Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 6

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Throne Speech

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I begin by congratulating His Excellency the Governor General on his inaugural Speech from the Throne.

I also take this opportunity to thank Senator Cowan for his incisive response to the Speech from the Throne. As Senator Cowan mentioned, Canada is currently confronted with several very issues, and how we address these issues will indeed shape our nation for years to come. I look forward to working with all honourable senators on these issues, as I am of the opinion that together we can usher in change that will benefit all Canadians regardless of their political affiliations.

Honourable senators, I am rising before you today to respond to the Speech from the Throne. Although several new priorities were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, there are some I find to be of particular importance. Today, I will be focusing on matrimonial real property on reserve, Canada’s new role in Afghanistan, fraudulent and forced marriage, human smuggling and violence against women.

With respect to matrimonial real property, last June, Bill S-4, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, came to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. This legislation sought to ensure that women on reserve were provided with the same matrimonial real property rights as the rest of Canadian women. Unfortunately, after hearing testimony offered by several leaders in the Aboriginal community and reading a report advanced by ministerial representative Wendy Grant-John, it quickly became clear that this legislation was inherently flawed. Most of these flaws stemmed from the fact that the government had failed to uphold its duty to consult. I urge our government to ensure that it consults with Aboriginal communities and with the ministerial representative’s recommendations when it reintroduces legislation on this important issue.

[Translation]

In December 2010, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights published its report, Training in Afghanistan: Include Women. We pointed out the important role played by our troops in recent years in Afghanistan. With the change in the mission, the presence of our troops is still required in Afghanistan. However, our government must ensure that gender-specific training for our troops working in Afghanistan is given priority.

[English]

On the topic of fraudulent marriage, I wish to thank our government and Minister Kenney for listening to the most marginalized women and wanting to introduce a bill on fraudulent marriage.

Honourable senators, since 1978, which was the year I started practising in British Columbia, I have worked with many women who were victims of marriage fraud. Today, I first want to take a minute to state to all of those women who have been victims of fraudulent marriage and who have suffered in silence that their suffering was not in vain. The government will take action to ensure that other women are not subjected to a similar fate.

Honourable senators, although I could share many stories of suffering with you today, I will focus on two. The others I will share when this bill is formally introduced.

The first story is that of a Canadian woman who was deceived, leaving her life in ruins, and the other is that of an unsuspecting Indian woman whose life was turned upside down, leaving her and her family destitute.

Sanjeet’s relatives introduced her to a man from her parents’ village. Everyone told her that he was a kind man and would make a very good husband. She believed her relatives. She and her family went to India. As is the custom, her family gave a big dowry to his family. Sanjeet’s family had an elaborate wedding and then Sanjeet and her husband went on a honeymoon.

Believing her relatives, Sanjeet thought she had found her Prince Charming. She returned to Canada and sponsored her husband. In the meantime, she visited him twice in India and was very content.

The sponsorship application took one year, and then her husband arrived at the airport. At the airport, she noticed that her husband did not seem as warm as he had been in India. However, she blamed that on jet lag.

When they arrived at her parents’ home where she was living, her husband found fault with everything. He did not like their bedroom. He complained that her parents’ home was too small. He complained that Sanjeet’s cooking was lacking. Sanjeet was at her wit’s end. No matter what she did, she could not please her husband.

After seven days of very unacceptable behaviour, Sanjeet’s husband informed her that he never intended to stay with her. He had a girlfriend in India and intended to sponsor her. He left Sanjeet and applied for financial support from her. The authorities informed Sanjeet that she had to support him financially as she had signed a sponsorship agreement in which she had agreed to support him for 10 years.

When I met Sanjeet and her family, I was saddened to tell her that she could not withdraw her sponsorship application, as it was too late.

In drafting the legislation, I urge the minister to include a section that would fast track the deportation of men like Sanjeet’s husband. I will also urge the minister to set up a crisis number so that women who are living in circumstances like those to which Sanjeet was subjected receive the support they require.

As I already stated, I am very happy that the legislation on fraudulent marriage will be introduced.

I am also aware that people who are taking advantage of Canadians will try to circumvent this legislation, leaving women in particularly vulnerable positions. We need to ensure that women get the support and access to the resources they require to deal with their predicament.

Honourable senators, I have now known Sanjeet for 15 years. She was never able to remarry because of the stigma attached to being married once before. Her parents have died, as have most of her siblings. She now lives with her nephew. When I see her in the Gurdwara, she is half the woman I first saw in my office. Life has been sucked out of her.

Honourable senators, I have come across several cases where non-Canadian women are defrauded by Canadian men. I find this both very embarrassing and shameful.

Let me share with you the experience of Surjeet. Surjeet’s family was approached by a matchmaker. The family agreed to have Surjeet marry Jaspal, a Canadian. Jaspal asked for an exorbitant dowry. To meet his expectations of a dowry, the family sold their farm and many of their assets, as they were willing to make such significant sacrifices if it meant that their daughter would have a good life in Canada.

When Jaspal and his family arrived, they made many demands of the family. The family tried to meet most of those demands. After the wedding, Jaspal left, telling Surjeet he did not have any more vacation days. One month passed, two months passed, and Surjeet did not hear from Jaspal. He would not take her calls. One year passed, and Surjeet did not hear from Jaspal.

When I was approached by Surjeet’s relatives, I had to tell them there was nothing I could do to help Surjeet. Today, Surjeet’s family is destitute. Her father has died, her mother is very sick and all her siblings blame her for their sufferings.

