METRAC Submission to House of Commons Standing Committee

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METRAC Submission to House of Commons Standing Committee
SUBMISSION by METRAC: ACTION ON VIOLENCE
TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION
Re: BILL S-7
An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal
Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
May 7, 2015, Ottawa
Tamar Witelson, Legal Director, METRAC
Silmi Abdullah, Program lawyer, METRAC
METRAC Action on Violence provided this written submission to the members of the House
of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, studying Bill S-7.
Representatives from METRAC also appeared before the Committee in person on May 7,
2015, and made oral submissions in support of our written position.
Note: Clarifications included as Addenda in footnotes were added to this document after it
was submitted to the Committee.
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INTRODUCTION:
Thank you for inviting METRAC Action on Violence to present to the Commons Committee studying
Bill S-7, whose short title is the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”.
METRAC is an award-winning organization that works to prevent violence against women and
youth. For the past 30 years, we have worked with individuals, communities and institutions to
change ideas, actions and policies with the goal of ending gender-based violence. Delivering
relevant and innovative services and programs, we focus on education and prevention to increase
safety, justice and equity for women from diverse backgrounds. The Community Justice Program at
METRAC develops and provides relevant legal information, training and education for women and
service providers. We work directly with women affected by violence, and community members
who support vulnerable women, to assist women to understand their legal rights and options, and
to increase our own understanding of how the law impacts women. Our knowledge has informed
policy and legislative change to improve access to justice for vulnerable women: www.metrac.org.
METRAC has closely reviewed the legislative amendments in Bill S-7 from the perspective of
women and their safety. We would like to take this opportunity to state that we have grave
concerns that if passed into law, the Bill’s changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,
the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code will put vulnerable women at risk of violence, and
create barriers that will prevent women at risk of violence from seeking help to safety.
METRAC opposes any practice that perpetuates violence and abuse against women and girls,
including forced and underage marriage, as well as polygamous marriages which put women at
increased risk of violence. METRAC is concerned that Bill S-7 will place women and girls who are
subjected to these practices at further risk of violence and will do little, if anything, to curb these
practices in Canada. With respect to the amendments to the defence of provocation, we believe that
the effect of Bill S-7 will be to take away potential criminal justice options for all women in Canada.
In this submission, we both highlight the aspects of Bill S-7 that we believe will harm women and
provide recommendations on how women may be better protected.
ISSUES
1. Excessive Criminalization of Targeted Communities
 Will Not Significantly Protect Women and Girls
 Will Not Reduce Violence Against Women and Girls
 May Increase the Risk of Violence Against Women and Girls
a) Criminal Penalty for Celebrating, Aiding or Participating in a Forced or Underage
Marriage
Section 9 of Bill S-7 would add sections 293.1 and 293.2 to the Criminal Code, and criminalize
“everyone who celebrates, aids or participates in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing” that one of
the persons is marrying against their will or is under the age of 16 years. These broad provisions
will put community members and family members, including women relatives, at risk of
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imprisonment. Women relatives of those being forced into marriage may themselves be vulnerable
to control and abuse, and may not be able to withdraw from celebrating or participating in a
marriage. Nevertheless, under Bill S-7, they will be subject to criminal penalty. Negative impacts on
criminalized women often include restricted access to children and child protection agency
interventions.
Bill S-7 will also introduce related ancillary offences under the Criminal Code, for aiding and
abetting the principle offence1, and for comforting or assisting a person to escape prosecution, as an
accessory after the fact2. Consequently, the amendments to the Code that criminalize celebrating,
aiding or participating in a forced or underage marriage have potentially very far-reaching impact
through families and communities.
We are concerned that this risk of criminalization will drive marriage ceremonies of vulnerable
women into secrecy, thereby increasing the barriers for vulnerable women to access resources and
supports for safety. Research has shown that many women at risk of forced or underage marriage
will not report fears or situations of forced or underage marriage, if they believe their family and
community members may face criminal penalties3. There are many reasons why women in general
are reluctant to report violence to police4, especially marginalized women5. Criminal sanctions
against family members may interfere with a woman or girl’s financial supports, and in cases of
foreign nationals and landed immigrants, may lead to deportation of a family member and possibly
the woman herself, if she is a sponsored family member. If deported, the girl or woman may remain
at risk of forced marriage and abuse. For these reasons, we believe that adding ss. 293.1 and 293.2
to the Criminal Code will not protect vulnerable women and girls, and may in fact subject them to
further harm.
