‘Barbaric Cultural Practices’ Bill to Criminalize Forced Marriage, Tackle ‘Honour Killings’ Passes Final Vote
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.
Conservatives Propose Increasing Legal Marriage Age to 16, Say it Will Keep ‘Barbaric Cultural Practices’ Out of Canada
The government is proposing to set 16 as the national age of marriage in legislation introduced in the House of Commons on Wednesday that it says will help keep “barbaric cultural practices” out of Canada. The bill tabled by Chris Alexander, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, targets early forced marriages as well as polygamy, which the legislation would make grounds for deportation.
The Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act would make it a criminal offence to participate in or officiate at the marriage of an underage child. Removing a child from Canada for the purposes of forced marriage would also be criminalized.
The Justice department has also asked the provinces to have judges sign off on marriages involving those between the ages of 16 and adulthood. Currently only parental consent is required and the minimum age for marriage varies by province and, by some interpretations, is as low as seven.
Those practicing polygamy would no longer be allowed to immigrate to Canada with one of their spouses. Immigrants found to be polygamists would be found inadmissible and removed from Canada. The government also said that to prevent so-called “honour killings,” it will amend the Criminal Code so that provocation is no longer an acceptable defence in such cases.
“We intend on sending a strong message to those in Canada and those who wish to come to Canada that we will not tolerate cultural traditions in Canada that deprive individuals of their human rights. With this bill, we would be standing up for immigrant women who have come to Canada for a better life,” the minister said at an event in Toronto on Wednesday morning, adding that it would also “show quite clearly that our Canadian values do no extend to barbaric acts,”
According to officials, the Department of Foreign Affairs has received approximately 100 requests for consular assistance in forced marriage cases since 2009. In Ontario, agencies reported 219 cases of forced marriage between 2010 and 2012, according to a report. The victims were overwhelmingly female and more than a third were between 12 and 18. In addition, there have been about two dozen criminal cases in Canada involving honour-based violence since 1995, officials said. Twenty-one of the crimes occurred within the past decade.
But the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” might not go over so well in some Arab and African countries. The memorandum dated Oct. 27 and stamped “Secret,” notes that polygamy remains legal in dozens of countries.
Source: National Post