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Op-ed: The Protection of Women Means Supporting Vulnerable Women, Not Stigmatizing Them

Posted in Canada, Community


Published on May 11, 2015 with No Comments

The Protection of Women Means Supporting Vulnerable Women, Not Stigmatizing Them
MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan
I served on the standing committee on Citizenship and Immigration when it completed the report detailing how to better protect women in our immigration system. We heard people testify about how conditional permanent residence status had contributed to people being trapped in abusive relationships. We heard people working on the frontlines of this issue, and their recommendations were about additional protections for women and families.
I was looking forward to seeing Mr. Harper’s Conservative government put forward a bill that would protect women in our immigration system. Instead, the Senate passed Bill S-7, which ignores most of what was in the committee’s report, and will do little to protect women. The Conservative dominated House of Commons pushed the bill through the second reading and the bill is now before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Bill S-7, a bill with a name I loathe, is called the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”. It purports to protect women from the practices of polygamy, honour killings, forced marriage or underage marriage. These situations are already illegal in Canada. I believe we should focusing our energies to ensure that we protect women and not contributing to the stigmatization of racialized communities.

What is this bill about?
Firstly, Bill S-7 makes being in a polygamous relationship grounds for finding a permanent resident inadmissible to Canada. Polygamy has been illegal in Canada since 1892. During debate, the Conservatives alleged that there are hundreds of polygamists already living in Canada today. If that is the case, we need resources to enforce existing laws instead of creating new ones. Immigration law and policy already contain provisions addressing polygamous unions.
In regard to honour killings — murder is murder, and it is illegal. This bill would make it illegal for a defendant in a murder trial to argue that an insult to family honour provoked his or her actions. Our courts already uphold our laws against murder, and sentence perpetrators of these types of murders to jail time. Therefore, in reality nothing changes with this bill.
I am 100% against anyone being forced into a marriage. Citing data from the South Asian Legal Clinic’s (SALCO) study on forced marriage, this bill criminalizes forced marriages, while ignoring SALCO’s key recommendation, which was to provide further protection to families and adequate support to vulnerable women.

The Way Forward
We know that immigrating to a new country can be very traumatizing if there is abuse of any type. Ensuring that people have every support they need is very important. People coming into this country should be provided with information about Canadian systems before they even come here, or at the borders when they arrive, in languages they can understand, to ensure that they are protected, educated, and made aware of the support systems available in Canada.
There are many communities around the world where women are stigmatized for seeking a divorce or leaving an abusive relationship. I know because I am a survivor of domestic violence. What women who are experiencing violence really need are concrete supports like affordable housing, counselling, and assistance in navigating the complex family, criminal, immigration, and legal systems. The immigration status of women does not need to be bound to their abusive partners through conditional permanent residency. Criminalization is the last resort. I will say it again at every opportunity: violence against women needs to be resisted. However, instilling fear in the mainstream public is not the way to do this. We need to bolster the over-stretched resources of agencies that provide these essential services to all women. That is the way forward.


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