Recommendation:
Section 295 of the current Criminal Code provides that everyone who has the lawful authority to
solemnize a marriage is subject to penalty including imprisonment, for knowingly solemnizing a
marriage that contravenes existing laws with respect to the age and other formal requirements for
marriage. We believe that those who have the legal authority to solemnize a marriage should bear
the responsibility of making best efforts to determine that the partners to the marriage are of legal
age and are fully and freely consenting. METRAC believes that this is the appropriate extent of the
role of the criminal law to help prevent vulnerable women and girls from being forced to marry
against their will or under the legal age.
1
Criminal Code of Canada, s. 21. (1)
Criminal Code of Canada, s. 23. (1)
3
Maryum Anis, Shalini Konanur, and Deepa Mattoo, "Who.If.When to Marry: The Incidence of Forced Marriage in
Ontario," Report by South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO), 2013.
4
“Statistics: Domestic Violence,” Ontario Women’s Directorate.
http://www.citizenship.gov.on.ca/owd/docs/domestic_violence.pdf
5
Rashmee Singh, "In Between the System and the Margins: Community Organizations, Mandatory Charging and
Immigrant Victims of Abuse" (2010) 35:1 Canadian Journal of Sociology 31-62.
2
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b) Peace Bond Where There Is Fear that Another Person Will Aid a Forced or Underage
Marriage or Will Remove a Minor from Canada for a Forced or Underage Marriage
Section 11 of Bill S-7 would add s. 810.02 to the Criminal Code. The new section would allow the
court to order that a person enter into a recognizance to keep the peace, commonly referred to as a
Peace Bond, in circumstances where another person reasonably fears that a person will celebrate,
aid or participate in a forced or underage marriage, or remove a girl from Canada, for the purpose
of a forced or underage marriage.
The issuance of a Peace Bond is not a criminal offence in itself, however, refusal to enter into a
Peace Bond or a breach of its terms can lead to imprisonment. As a result, for the reasons outlined
above, we believe that women will not report fears of forced or early marriage if they believe their
family and community members may face criminal penalties, which could remove a woman’s
financial support, and could have immigration consequences for family members, with the potential
to indirectly affect the woman’s immigration status as well.
The use of Peace Bonds in the general context of family violence raises significant concerns for
women’s safety. The process for obtaining a Peace Bond requires a person to lay an information
before a Justice of the Peace, without the assistance of Crown Counsel and only with the option of
retained counsel at private expense. The process requires that the person who is the subject of the
requested Peace Bond be given notice of the application and the chance to respond, where both
parties are present in court. This process creates a potentially terrifying confrontation with an
abusive family member, who may be represented by counsel in an adversarial judicial process. In
addition, the situation also directly increases the risk of harm to a vulnerable woman. Studies
indicate that where there is a history of abuse, the risk of violence increases at times when the
survivor challenges the abuser by attempting to seek help, or to end contact with the abuser6.
Under the new Peace Bond proposed in Bill S-7, anyone can apply to the court for a Peace Bond if
they have reasonable grounds to fear that a person will celebrate, aid or participate in a forced or
underage marriage. Therefore a family or community member could apply on behalf of a woman, if
they believe she is vulnerable to a forced or underage marriage. This has the potential to create or
increase a woman’s experience of harm, by removing her agency to decide and have control over
her circumstances. She may not feel at risk, or she may have chosen against applying for a Peace
Bond because of fear for the criminalization of the subject of the Peace Bond; fear of retribution;
fear of heightened violence; or concern about loss of financial support from that person.
Peace Bonds are not likely to be an option chosen by women who are afraid of forced or underage
marriage, because, as studies indicate, they are unlikely to risk criminalizing family and community
members. For women and girls who choose to pursue a Peace Bond, they may be at heightened risk
of harm from the process itself, and from the heightened risk when survivors act to end abuse.
Recommendation:
6
Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006,” Statistics Canada, 2006
http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/stats/gender/vaw/surveys/Canada/2006_Publication_VAW.pdf
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For those women and girls who choose to apply for a Peace Bond as a tool to increase their safety,
METRAC believes that the current sections 810 and 810.1 of the Criminal Code already provide that
opportunity. Section 810 gives the court the authority to order a Peace Bond where a person has
reasonable grounds to fear that a person will cause personal injury to another person. It is
reasonable to fear that sexual assault could occur in circumstances where a person is being forced
to marry against their will or under the age of consent. Section 810.1 applies in the specific
circumstances where there is a reasonable fear that a person under the age of 16 will be sexually
touched, assaulted or exposed to other sexual offences.
