsible government not remove this bill and do more studies to ensure that the measures in it do not defeat the very purpose of the bill?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of my remarks, I made reference to the fact that the Liberal Party will be voting in favour of Bill S-7, even though there are some concerns, particularly with the title of the bill. We understand and appreciate a number of concerns that were expressed at the committee stage.

Having said that, if the member had been listening to her colleague who started off the debate on the bill this morning, she would have heard him acknowledge that there are many aspects of the legislation that even the NDP supports. I am not sure how the NDP is going to be voting on the legislation; I have been told that the New Democrats will be voting against it. However, I will let them make that determination when the vote occurs.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe

New Democratic Party

Ms. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe

Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure who is not listening to whom here.

The NDP has been clear that we will be opposing this bill, as we did at second reading. Our reasons for doing so are very simple and have been clearly explained. If my colleague would like to know what they are, everything is in the committee minutes.

When so many experts agree that some measures in the bill, never mind the title, will discourage victims from reporting forced marriages and polygamy for fear of being deported, and so many experts who are familiar with the Criminal Code and the immigration act tell us that this bill is dangerous, it is impossible for the NDP to support it. If we take the committee study seriously, it is obvious that this bill must be stopped and we must adopt better measures.

However, the Liberals are displaying their typical reaction, which is to say they disagree with a bill and then turn around and vote for it anyway.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would have to agree to disagree with the member. If anything is classical, it is the attitude of the NDP in saying that there are many things good in the bill but because they are opposition that means they have to vote against the bill.

We should recognize that at times there is legislation that could improve upon a law, and on balance if it is good legislation it is something that can be supported. We have even seen that the New Democrats will often support government legislation.

We had concerns with the legislation, but in dealing with the issues of polygamous, forced, and early marriages, and the issue of domestic violence, there would be clarification in acts that would assist in dealing with these issues in a more progressive way. Therefore, it is legislation that is ultimately worth voting for.

It is unfortunate that the government has labelled the bill as barbaric culture, but that is not something that is incorporated into the legislation itself, even though it would have been a good amendment.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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CPC

Robert Goguen

Conservative

Mr. Robert Goguen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill S-7, zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices act.

I want to comment on two confusions that have arisen in the context of the debate of the bill and were also reflected in some of the testimony before committee.

I want to briefly touch on two topics today: the first concerning the proposed minimum age for marriage; and the second, about the definition of “practising polygamy”.

During the debate and in the testimony before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, there was considerable discussion about whether the bill should have set the minimum age for marriage even higher than 16 years of age, as is proposed, with some suggesting that age 18 would be more appropriate.

In Canada, the age at which individuals can marry without additional consent is either 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory. Under our Constitution, it is within provincial and territorial jurisdiction to make the determination of “independent marriage age”.

Under our Constitution, it is the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to determine the age below which no minor may legally marry, sometimes called the “absolute minimum age for marriage”. Right now in Canadian law, federal legislation specifies that age 16 is the absolute minimum age for marriage only for the purposes of the law in the province of Quebec. Elsewhere in Canada, because there is no federal legislation, the common law still applies and it is usually interpreted as an absolute minimum age for girls of 12 and for boys of 14.

The other issue I wanted to touch on is concern that the bill has no definition of “practising polygamy”. One witness before the Committee referred to the decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in the Polygamy Reference case and suggested that it did not determine the meaning. This is incorrect.

There was disagreement before the court on the correct interpretation of the Criminal Code polygamy offence, but Justice Bauman clearly indicated that polygamy was a form of marriage involving more than two people, and included legal marriages, as well as “purported forms of marriage”, meaning religious marriages that were not recognized in law, but where the parties believe they were bound together. He further accepted the Attorney General of Canada's argument that “marriage” was a form of union that is dependent on an event, a ceremony of some kind that sanctions a union of individuals. It is absolutely clear that polygamy does not include common law relationships or other informal relationships, such as polyamory or affairs.

All of the evidence presented demonstrated the harms, both to individuals and to society, of multi-party marriage. These harms of polygamy caused Justice Bauman to find the prohibition against polygamy constitutional .

Clear guidance with respect to the meaning of "practising polygamy" will be provided to front-line immigration officials.

Another witness suggested that only the man was practising polygamy because of his union with more than one spouse, but that the women in a polygamous union should not be included because their union was to only one spouse. This suggestion, while I am sure well-meaning, completely defies logic.

The final point I want to make concerns another confusion. Some have suggested that a person who is married to someone and either does not know that the person is already married to someone else, or who is forced into that marriage, would be considered to be practising polygamy. This is completely untrue. Under the Criminal Code, a person who has no actual knowledge that he or she are in a polygamous union, or a person who was forced into such a union, has not behaved in a morally blameworthy manner, which is the cornerstone of the criminal law. If a person is unaware of relevant facts, or has been compelled to act, he or she is not guilty of a criminal offence.

Bill S-7 would protect young people from early marriages by enacting a new, national, absolute minimum age for marriage that would apply to all marriages performed in Canada, and to all marriages performed outside of Canada that involved young people ordinarily resident here. This is an important protection for all our young people. I have been told of instances where young people are excused from classes to be married by telephone at age 12 and 13. That will no longer be possible once the bill receives royal assent.

The bill would also give young people the ability to tell their parents that they could not be forced to marry someone they did not want to marry because it was against the law. It would give young people the ability to ask for a court order to take their passports from their parents if they were afraid they may be taken out of the country to marry.

These are important changes in the law to protect vulnerable youth until they are old enough to better know their own minds. Marriage is hard enough, and young married couples will face many challenges without adding to them the burden of marrying too young or marrying someone they do not wish to marry.

Our government is taking a strong stance against these practices and is leading international efforts to address them as a violation of basic human rights. I hope all members of the House will join with me in supporting this important bill.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act
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June 12, 2015