1st Session, 42nd Parliament,

Volume 150, Issue 15

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

Civil Marriage Act

Criminal Code

Bill to Amend a Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Adjourned

Hon. Mobina S. B.. Jaffer moved second reading of Bill S-210, An Act to amend 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.

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today on Bill S-210. This is a Bill to amend the short title. I am asking us to repeal the short title of the Bill, called the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. I am asking for the short title to be repealed.

Honourable senators, this Bill was studied very carefully in the previous Human Rights Committee. I had the honour of working with the Honourable Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Eaton. Both Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Eaton were members of the steering committee, and both Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Eaton have agreed to support me on this Bill. Now I am looking for your support.

Honourable senators, as I said, I rise today to speak to An Act to amend 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.

Today I am only asking to repeal the short title of this Bill. The short title reads “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,” and I would like to see the removal of it.

What this title implies is simply the recompartmentalizing of things that are already illegal in Canada to attempt to reframe it as though a specific culture promotes these practices and, therefore, to claim that the culture is barbaric.

Honourable senators, I believe this is misguided in what it implies. The distinction to some may seem slight, a finicky change in language that is more show than substance but, in reality, it is deep in its significance and heavy in its implications.

In order to understand the gravity of the usage of this word, allow me to reflect on its history. After all, it is by understanding our past that we make sense of the present.

The word “barbaric” conjures up images of colonial times, where many of the words synonymous with the word “barbarian” were used to describe cultures other than one’s own: primitive, savage, unsophisticated, uncivillized.

The word “barbarian” is commonly used when two different cultures meet. This is the case where a practice of one culture is unrecognizably strange to members of the other culture or where one culture is seen as alien or rival by another. Psychologically, the term is associated with stereotypes of those that are not a member of one’s group. This association justifies certain held beliefs:

The barbarian image serves to demean the members of the other group, creating a morally justified reason for separation from that group.

That comes from New World Encyclopedia.

Honourable senators, we have seen what considering one culture morally superior to another can do to our world. It creates divides that affect our society to this day. It fosters sentiments of xenophobia and fear of people different to oneself. It is destructive, especially in a globalized world such as ours.

The history of this word then begs the question: Does it hold a place in modern legislation? Like most things, when it comes to language, it depends on context.

Can we reasonably call terrorists barbaric? Yes. Are certain acts against humanity barbaric? Yes. Would any reasonable person agree with these points? Yes. Do I agree with these points? Yes.

The issue here, frankly, is the pairing of the words “barbaric” and “cultural.” By pairing these two words, we are instead removing the agency from the individual committing an action that is clearly wrong and associating it instead with a cultural group at large. We are implying that these practices are part of cultures and that these cultures are barbaric, rather than recognizing that the individuals committing these acts are the ones at fault and not placing the blame on an entire culture.

The reality is that these extremes pervade society across cultures, race, ethnicities, gender and age. Violence against women does not only happen to women in a certain culture. That is why it was already illegal in Canada. The specific grouping of laws that already exist independently under this act was simply to branch them under the cultural umbrella.

The issue here is not whether we think these acts are barbaric, but rather whether we are willing to ascribe them to a culture and suggest these are cultural practices. This is insulting to cultures in Canada.


Terrorism is barbaric. Each of these acts is barbaric, but then to attempt to affiliate this with one particular culture, to associate the term with a cultural group, is not only insulting and wrong but also extremely dangerous. This is no better than any of the other cultural wars that are happening globally. The most important thing we can be vigilant about now is the use of our language.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous effects is that when we associate a group of extremist ideas as part of a religion or culture we are giving legitimacy to that group, but most members of that group reject the extremist ideology. These are not the representatives of a culture. These are not cultural practices. It is our responsibility to not perpetuate misguided ideas. We as parliamentarians cannot allow divisive language to shape our societies going forward.

Our particular responsibility here in the Senate is to represent the views of the minority. This type of language only propagates xenophobia. It belittles the conscience of our citizens. They are capable of understanding that these practices are barbaric, which is why they are already illegal in our country. They are also capable of realizing that it is the practices that are barbaric, not any one particular culture that is promoting these practices.