2. Lower standard of proof to find non-citizens practicing polygamy
 Will lead to higher risk of deportation of women
 May decrease women’s access to supports to leave a polygamous relationship
Section 2 of Bill S-7 would add s. 41.1 to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) adding a
new ground of inadmissibility for permanent residents in Canada, which may lead to deportation.
Under this proposed change, if an immigration officer finds that a permanent resident or foreign
national is “or will be” practicing polygamy with a person who is “or will be” present in Canada at
the same time as the permanent resident or foreign national, then the permanent resident or
foreign national will be found inadmissible and may be subject to deportation.
Polygamy is currently an offence under s. 293 of the Criminal Code and applies equally to everyone
in Canada regardless of immigration status and nation of origin. Polygamous families are already
barred from entering Canada under the permanent resident stream. In such circumstances, the
applicant must satisfy an immigration officer that he or she has converted their marriage to a
monogamous one. Under the current IRPA, an immigrant to Canada with permanent residency or
citizenship who is found to have lied about being in a polygamous relationship in their application
for permanent residency, may be found inadmissible and deported7. If a permanent resident
resumes or begins a polygamous relationship once in Canada, they are subject to prosecution under
the Criminal Code. A permanent resident who is convicted of a crime and serves a jail term of more
than 6 months, may be found inadmissible and deported as a result of the criminal conviction.
Bill S-7 would make a permanent resident inadmissible if they are practicing or will be practicing
polygamy, without the opportunity of a criminal trial and requirement of a criminal conviction.
This amendment creates a two-tiered system for permanent residents and citizens in Canada, with
respect to the practice of polygamy. Under Bill S-7, permanent residents will be subject to a finding
of inadmissibility and deportation because of polygamy based on a lower standard of proof than the
criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The lower standard of proof under immigration law only requires “reasonable grounds to believe”
that a person practiced polygamy in Canada, is practicing polygamy in Canada, or may practice
polygamy in Canada8. Furthermore, under immigration law, if an immigration official is not
7
IRPA, ss. 40 (1)(a) and (d); Citizenship Act, ss. 10(1) and (2).
IRPA, s. 33. Note: it is unclear whether the “reasonable grounds to believe” or “balance of probabilities” standard
of proof will apply to the new section of the IRPA, introduced by Bill S-7. In either case, the standard will be lower
than the criminal standard, and therefore, easier to prove. (Addendum May 12, 2015)
8
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persuaded that a non-citizen is admissible, that is, that the person did not, is not, or may not
practice polygamy in Canada, then that person may be found inadmissible9.
The effect of the change to the IRPA under Bill S-7 will be that unless a non-citizen can prove the
absence of a past, current or future polygamous relationship, then he or she may be subject to
deportation10.
These changes under Bill S-7 will have significant negative impacts on women.
The most common form of polygamy involves one man and multiple female partners11. Women
may choose to enter into such relationships; they may be forced into such relationships; they may
have few practical options other than these relationships; and they may involuntarily become
involved in such relationships without knowledge that their husband has other wives. The current
Criminal Code and the amendments to the IRPA under Bill S-7 subject women to criminal and
immigration sanctions regardless of the circumstances of polygamy.
Bill S-7 will further jeopardize women, by exposing non-citizen women to deportation based on the
lower standard of reasonable grounds to believe they are or will be practicing polygamy. It will
also expose women to the loss of status in Canada if their sponsoring spouse is deported on the
basis of the lower standard of proof that he is or will be practicing polygamy.
Based on this higher risk of deportation, women will be less likely to seek help to escape an
unwanted polygamous relationship or any form of abuse, for fear of discovery of polygamy.
Children of these women will also be caught and continue to suffer, for fear of exposing a
polygamous relationship and the resulting high risk of deportation.
For a woman who does come forward to report abuse, deportation will have the effect of rendering
her and her entire polygamous family inadmissible and subject to deportation, under the IRPA12.
Instead of providing an escape from an unwanted polygamous relationship, Bill S-7 risks
perpetuating harm to women, either in Canada, by creating a barrier to seeking help, or outside of
Canada by deporting and transporting the polygamous relationship elsewhere, and likely removing
any possibility for that woman to leave the polygamous relationship or other abuse.
Recommendation:
METRAC believes that any sanctions for polygamy under the Criminal Code should apply equally to
all people in Canada regardless of immigration status. For families found inadmissible based on
9
IRPA, s. 11. Note: this section of the IRPA affects an applicant who is applying for a visa to enter Canada.
