Harpers zero tolerance for women

I had to laugh last week when Chris Alexander, Stephen Harpers minister of citizenship and immigration, barked something about barbaric.

I had to laugh last week when Chris Alexander, Stephen Harpers minister of citizenship and immigration, barked something about barbaric acts being imported into Canada.

Not because I found his proposed Zero Tolerance For Barbaric Cultural Practices Act funny, although it may well top the list of Orwellian names for legislation introduced by the Conservatives.

Its because murdering a woman, whether she didnt have supper on the table after he was out drinking with the boys, whether she talked back, whether she packed up the kids and left, is already against the law in Canada.

Statistics show that these are among the reasons most women who are killed by their partners. They disobeyed. They disrespected. They departed. They dishonoured.

Femicide is femicide whether youre brown or white.

But not to this government, which sees so-called honour killings as somehow different from the 70 or so annual murders of women by their partners here every year. In fact, this is a government not particularly open to women fleeing from gender violence in their home countries.

As Alexander, who as recently as September had deported at least two women into jeopardy, one with a Canadian-born daughter, thundered, With this bill, we would be standing up for immigrant women who have come to Canada for a better life.

Tell that to Jamila Bibi, 63, in Canada since 2006 after escaping accusations of adultery, who was returned to Pakistan where she is now in hiding from what she fears is death by stoning. Or to Winifred Agimelen and her children, who were sent back to Nigeria, where Boko Haram and genital mutilation await her daughters.

These and other deportations are clear violations of the principle of non-refoulement, the so-called cornerstone of asylum and international refugee law. It states that no member country of the UN should send ref-ugees back to countries where they face persecution, danger and/or the loss of human rights.

Not that the Conservatives proposed legislation comes as a complete surprise. Former immigration minister Jason Kenney slipped dire warnings about honour killings, female genital mutilation and barbaric cultural acts into the official citi-zenship guide, while at the same time erasing feminism, unions and LGBT rights from descriptions of our own homegrown cultural practices.

And last year, Rona Ambrose, then minister for the status of women, marked International Womens Week by following the same script.

We have been very clear: so-called honour killings are barbaric, and like all family homicides, represent a serious violation of Canadian laws, she said. We are committed to ending violence against women and girls in all its forms.

Except they arent.

The federal government does not have either a stand-alone policy on in-timate partner violence or sexual as-sault, noted the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in a ma-jor report last year. Nor does the federal government have a national action plan to address violence against women. A comprehensive to-tal for federal spending is not possible[to ascertain]… and some expenditures are sim-ply not detailed enough to determine if a particular project or grant is aimed at addressing violence against women.

(Unsurprisingly, the CCPA is one of the progressive organizations with charitable status in Canada that is getting a going-over by Canada Revenue Agency auditors.)

Ever since it came to power, the Harper government has weakened and impoverished resources for wo-men trapped in dangerous situations. Theres no state-supported day-care or moves toward pay equity to help a woman get on her feet. And shelters are overcrowded and underfunded.

Femicides typically occur when bat-tered women attempt to get away. Thats when they need protection and legal help. But theres not a lot to be had any more.

So bang! honour crime. White or brown, it amounts to the same thing.

And, speaking of guns, remember that this is the government that abolished the long gun registry, the one the RCMP and Canadas police chiefs pleaded to maintain and that likely kept many women alive.

According to a comprehensive RCMP report on the registry, rural wo-men are at particular risk: For some abused women, threats with hunting rifles was a part of the everyday life, and these firearms played a role in creating a climate of control and intimidation. This ranged from dealing with their partners frequent threats of suicide, damage to property or threats to harm her, the children or the pets/farm animals if she should ever leave.

But dumping the registry was Job One for the Cons.

That despite how, in the wake of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre of women in Montreal, tightened gun legislation led to the biggest drop in femicides in history. Ac-cording to StatsCan, the rate plummeted from just over 10 per million population in 1990 to just below six in 1998.

As for being committed to ending violence against women and girls in all its forms, theres that matter of 1,200 murdered and missing indi-genous women and girls that the Cons continue to overlook and the just-passed Protection Of Communities And Exploited Persons Act, which strips sex workers of the right to take every precaution to protect themselves from predators.So, yeah, barbaric cultural prac-tices. We dont need to import them we have them to spare.

Antonia Zerbisias is an award-winning Canadian journalist. She has been a columnist, reporter and TV host for both the Toronto Star and CBC-TV news and current affairs.

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