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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid

Published on Nov 12, 2009 by Kathryn Blaze Carlson

Written for The National Post

New citizenship guide says no to 'barbaric' practices


Canada's revamped citizenship guide warns newcomers that "barbaric cultural practices" such as honour killings will not be tolerated, marking a stronger tone against importing beliefs that clash with Canadian values.

"In Canada, men and women are equal under the law," the document says. "Canada's openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, 'honour killings,' female genital mutilation or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."

The guide, released on Thursday and called Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Canadian Citizenship, (read the full guide) is the first of its kind to explicitly denounce violence in the name of family honour -- a crime in the headlines just this week after an Ottawa man was sentenced to a year in jail for threatening violence against his daughter.

While honour killings remain relatively rare in Canada, several high-profile cases have drawn attention to the issue. Even the use of the term "honour killings" has stirred debate, as critics of the wording say it implies the practice is accepted by certain religions when, in fact, it is not.

"The government had long been cautious about offending people," said Amin Muhammad, a psychiatry professor at Memorial University and author of a recent paper on the subject, which was submitted to the federal Department of Justice. "But now, the government is bravely -- but politely -- warning that this is something that is not to be tolerated."

The inclusion of honour killings and spousal abuse in the guide reminded some onlookers of the tension over reasonable accommodation, a concept that came to a boiling point in Hérouxville, Que., in 2007 when the town council passed a motion governing the behaviour of immigrants, including provisions against stoning women and genital mutilation.

But Farzana Hassan, spokeswoman for the Muslim Canadian Congress, said there is nothing controversial about the statement in the new guide, adding that it is a long-overdue step toward tackling a cultural practice that does not jibe with Canadian values.

"We cannot ignore this in the name of multiculturalism," she said. "But it's not enough to make statements about what people should or shouldn't do, because that approach doesn't register with people who are influenced by this very irrational religious zeal."

Phyllis Chesler, an American feminist author who will soon publish a study of 230 honour killings across five continents, said honour killings are most often committed by Muslims, but added that Canada and the United States have also seen many cases involving Sikhs and Hindus. "The punishment is for becoming western after having moved to the west," Ms. Chesler said. "Wanting to leave a husband, going to college - these sorts of things that we take for granted - are seen as capital crimes among those who practice honour killings."

Ms. Chesler said honour killings are culturally acceptable in some parts of the world, adding that the killers are often glorified and the victim's family is usually complicit. "These people are coming from countries where these behaviours are never punished," she said. "There are people who bring this mindset when they come to the west."

Although Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua said he welcomes the firm language regarding the equality of men and women, he said the document should be assessed not only for what it includes, but also for what it excludes.

"Why wasn't white-collar crime mentioned, for example?" Mr. Bevilacqua said. "This must be what the current government wanted to highlight and prioritize."

For Mr. Muhammad, the new guide is a stepping stone that should be bolstered by stricter immigration processes.

"Canada needs to be more thorough in checking people's background because right now, as it stands, lots of people who support honour killings can slip into the system," he said. "Let people take offence. People who come to Canada must be law-abiding citizens."


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