(Addendum May 12, 2015)
10
Clarification: IRPA s. 11 applies prior to entering Canada, therefore the effect of inadmissibility is more correctly
stated as the denial to enter Canada, rather than deportation from Canada. (Addendum May 12, 2015)
11
Washim Ahmed, “Criminalization of Polygamy in Canada: Historical, legal and Sociological Analysis.” Osgoode
Hall Law School, Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Vol 10, Issue 17, 2014.
12
IRPA, s. 41.1 (proposed in Bill S-7) and s. 42. Note: section 42 affects foreign nationals, thus women and
children who are waiting for permanent residence may become inadmissible if they are the accompanying family
members of a person found inadmissible based on the practice of polygamy. Under s. 41.1, Permanent Residents
may be directly inadmissible based on the practice of polygamy. (Addendum May 12, 2015)
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misrepresentation of polygamy or a criminal conviction of polygamy, the IRPA should include
exemptions for women who were unaware of, or forced into such a relationship, and/or
experienced abuse that prevented them from leaving the polygamous relationship. We further
recommend consideration of an amendment to the Criminal Code that also exempts women from
criminal sanction for polygamy, if they were unaware of, or forced into such a relationship, and/or
experienced abuse that prevented them from leaving the polygamous relationship. Supports
should be provided for women to enable them to leave a polygamous relationship, without
subjecting women to deportation or criminalization.
3. National minimum age to marry (16 years)
 will be lower than the age to marry without parental consent under current
provincial and territorial statutes
 will promote a public policy and understanding that children under the age of
majority can legally marry
Section 4 of Bill S-7 will amend the Civil Marriage Act and introduce 16 years as the national
minimum age to marry, with “free and enlightened consent”. This will lower the minimum age to
marry from 19 or 18 in all of the provinces and territories, except for Quebec, where the minimum
age to marry is 16. Currently, in every province and territory, a person who is older than 15 but
younger than the legal age to marry, may be legally married with parental or court consent (in
Quebec, this affects 16 and 17 year olds). In practical terms, current laws across the country
provide no protection for girls between the ages of 16 and 18, or 19 in some regions, who are
forced to marry by their parents, because the need for parental consent would be satisfied.
Under Bill S-7, reducing the minimum age of marriage to 16 throughout Canada will not provide
new protections for girls being forced to marry at age 16, 17, or 18 in some regions. We do not
believe that requiring “free and enlightened consent” from girls of this age to marry will sufficiently
protect girls who may be pressured by and dependent on family members. Compounding this
concern is the vague and normative term “enlightened”, which may not correspond to “fully
informed”.
We are concerned that setting a minimum national age to marry at 16 will send a message that the
public policy in Canada is that girls as young as 16 may marry, and that this will continue to expose
teenage girls to being forced into unwanted marriages.
The minimum age of 16 to marry is inconsistent with international instruments on rights for
women and girls, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment 1813,
13
“19. Child marriage, also referred to as early marriage, is any marriage where at least one of the parties is under
18 years of age. The overwhelming majority of child marriages, both formal and informal, involve girls, although at
times their spouses are also under the age of 18. A child marriage is considered as a form of forced marriage given
that one or both parties have not expressed their full, free and informed consent. As a matter of respecting the
child’s evolving capacities and autonomy in making decisions that affect her or his life, in exceptional
circumstances a marriage of a mature, capable child below the age of 18 may be allowed provided that the child is
at least 16 years old and that such decisions are made by a judge based on legitimate exceptional grounds defined
by law and on the evidence of maturity without deference to cultures and traditions.” Committee on the Rights of
the Child, General Comment No. 18, Joint general recommendation/general comment No. 31 of the Committee on
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which has been ratified by Canada, and which sets the minimum marrying age at 18 years, with
“full, free and informed consent”.
Recommendation:
METRAC believes there is a benefit to having a clear and national standard for marriage. We
recommend a standard that sets the minimum age to marry at no lower than 18 years, with full,
free and informed consent. A standard age and consent requirement across the country would send
a clear and understandable message that any marriage below the national minimum age is an
underage marriage and not legally valid. Consistent with the UN Committee on the Rights of the
Child, General Comment 18, there may be an exception in cases where a child is older than 15 and
under the minimum age, and developmentally mature enough to make decisions with full, free and
informed consent. The exception may apply when determined by a court of law. We support the
removal of any exception for underage marriage with “parental consent.”
