Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s bizarre declaration of war against “barbaric cultural practices” is both deliberate and unnecessary.
It is deliberate in that it panders to those who fear that foreigners — particularly Muslims – threaten the fabric of Canadian society.
It is unnecessary in that most of the practices it hopes to curb, including polygamy and so-called honour killings, are already illegal in this country.
Indeed, the Conservative government’s proposed Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act (yes, that is its formal name) is reminiscent of a bylaw banning polygamy and the stoning of women that was enacted in 2007 by the Quebec village of Hérouxville.
At the time, Hérouxville was not overrun by murderously polygamous immigrants. In fact, it contained no immigrants at all. The village council just wanted to make a point — about foreigners, immigrants and especially Muslims.
So, too, it seems, does Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government.
Bill S-7 does contain some reasonable elements.
One would explicitly outlaw forced marriages. Another would clarify the general provincial practice that sets 16 as the minimum age for marriage. A third would make it illegal to transport a child under 16 abroad for the purpose of marriage.
Had the government stopped there, Alexander’s bill would be a reasonable attempt to protect children (mainly girls) from unwanted marriages.
But, for its own political purposes, the government didn’t stop there. It couldn’t resist playing the foreign barbarian card.
Polygamy, for instance, is already illegal in Canada. Governments have the power to arrest and charge polygamists. Yet as the long-running, Bountiful, B.C. polygamy saga shows, Canadian government have not been anxious to do so.
The alleged Bountiful polygamists, incidentally, are neither recent immigrants nor Muslim. They are Canadians who belong to a break-away Mormon sect.
But the new federal bill does not address the barbaric practices of established Canadian polygamists in B.C. Instead, it focuses solely on immigrants.
Announcing the bill in Toronto this week, Alexander claimed, without providing evidence, that there are “at least hundreds” of immigrants in Canada engaged in polygamy.
His bill would allow the government to deport those non-citizens it believes are practising or about to practise polygamy.
But it is the section dealing with honour killings that is the most curious. Bill S-7 would rewrite the Criminal Code to preclude a defendant in a murder trial from arguing that an insult to family honour provoked his action.
Such a clause might be necessary if Canada’s courts were routinely soft on honour killers. But they aren’t.
As justification for his bill, Alexander cited the case of Mohammad Shafia, an Afghan immigrant who, along with his wife and son, killed three of his daughters and the girls’ stepmother.
What the minister didn’t point out is that all three killers received the maximum sentence — life in prison.
“The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour . . . that has absolutely no placed in any civilized society,” the judge said at sentencing.
Not much leniency there.
In another case cited by Alexander this week, it’s hard to know what the judge will say. The alleged wife-killer has not yet gone to trial.
This inconvenient fact didn’t stop the minister from publicly declaring the recent immigrant from Afghanistan guilty of an honour killing. (It’s the second time this year that Alexander has preemptively convicted this particular man. The first was in a March speech for Toronto’s Canadian Club).
It is true that Canada does not tolerate practices more common in other countries. Americans who want to come to Canada must give up their handguns. Chinese billionaires, if they wish to settle here, may have only one spouse apiece. Murdering wives and daughters — for any reason — is just not on.
But laws in these areas already exist. With the exceptions noted above, Alexander’s bill does not add anything helpful. In the guise of protecting women it takes potshots at Muslim immigrants. Its motives are crassly political.