By TOM GODFREY
New Canadian laws are being drafted to help protect immigrant women from gender-based violence as a result of polygamous and forced marriages, and honour killings.
The legislation has been tabled in Parliament and when passed will help strengthen the laws to prevent “barbaric cultural practices” against women and girls from occurring on Canadian soil, federal politicians say.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act will raise the national age of marriage to 16 to curb forced marriages.
“Polygamists are not welcome in this country,” Alexander warned last week. “If and when we find them in our immigration stream, they will be removed.”
He said the law will call for the mandatory surrendering of a passport to prevent a child from being taken out of Canada to be forcibly married.
“This Act sends a message to individuals coming to this country that harmful and violent cultural practices are unacceptable,” Alexander said in a statement. “These practices are incompatible with Canadian values and will not be tolerated.”
Immigration officials said the Act would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code to provide more protection and support for vulnerable immigrant women and girls.
The proposed law will make polygamy illegal and bar those who practice it from receiving immigrant status in Canada. It will create a new type of peace bond if there is fear a person may participate in forcing a woman to marry against her wishes or encourage an early marriage.
It will also make it illegal to remove a child from Canada for a forced marriage, honour killing or situation that can lead to a possible spousal homicide.
“We are sending a strong message,” said Alexander. “We will not tolerate cultural traditions that deprive individuals of their human rights.”
He said Ottawa “will stand up for all victims of violence and abuse and take necessary action to prevent these practices from happening on Canadian soil”.
Dr. Kellie Leitch, the Minister of Labour and Status of Women, said the law will end violence against women and girls.
“This Act will give the communities the tools they need to end barbaric cultural practices,” she said.
Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, said the impending legislation will provide equality, safety and security for women and girls in Canada.
“Violence against women and girls is a heinous abuse of human rights and has no place in Canadian society,” Ambrose said on Twitter. “Any form of harmful cultural practices is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The RCMP has also developed an online training program on forced marriage and honour-based violence that will be made available to police forces across Canada.
Alexander mentioned a number of cases, including that of Mohammad Shafia, who was convicted of an honour killing.
Shafia came to Canada from Afghanistan with his two wives and was later convicted of murdering one of them, along with his three daughters.
Sisters Zainab, 19; Sahar, 17; and Geeti Shafia, 13, along with Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal in 2009.
In 2012, Shafia, his other wife and their 21-year-old son were each found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder.
An estimated 100 million girls will have been forced to marry before their 18th birthday worldwide between 2004 and 2014, according to government statistics.
Canadian officials are also working to combat female genital mutilation by partnering with UN agencies and other countries in projects to address violence against women.