4. Narrowing the defense of provocation in murder cases
 will remove a possible defence currently available to abused women
Section 7 of Bill S-7 amends the Criminal Code ss. 232(2) and 232(3)(a), which will limit the factual
situations in which the partial defence of provocation may be used to reduce a charge from first or
second degree murder to manslaughter. Currently, the defence of provocation is available if the
accused kills in the heat of passion because of a “wrongful act or insult” by the victim which would
cause an ordinary person to lose self-control. Bill S-7 restricts the availability of this defense to
only situations where the acts of the victim would cause an ordinary person to lose self-control
AND would be an offence under the Criminal Code that is punishable by five years or more.
The Supreme Court of Canada has already interpreted the current Criminal Code defence of
provocation in a way that is consistent with the fundamental value of equality in the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and specifically rejected the use of the defence for “any form of
killing based on… inappropriate conceptualizations of ‘honour’”.14
Therefore, we are not concerned that the current defence of provocation will be available in cases
of femicide, where the accused claims that the charge should be reduced to manslaughter because
the killing was provoked in the context of family “honour”.
We are, however, concerned that the amendment in Bill S-7 that restricts the application of the
limited defence of provocation may negatively impact women affected by abuse. A history of abuse
may in a single moment lead to a loss of control that results in actions that cause death, but may not
be provoked by a single event or conduct that would constitute an offence punishable by five or
more years in prison.
the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and No. 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on
harmful practices, Document CEDAW/C/GC/31-CRC/C/GC/18, s. 6.2, paragraph 19
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fGC%2f18&Lang=
en
14
R.
v.
Tran, 2010 SCC 58, para 34.
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On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.15 Concurrently, the
rate of incarceration of women in Canada is rising. In the past decade, the number of female
inmates in federal prisons has grown by more than 50%.16 Women who are incarcerated represent
the most vulnerable members of society: poor or homeless, under-educated, and facing addictions
or mental health problems.17 Most of them have been victims of sexual and physical abuse.
Aboriginal women, in particular, face disproportionate impacts of our criminal justice system. The
incidence of physical and sexual abuse against Aboriginal women has risen dramatically over the
past 10 years18, and representation of aboriginal women in federal prisons has increased by nearly
90%.19 In prison, the most vulnerable women are re-victimized by over-crowding, violence (often
self-inflicted), mental health issues, and separation from their children by the Children’s Aid
Society. We believe that narrowing the defense of provocation will further increase the risk of
victimizing abused women by the criminal justice system.
The current defence of provocation has historically been primarily used by a male accused to
reduce the penalty for femicide, by partially excusing violence against women when men have been
“provoked” by adultery, infidelity or jealousy20. The Supreme Court of Canada has clarified that a
modern approach to determining when the defence is available must include an objective
consideration of actions that may provoke a loss of self-control, informed by contemporary norms
of behavior and Charter rights. Thus, “it would not be appropriate to ascribe to the ordinary person
the characteristic of being homophobic if the accused were the recipient of a homosexual
advance. Similarly, there can be no place in this objective standard for antiquated beliefs such as
‘adultery is the highest invasion of property’”. We believe this approach protects women against
murder in the name of “honour”, as well as all women from gendered violence. It also leaves open
the possibility that a woman exposed to violence may rely on the limited defence of provocation.
Recommendation:
We recommend that the current Criminal Code sections dealing with the defence of provocation
should remain in place. In addition, we recommend consideration of amending the Criminal Code to
include the protection of Charter values, especially equality rights, in the defence of provocation, as
well as an understanding of provocation that is relevant to women who have been exposed to
violence and may claim the defence.
5. Focus on “foreign” cultural practices as barbaric against women
15
Canadian Women’s Foundation. The Facts about Violence against Women.
http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence
16
Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, Women in Prison up 50%
http://www.efryottawa.com/documents/womeninprisonup50.pdf
17
Ibid.
18
Ibid.
