Barbara Kay: Call barbarism what it is


National Post - Tuesday May 12th, 2015

CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
No politician in Canada is more familiar with what cultural communities want than Jason Kenney, who on March 12 rose in the House to speak, with regard to barbaric practices, words I believe most Canadians strongly approve.

Our government’s citizenship guide has for four years warned newcomers that “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.” Soon we will have a law in force to back up this unequivocal and principled declaration. Bill S-7, dubbed the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Practices Act,” a collaborative project by the ministries of Immigration, Justice, Health and Status of Women, has been in committee hearings since it passed second reading in late March, and will shortly pass into effect.

One cannot imagine any of the progressive parties conceiving of such a forthright checkpoint on the multicultural highway, let alone one with the word “barbaric” in its title. We all remember Justin Trudeau’s flustered 2011 walkback of his objection to the word’s appearance in the guide when he was the Liberal immigration critic. He admitted that the practices referred to were “absolutely unacceptable,” but felt the use of the word in an official government document didn’t jibe with the “responsible neutrality” governments are bound to demonstrate.

Bill S-7’s timing is fortuitous. Its “B” word is in its own small way a reflection of a bigger, now-global debate over the limitations of free speech, brought to lurid prominence by the utter barbarism of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The dichotomy in thinking the incident provoked in the chattering classes was stark: One side supports an individual’s or a publication’s right to offend any group’s practices or belief system (as we have long supported the right of artists to mock Christian beliefs, for example, sometimes in quite disgusting ways), while the other — composed mainly of self-identifying progressives — invoked “responsibility,” condemning Charlie Hebdo’s offensive content, and by implication those who applauded its courage, as racist. These sensitive souls are pained by extremely offensive satire — understandable — but also by words that accurately describe practices that are offensive to all enlightened people. For they would rather be liked by everyone, even the unenlightened, than be right.

But not only are they wrong; they are not even popular amongst the silent majority of the cultural communities they are currying favour with. No politician in Canada is more familiar with what cultural communities want than Jason Kenney, who on March 12 rose in the House to speak, with regard to barbaric practices, words I believe most Canadians strongly approve:

“Yes, [barbaric] is a strong term. It is a judgmental term, but we do sometimes need to make judgments.” He continued, “I will be absolutely blunt. When I first came to government and started as minister of multiculturalism eight years ago, for political reasons I would have probably recoiled at the name of this bill. However, my enormous exposure to and close work with the huge diversity of our cultural and faith communities taught me something over the course of time. It taught me that the vast majority of new Canadians believe passionately that there are certain hallmarks of integration into this country that we must all respect, that there is a duty to integrate, and that there are certain practices that are rooted in custom or tradition that have no place in Canada….

“They said, ‘Please do not tolerate female genital mutilation, forced marriages or polygamy. Please stop this.’ … It was women who were victims of forced marriages, including here in Canada, who most strongly motivated the bill.”

In a telephone interview last month, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander told me that the law “will affect significant numbers of sponsorships,” referring to the practice of Canadian women being forced into marriages for the purpose of enabling immigration by otherwise ineligible men from their countries of provenance. It will also, if prosecutors have the spine for it, put paid to the practice of Latter-Day Saints polygamy in B.C.

Alexander says S-7’s impact will be to “change the assumptions” of those who are skirting present laws already in place against polygamy and forced marriage

Its most important impact, though, will be in prevention and education. Alexander says S-7’s impact will be to “change the assumptions” of those who are skirting present laws already in place against polygamy and forced marriage. Those involved in the practices have known it is wrong by Canadian standards for some time, but Alexander believes S-7 will “change the balance of probabilities.”

Kudos to the Harper government. Except: While S-7 distinguishes between “forced marriage” and “arranged marriage,” it permits arranged marriages for girls as young as 16. Virtually no 16-year old girls in these communities have the maturity, or the social and financial independence, necessary to withhold assent in the face of kinship pressures. The earliest permissible age for marriage should be 18. It’s not too late for such an amendment.

National Post

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