Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, to begin, and given that this bill is subject to the latest in a long line of time allocation motions, I will say that it is my great pleasure to share my speaking time with my very esteemed colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. I know that she will speak intelligently and will represent her constituents very well.
For a bill that is going to cause all sorts of disruptions and, most importantly, result in absolutely unbelievable duplication, it is scandalous that, even if we could not persuade our Conservative colleagues, we do not have enough time to alert the Canadian public as a whole to the dangers associated with the undercurrents of racism, intolerance, extreme rhetoric and incoherence that are the hallmark of this government when it tries to deal with genuine and serious problems to which we need to find an answer. That answer must not amount to legal and legislative fiddling that unfortunately is likely to lead to very harmful consequences, especially for the victims, as we told this government at every stage of this bill, and as a majority of the witnesses said at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Unfortunately, with its electioneering, shamefully partisan and frankly vote-buying approach, the government is trying to use the legislative tools that are entirely under its control to buy its re-election on the backs of hundreds if not thousands of victims all across Canada.
This is truly depressing. No woman in this country should have to suffer violence or the kind of life that forced or early marriage imposes. In fact, this country we are so proud of, the country willed to us by our ancestors, has worked very hard to promote equality of status between men and women. Introducing this bill, which is quite simply a mess, if we go by the title, is no way to preserve that heritage. I will take the liberty of reading the short title we know so well by now, which gives the impression we are returning to ancient times, to the biblical times of the Old Testament: Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Words are our chief tool, as legislators, for taking action in our society and ensuring that our constituents live in the best possible conditions. The government, however, is tossing around loaded terms whose effect is to marginalize a large segment of our population. When shame is heaped on their head by the opposition, they should be ashamed. The opposition was not being unfair; quite the contrary. In the work done in committee, we were very reasonable and proposed only two amendments. In spite of the opinion of the large majority of all 24 witnesses, the government refused even to seriously consider thinking about the two amendments presented by the New Democratic Party.
Despite this sensationalism, the problem has not been resolved—quite the opposite. The minister finally made a proposal through the unelected, illegitimate Senate. Nonetheless, the minister should have committed to holding full and serious consultations on the matter.
One of the concerns expressed by all the witnesses was that in reality, the government is legislating about something we do not fully understand. We do not know the full extent of this phenomenon and there are no reliable statistics. The government is legislating blind and repeating provisions that already exist in the Criminal Code. In other words, it is simply reiterating and repeating legal provisions that prohibit forced marriages and polygamy, among other things. We therefore find ourselves watching the government engage in a huge marketing campaign to show how tough it can be on those who abuse the most vulnerable in our society. However, in reality, those who are really exploiting these oppressed people and victims of forced marriage are the Conservatives when they introduce this type of bill.
In fact, the thing that infuriates me is that this is a recent stunt by the Conservatives. Very modestly, in four years in the House, I have been a member of four different committees. I have seen every trick the Conservatives throw at us to push their agenda through. A very recent practice that is rather odd is that when members from the opposition parties propose amendments in committee, the Conservatives have speaking notes prepared ahead of time to justify their unjustifiable positions.
Having experienced that during the study on Bill C-59, the budget implementation bill, I have to say that we proposed a very reasonable number of amendments. There were times when the governing party's justifications for rejecting amendments bordered on ludicrous. Our amendments were aligned with the concerns and requests we heard from witnesses during the committee's work.
For the benefit of all members of the House, I would like to remind everyone of what the vast majority of the 24 witnesses who spoke to this bill said. They—and this includes pro-Conservative witnesses—expressed serious reservations about the short title, for one thing. It is an insult that goes back to antiquity. It would have been more appropriate in the days of the Romans and the Greeks than it is today. The Conservatives also had reservations about the minimum age of consent, the definition of polygamy, penalties for minors and women and issues related to the defence of provocation.
There comes a time when, faced with a vast majority of opinions on a great many aspects of a bill, one makes concessions and tries to find a way to agree on certain aspects to make it work.
I think that this tired and dying government has reached its limit. The Conservatives are so keen on proving their legitimacy that they are refusing to listen to any opinion that differs from their speeches, which have been pre-formatted by the advisors in short pants in the Prime Minister's Office. These advisors are imposing opinions on people who, if they did not belong to the Conservative Party, would likely be able to express themselves in a very reasonable way. However, they gave up all of their freedom, and apparently their duty to their constituents as well, in order to pander to voters. At election time, they want to be able to tell people to look at how they solved the problems of barbaric cultural practices that are becoming increasingly common in Canada because of immigration and are threatening our way of life.
That is really shameful, and that is why all of my NDP colleagues and I will be voting against this bill.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act