Friday, July 16, 2010

And Just How Do We Honour the Victims?

"In Canada all girls and women are equal to men under the law and have the right to live free from violence and abuse."

Rona Ambrose, Minister responsible for the status of women
Let's a few minutes and talk about a practice called "honour killings".

That's right, honour killings - “murders carried out in order to cleanse the family name and restore the family honour.”

You can read some real horror stories surrounding honour killing (as if the practice, in and of itself, is not horrific enough) if you're so inclined, including the story of a 16-year-old mentally retarded girl who, after being raped was turned over to her tribe's judicial council in Pakistan. Where, even though the crime was reported to the police and the perpetrator was arrested, it was decided that she "had brought shame to her tribe". She was killed in front of a tribal gathering.

Then there's the story of Samia Imran, whose murder in broad daylight, was abetted by her mother (a doctor) and occurred in the office of a prominent Pakistani lawyer and the UN reporter on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions.

Right, doesn't that have echoes of the United Nations electing Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged "immodest"?

But let's put that little unpleasantness aside for the moment and return to the subject at hand, shall we?

You remember, honour killings.

Unfortunately, Canada is not immune.

16-year-old Aqsa Parvez might be the most widely talked about [you can read Asqua's entire story here] case of honour killing in Canada but she is far from the first.
A 14-year-old female rape victim is strangled to death in March 2004 by her father and brother because she has supposedly tarnished the family name.

In April 2004, a man brutally kills his wife and daughter after finding out that his brother had previously molested them.

A teenage girl with a Turkish background has her throat cut by her father after he learns she has a Christian boyfriend.

Which brings us to the question - should "honour killing" be added as a separate criminal offence in Canada?

For better or for worse, apparently, that's the latest politcal buzz.

Following the release of a report from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (whoever the heck they are) this week entitled "Culturally-Driven Violence Against Women: A growing problem in Canada’s immigrant communities", Rona Ambrose, the minister responsible for the status of women, publicly stated that the government is "looking at" adding "honour killing" as a separate charge to the Criminal Code.

Apparently, she also "affirmed" the federal government's "zero-tolerance stance" against "honour killing," declaring such "barbaric cultural practices" as "heinous abuses" that have no place in Canadian society.

That whole zero tolerance thing kind of makes sense I suppose - considering Canada already has (as do all other civilized countries) a law or two on the books that tend to kick in whenever someone ends up "killing" somebody else. Yeah, that whole "killing" thing might just get you a raised eyebrow or two in some circles. It's all so ... distasteful, you know.

But, yeah, that whole idea that maybe honour killing would become a separate charge under the Criminal Code - they sort of backpedalled on that, really rather quickly, I would say.
She was asked if the government was considering such changes, and she replied that it was under consideration.

"I'll say that it's something that we're looking at," she said. "Nothing more than that at this time."

However, when contacted for more details about possible changes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said in fact, that is not the case.

"There are currently no plans to do that," said Pamela Stephens.

"While we're always interested in new input into ways to improve the Criminal Code, currently honour killing suggests a certain motive or conduct. But regardless of the motive the law as it exists in Canada is clear that intentional killing is murder, regardless of the motive."
Quite frankly, the idea of making "honour killing" an entirely separate criminal offence seems a little over the top to this tired little legal mind.

We already have provision for culpable homicide, murder (both first and second degree) and manslaughter. We deal separately with "contracted murder", "murder of a peace officer", death caused when a person is committing or attempting to commit a hijacking, sexual assault, kidnapping, criminal harassment, terrorist activity or intimidation and death caused "for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization".

Yeah, I think we pretty much got it covered. Don't you?

But where it might make more sense to make special provision for "honour killings" in our criminal justice system is in sentencing.

Under the so-called "hate crimes" amendments made to the Criminal Code in 1996, Canada considers evidence that an offence was "motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor" to be an aggravating factor in sentencing. As is evidence that the offender abused their spouse or common-law partner, abused a person under the age of eighteen years or abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim.

Which, although I suppose one or two of the above would no doubt be covered off under most honour killings anyway, why not just find some way to wordsmith honour killings (or any offence motivated by a desire to cleanse a family name and restore the family honour) in there while we're at it?

It's true enough that some among us will be appalled dare we do anything, including even dare to use the term "honour killing".

So where, exactly, would that leave us - trying to convince ourselves that honour killing isn't culture specific (that, you see, would be an example of "racial profiling") and that education would be “patronizing,” as the practice (if we are allowed to even call it that) is just part of the larger problem of crime and violence in general? Or, perhaps, just another example of garden-variety "domestic violence"?

We can bury our heads in the sand all we wish, I suppose. But that does nothing to assist (or honour - what a strange use of words) those women (many just in their teens) who are being murdered by their own families right here in Canada.

Including the fact that a murder is an honour killing as an aggravating factor in sentencing might well be only "symbolic", as some suggest.

But at least it will symbolize something.

At least it should get more Canadians talking about the issue.

At least, we will be taking one small first step forward in trying to ensure that Minister Ambrose's words actually mean more than paper they're written on - that in Canada all girls and women are equal to men under the law and have the right to live free from violence and abuse.

Sounds nice, doesn't it?


Casdok said...

Sounds well over due.

Kris, in New England said...

I am so repulsed by the fact that a supposed "religion of peace" would encourage these murders, that I really don't know what to think about a law that gives these actions special status.

Because there isn't a sentence long enough or a prison harsh enough for these monsters.