And it is important in its depth of impact, in the gravity of what we are choosing to say about ourselves as Canadians and how we conduct our work as legislators.

Others have come forward being critical of this language, and I would like to share a few of their quotes with you. Sharryn Aiken, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University, stated:

I am not in a camp for being an apologist for violence — not at all. Let’s not make any mistake about that. It’s rather the pairing of “barbaric” and “cultural” that’s the problem, because it seems to imply that the people who are perpetrating harmful practices and/or the victims of harmful practices are somehow relegated to some select cultural communities.

As we know, that is a patent falsehood. We know that family violence, domestic violence, wife assault, and other forms of abuse are endemic across Canadian society. They affect newcomers, long-term residents, aboriginal Canadians and citizens of many generations. They affect Canadians right across the social strata of this country.

That’s the problem with the short title. It is suggesting that somehow there are only some communities that we need to be concerned about, rather than dedicating ourselves to eradicating violence everywhere.

Ninu Kang, Director of Communications and Development at MOSAIC, a settlement organization, said:

…this particular legislation targets immigrant communities…. It creates the phenomena of us and them — “us” being Canadians — and somehow that we as Canadians are humans and have good values and practices, and those who come from other parts of the

world are barbaric…. Furthermore, there is legislation that already addresses the issues in this legislation around polygamy and so one, so I guess the question is what is the need for this legislation? What is the purpose of calling this zero-tolerance to barbaric practices and to what cultural group is this targeted?

Nalia Butt, Executive Director of the Social Services Network, who testified at the Human Rights Committee, stated:

We agree that the practices the Bill aims to restrict are undesirable. However, the title of the Bill  has connotations suggesting that a select, privileged few have the status of the civilized preaching to the uncivilized barbarians. This language in a multicultural, open and democratic society like Canada, where the majority of the people are immigrants, will not be conducive to reaching the goals the Bill has set to achieve.

And Avvy Yao-Yao Go, Clinical Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, testified:

…at the end of the day, if we go back to the drawing board, some of the provisions might well be kept, but then you need to change the conversation as a whole because, right now, the conversation is not just about whether the families are engaged in criminal acts but whether they are doing so out of their barbaric culture.

Hannana Siddiqui, Head of Policy and Research at Southall Black Sisters in the United Kingdom, testified at the committee and stated:

I would like to say that you need to change the short name of the Bill where it talks about barbaric cultural practices. Some communities will find that offensive, and it does stigmatize minority communities. Of course, these are not acceptable practices, and we call them harmful practices.

We also heard testimony at the committee from Deepa Mattoo, Acting Executive Director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario; Julie Miville-Dechêne, President of the Conseil du statut de la femme; Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women; Craig E. Jones, Professor of Law at Thompson Rivers University; and J. Michael Spratt, Partner at Abergel Goldstein and Partners — who echoed similar concerns about the short title of the Bill .

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration heard similar testimony from Chantal Desloges, a lawyer at the Desloges Law Group; Rupaleem Bhuyan, a professor at the University of Toronto; Madeline Lamboley, a PhD candidate in criminology; Peter Edelmann, Executive Member of the Immigration Law section  at the Canadian Bar Association; and Suzanne Costom, Vice-Chair of the Criminal Justice section  of the Canadian Bar Association.

Honourable senators, you will note that none of this is about the content of the Bill. That is another conversation for another day. Today, I am simply asking that you consider repealing the short title of the Bill so that it no longer marries the terms “barbaric” and “cultural.”

As Suzanne Costom said in her testimony:

The title is divisive, and it’s misleading because it suggests that violence against women and children is a cultural issue limited to certain communities.

On a broader level, the Canadian Bar Association has consistently recommended that the government refrain from using short titles that seek, in our opinion, to inflame the emotions of the Canadian public rather than inform.

Honourable senators, as I have said before, we can call terrorists barbaric, we can call violence barbaric, but we cannot call cultures barbaric. We have evolved philosophically and intellectually as a society and frankly should know better at this point in our evolution than to stir up old tactics of dividing cultures; that is very divisive in society. All I am asking, honourable senators, is that we remove the short title of this Bill.

(On motion of Senator Ataullahjan, debate adjourned.)


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