19
Mandy Wesley, “Marginalized: The Aboriginal Women’s experience in Federal Corrections,” Public Safety
Canada, in cooperation with the Wesley Group, 2012.
http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/mrgnlzd/mrgnlzd-eng.pdf
20
Taylor v The King, [1947] SCR 462; R. v Stone, [1999] 2 SCR 290. See also Andrée Côté, Diana Majury and
Elizabeth Sheehy, “Stop Excusing Violence against Women,” National Association of Women and the Law Position
Paper, 2000. http://www.nawl.ca/ns/en/documents/Pub_Report_Provoc00_en.pdf
Page 9
a. Perpetuates xenophobia by associating violence against women with immigration
and specific communities
b. Will further marginalize and isolate women within specific communities, and
create barriers to accessing resources and supports to escape violence
c. Detracts from the fact that violence against women is a national problem
irrespective of culture and background
METRAC has significant concerns about Bill S-7 which references “barbaric cultural practices”, and
focuses on limited, specific forms of violence against women and girls that are associated with
particular communities in Canada. It is our position that all forms of violence against women and
girls are “barbaric”. However, the use of the words “barbaric” and “cultural” in Bill S-7 suggests that
particular communities as a whole endorse violence against women as an inherent component of
their “culture”. It also assumes that violence against women is something that is imported into
Canada by “foreigners” who are unable or undeserving to be part of Canadian society.
Xenophobia and discrimination affect all members of the targeted community. In addition, we are
concerned that women and girls who may be already marginalized by immigration status, race
and/or religion and who are also exposed to violence will be trapped without help. They will be
reluctant to seek assistance if it puts others in their family and community at risk of backlash as
well as legal consequences. Furthermore, under greater social scrutiny, some abusive practices
may be forced into secrecy to avoid detection.
Bill S-7’s focus on specific forms of violence against women as a “cultural” problem overlooks the
reality that gender-based violence is a global phenomenon and occurs in every community in
Canada. It also mischaracterizes immigrant and/or racialized communities as homogenous groups,
when in reality, there is great diversity within a particular community with respect to belief
systems, traditions and practices. There is no such thing as a unified culture that applies to one
country, or one religious or ethnic community as a whole. Although some individual members of a
culture and/or religion may use these concepts to try to justify and legitimize acts of violence
against women and girls, such incidents do not mean that those are, in fact, practices that are
endorsed or embraced by all members of an entire community as part of their belief system. The
equation of a foreign “culture” with violence advances false stereotypes about entire communities
and makes them more vulnerable to racial discrimination, xenophobia and violence. This, in turn,
has very practical, severe and direct implications for women and girls facing violence in such
communities
Many immigrant women in Canada are already marginalized by discrimination and vulnerable due
to poverty, unemployment, lack of access to legal rights, and language barriers. Therefore, they are
a group that is in dire need of increased access to social and legal services and resources. But when
laws are used to specifically target and demonize immigrant communities, they send the message to
the public that members of these communities are less deserving of help, support and protection.
We also believe that the specific focus and language of Bill S-7 will obscure the fact that women
across Canada, from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life, are affected by violence, thereby
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harming all women who continue to need public awareness and assistance to escape and live free of
abuse and harm.
CONCLUSION
The cumulative effects of the measures proposed in Bill S-7 risk harming immigrant women by
punishing their communities, and potentially subjecting many to criminal sanctions. Criminal
sanctions may lead to deportation of permanent residents. A belief that some may practice
polygamy may lead to deportation without the need of proof at a criminal trial. Women may be
deported directly, or as a family member of a deportee. These threats risk forcing acts of violence
against women into secrecy, isolating vulnerable women from supports and access to safety. Young
girls and their families will grow up with an understanding that a person can legally marry at age
16. The main focus of Bill S-7 is on punishing specific communities by either implementing harsher
criminal scrutiny and penalties, or simply removing immigrants from the country.
METRAC joins other critics of Bill S-7 by underscoring the need to understand the complexity of
violence against women and to engage with diverse communities and service providers to deliver
appropriate services, giving women and girls facing abuse the opportunity to understand how to
protect themselves and live safely in Canada.
SUMMARY OF METRAC’S RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. Limit criminal penalties for forced and underage marriages to those who have the lawful
authority to perform a marriage.
2. Retain the current Criminal Code provisions for Peace Bonds, without a new Peace Bond
specifically related to forced or underage marriage.
3. Retain current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act sections to limit the practice of
polygamy in Canada.
4. Ensure that Criminal Code provisions regarding polygamy apply uniformly to people in Canada
regardless of immigration status.
5. Introduce amendments to Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and Criminal Code sections
related to polygamy, to protect from sanction women who are unaware of, or forced into a
polygamous relationship, or who have experienced abuse which prevented them from leaving a
polygamous relationship.
6. Require full, free and informed consent to marry, and remove requirements for parental
consent. Introduce a national minimum age of marriage no lower than 18 years, with an
exception for persons over 15 years and under the national minimum age, able to give full, free
and informed consent, as determined by a court of law.
7. Amend the Criminal Code defence of provocation to specifically protect Charter values and apply
to women exposed to violence.
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