Getting past the 'honour' code


National Post - Wednesday February 16th, 2011

Barbara Kay, National Post · Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

Multiculturalism is getting a bad rap these days. No fewer than three European leaders -- Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and, most recently, David Cameron of Britain --have publicly renounced the policy.

"We have ... tolerated segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values," Cameron said. He has called for a new policy of "active, muscular liberalism."

One of the specific negative consequences of multiculturalism Cameron cited was "the horror of forced marriage." (The U.K.'s "Forced Marriage Unit" has handled more than 1,500 reports this year alone.) He says organizations that do not believe in women's rights will no longer get state funding.

Cameron is right to home in on the issue of women's rights. A cultural community's perception of the norms of sexual relations provides a good litmus test for what stage of integration into Western society they have reached. For a variety of reasons, integration happens more smoothly in some countries than others. While Canada has on record "only" 12 murders of girls and women officially recorded as honour-motivated, in Britain there are about 13 honour killings every year. For a 2006 BBC poll, 500 Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian youth between the ages of 16-34, some second-or third-generation British citizens, were interviewed. Alarmingly, one out of 10 of the subjects believed that honour killings of girls and women can be justified.

Canada has not arrived at the state of social crisis we see abroad but, whether immigration rates rise or fall, our troubles could escalate without state intervention. Fortunately, strategies to diminish honour-motivated violence against girls and women in Canada are being mobilized by the federal government.

One such initiative was launched last week by Minister for the Status of Women Rona Ambrose. The Edmonton Indo-Canadian Women's Association has received $241,000 for a 24-month project designed to empower immigrant girls and women, "Elimination of Harmful Cultural Practices: A Community-Centred Approach for Education and Action." The project is a tangible outcome of meetings and conferences sparked by a July, 2010 Frontier Centre report on the troubling persistence of honour-motivated abuse into the second and third generation of South Asian communities.

Part of the money will fund a shelter, WIN House, reserved for refugee and immigrant women fleeing abuse, within which the program, "Changing Together," will operate. A priority is information outreach -- to inform immigrant women before they come to Canada, on their arrival, at settlement offices, banks, doctors' offices and other frequent points of contact (including Facebook and Twitter) --about women's rights here, reassuring immigrants that such practices as forced marriages and dowry fraud are not tolerated in Canada.

In her remarks at the press conference, Ms. Ambrose affirmed her personal commitment to this cause. She linked the Edmonton initiative to the new 2009 citizenship guide, specifically its warning that "Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, 'honour killings' ... or other gender-based violence." In a telephone interview, Ms. Ambrose told me of encounters with young girls who approached her privately to tell their stories, and how they strengthened her personal resolve to help them.

This project will, I think, be remembered as a turning point in the history of Canada's multiculturalism adventure. Recall the horrific slaying of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez by her father and brother in 2007 for the "crime" of wanting to live her life as an ordinary Canadian girl. Recall, too, that many who spoke the truth about it at the time -- that it was a cold-blooded, ritual punishment linked to an imported honour code, rather than a spontaneous case of "domestic violence" that could have happened to any Canadian woman -- were pilloried by both feminist and Muslim spokespeople as racist.

The Edmonton pilot project will, hopefully, succeed and be replicated in other Canadian cities where there is a need for such services. Ms. Ambrose is to be congratulated for refusing to let political correctness stand in the way of South Asian girls' and women's rights and security. Not to be (very) partisan, but I doubt that a Liberal government would have found the will to apply such "active, muscular liberalism" to the problem before a European-style crisis forced its hand.

bkay@videotron.ca