A bill to outlaw forced marriage, prevent polygamist immigrations and tackle “honour killings” is set to become law.
Bill S-7, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, passed its final parliamentary hurdle Tuesday evening, by a vote of 182 to 84. The governing Conservatives and Liberals voted for it, with the New Democrats and Green Party opposed.
The bill would raise the marriage age to 16 in addition to adding forced marriage to the Criminal Code. It would also toughen the laws around polygamy, aiming to prevent immigration by those who engage in the practice and making it easier to deport people who do. It would also toughen the rules around so-called honour killings, so that the defense of provocation can no longer be used in court.
Critics of the bill say both its name — the use of the word “barbaric” — and its substance are intended to stir fears of certain groups of immigrants as opposed to keeping women safe. Advocates for victims of forced marriage have also called for the bill’s amendment as they feel criminalizing the act will drive vulnerable women further underground.
But Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander says the bill is both necessary and prudent as it would make it possible for perpetrators of forced marriage and subsequent sexual assault eligible for life sentences. He said it’s also about making polygamy a reason an immigrant would be inadmissible to Canada.
While UNICEF has supported the bill for standardizing the age of marriage, which currently varies across the country, it has also called for the word “barbaric” to be removed from the title and other changes made. The bill, which has been passed by Parliament, has not been substantively amended.
In 2013, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario released a report detailing 219 cases of forced marriage between 2010 and its release. Alexander said that’s just a snapshot and there are likely hundreds of more victims in Canada.
The Bill is expected to be signed into law by the Governor General shortly.