When this bill is drafted, I ask our government to find a way to also help non-Canadian women who are defrauded by Canadian men. We need to find a way to allow women in Surjeet’s position to have the protection they deserve. We have a moral duty to help vulnerable women like Surjeet. I ask our government that, with the introduction of legislation on fraudulent marriage, a bill also be introduced on forced marriage, as the two issues go hand in hand.

[Translation]

These days, forcing a daughter to marry is a common practice in certain societies. Often, a young girl’s vacation turns into a wedding, despite her tender age and against her will.

[English]

For many years, I have been working with young girls from the age 14 to 18 who have been forcibly taken by their parents to the country of their birth and married. It is not just a Canadian problem but also a global problem. For many years, I have been working with foreign office officials from Britain. They have amazing outreach programs to help British girls return to Britain. France, too, has a similar program in place. I urge our government to build on the successes of both France and Britain and introduce legislation that will make it clear to parents that forced marriages are, in fact, child abuse, and there will be severe criminal penalties for those who carry out this practice.

Honourable senators, thousands of Canadians are in vulnerable positions and face several challenges. I thank the government for taking the first step. You have given dignity to many young women and girls, and I now urge you to take this initiative one step further and include those girls who become victims of forced marriage.

(1610)

[Translation]

In the Speech from the Throne, the government made a straightforward commitment, and I quote:

Our Government is committed to protecting the integrity of our immigration system. It will introduce measures to address marriage fraud — an abuse of our system that can victimize unsuspecting Canadians and vulnerable immigrants.

When the bills are introduced, we can model them after current legislation in such countries as England and France, or others such as Germany, Belgium, Denmark or even Spain and Italy. These countries are advanced in such matters, and in some, fraudulent marriages are even punished under their criminal code.

In France, the March 1, 2007, consolidated version of statute 1376 of November 14, 2006, overseeing the validity of marriages, establishes a mechanism to prevent fraudulent marriages and seeks to fight marriages of convenience.

[English]

Legislation needs to be supported with the resources necessary to ensure that it is properly implemented. My experience has taught me that simply passing legislation criminalizing activities is often inadequate. If we are to deal with the issue of fraudulent marriage, then we need to ensure that the resulting piece of legislation is supported by frameworks that will help ensure that these issues are appropriately addressed.

For example, in 1997, Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, received Royal Assent, making the practice of female genital mutilation a criminal offence. When this legislation came into effect, I was involved in the process of drafting training manuals that were created in an effort to help ensure that this practice no longer occurred in Canada. Unfortunately, the sufficient resources necessary to ensure the implementation of this bill were not allocated. Since this bill came into effect, not one charge has been laid, even though I know that young Canadian girls are still victimized by this practice. This is largely due to the fact that this bill was not supported with appropriate resources.

Just last month, my office participated in a symposium on female genital cutting led by the Sexuality Education Resource Centre based in Winnipeg. During this symposium, we received further confirmation from health care officials, midwives and academics that this practice indeed still exists in Canada. It was here that we also learned that, although there are laws set out to protect our vulnerable girls from cultural practices that will harm them, simply making the practice of female genital mutilation a crime would not achieve this end.

Honourable senators, this is but one example of how essential it is to ensure that pieces of legislation are accompanied by the necessary resources and framework.

The same is true of the sex tourism bill that was introduced. To my knowledge, there have only been two people prosecuted, and these cases were discovered not as a result of efforts by the authorities. This is another example of why we need to ensure that legislation is supported by necessary resources.

When drafting legislation to deal with the issues of fraudulent marriage, I urge our government to ensure that the proper resources and frameworks are in place so that the respective pieces of legislation can be enforced.

Human smuggling. In the Throne Speech, it was also stated that legislation would be introduced that would address human smuggling. Canada has a history of turning away boats of desperate people. To this day, we regret this. I urge our government, when drafting this legislation, to balance the needs of desperate and often persecuted people who arrive on our shores with the need that our country has to protect our borders.

In the Throne Speech, it was stated:

It will address the problem of violence against women and girls.

I commend our government for this initiative. Having worked on this issue for many years, I believe that we can all address the root causes of violence against women and girls.

Over the last few years, I have visited a number of family violence courts located across the country. Unfortunately, not all provinces have family violence courts. Sadly, my province of British Columbia is among those provinces that do not have a court in place to deal specifically with family violence. I have, however, urged successive Attorneys General in British Columbia to start a pilot project regarding the establishment of family violence courts and will continue to do so. I believe that establishing such a court would reduce the number of women who are abused. I urge the Minister of Justice, Minister Nicholson, and the Minister of the Status of Women, Minister Rona Ambrose, to work with the provinces and have them introduce family violence courts in all provinces.

In my experience, some of the best family violence courts are located in Calgary. I commend the Government of Alberta for this initiative. These courts are particularly designed to help women deal with the after-effects of abuse. The women get the help they require from one place. When speaking to the Calgary court officials, I was particularly impressed by their work in identifying serial abusers. These are men who have, over the years, abused many women. When these men realize that they will have to deal with the same court officials every time they are arrested for assaulting their partners, they are less likely to reoffend.

These courts are dealing with the root causes of the abuse and changing the behaviour of routine offenders in the process. Not only do they protect women who have been victims of abuse, they also require men to attend anger management courses that are run by the court, giving them the help they require to deal with their anger.

Honourable senators, I look forward to working with you on these issues addressed in the Throne Speech, particularly those issues that are aimed at assisting some of the most marginalized women in Canada.

(On motion of Senator Tardif, debate adjourned.)

 

 

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