Senate passes bill to remove mention of ‘barbaric cultural practices’ from Harper-era law


For all the right reasons: keeping the substance while removing the identity politics bumper sticker title (Senator Salma Ataullahjan characterization of the short title as “incendiary and deeply harmful, as it targets a cultural group as a whole rather than individuals who commit the specific acts” worthy of note.

Assume the Liberal government may be considering the same approach with FGM and the upcoming citizenship guide (Conservative MP Rempel’s high profile efforts to press the issue with Minister Hussen ups the stakes):

The Senate has approved a bill that would remove mention of “barbaric cultural practices” from a law that outlaws forced marriage.

Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer introduced the bill in December 2015, shortly after the Liberals won the federal election and less than six months after the previous Conservative government passed the so-called “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” into law.

In a speech introducing her bill — which does nothing more than remove the title of that law — Jaffer said the use of the term “barbaric” is “insulting to cultures in Canada.”

“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,” she said at the time.

“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.”

The Conservative law, called Bill S-7 when it went through parliament, sought to address the issue of forced marriage in a few ways, including by adding polygamy as a reason to deny someone’s admission to Canada, by setting 16 as the minimum age for marriage and by creating new offences related to forced and underage marriage.

It also removed provocation by “wrongful act or insult” as a partial defence in murder cases. The legislative summary for the bill cites a 2006 case at the Ontario Court of Appeal in which a man accused of killing an allegedly unfaithful wife cited “family honour” in arguing the defence of provocation was relevant. The court disagreed and said the premise that violence against women is sometimes accepted is “antithetical” to fundamental Canadian values.

The law itself remains subject to criticism from some quarters. Just this week, during a debate on archaic elements of the Criminal Code, Green Party leader Elizabeth May noted in the Commons that Bill S-7 had made illegal, or recategorized, some things that were already illegal. “I believe that the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act belongs in the same category as banning witchcraft,” she said. (A bill going through parliament now removes pretending to practise witchcraft as a criminal offence.)

However, there is some cross-partisan consensus on the law’s title. Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan agrees with Jaffer that “barbaric” is a problematic word.

The short title, “in my view, is incendiary and deeply harmful, as it targets a cultural group as a whole rather than individuals who commit the specific acts,” Ataullahjan said Monday evening in the Senate.

“Through conversations with my community, I heard from most that they felt the short title was directed solely at them and that from their perspective it served only to further stigmatize and alienate them from the community at large.”

This isn’t the first time a politician has taken issue with such language. When he was a backbench MP in 2011, now-prime minister Justin Trudeau made headlines for challenging the Conservative government’s use of the term in Canada’s citizenship guide, arguing the use of the term “barbaric” to describe “cultural practices” was not neutral enough.

“My problem with the use of the word barbaric is that it was chosen to reassure Canadians rather than actually change unacceptable behaviours,” he said on Twitter at the time, later clarifying that, yes, he did think that “all violence against women is barbaric.”

Trudeau repeated the word again last week as he responded to a question from Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, taking issue with the government’s decision to remove a line about the illegality of female genital mutilation from the citizenship guide.

“We will continue to lead the way, pushing for an end to these barbaric practices of female genital mutilation, everywhere around the world and here in Canada,” he said.

Jaffer’s bill awaits first reading in the House of Commons.

via Senate passes bill to remove mention of ‘barbaric cultural practices’ from Harper-era law | National Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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