Muslim women's group opposes addition of honour killings to Criminal Code
By Juliet O'Neill
Postmedia News (Canada), July 14, 2010
Ottawa — The Canadian Council of Muslim Women opposes the addition of 'honour killings' to the Criminal Code on the grounds 'murder is murder' and a special category could stigmatize new immigrants and some ethnic or religious groups.
Opposition Liberal and New Democrat MPs and several legal experts also objected Tuesday to such a change, floated by Rona Ambrose, federal minister for the Status of Women, at a news conference Monday.
Three law professors said the first-degree murder provisions of the Criminal Code already contain all the tools needed to prosecute and punish those who commit 'honour killings' and they knew of no Canadian judge or jury which treated cultural family 'honour' as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
While a spokesman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Monday reportedly shot down Ambrose's assertion that the government is 'looking at' the change, his director of communications, Genevieve Breton, on Tuesday told Postmedia News that 'minister Ambrose's comments are consistent with our approach' to law making.
'We as an organization don't want the term honour killing used in Canada because it's making it exotic, something alien, and foreign, and people are using that as a rationale to understand the murders,' said Alia Hogben, a social worker and executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, a national non-profit voluntary organization.
'Let's not go that route. A murder is a murder. Let's not separate us as new immigrants or ethnic groups from the rest of Canadian women. It doesn't matter which culture, which religion or which ethnic origin we come from, the same laws should apply to us.'
Law professors Isabel Grant of the University of British Columbia, Debra Parkes of the University of Manitoba and Elizabeth Sheehy of the University of Ottawa all said the Criminal Code already contains tools to deal with 'honour killings' and said it would be difficult to define it in law.
'There's a political interest, I think, and a perception by the public that somehow we're doing something about this problem by creating this new offence when you already have all the tools to deal with it in the criminal law,' Parkes said.
'I can't imagine an honour killing that wouldn't be considered first degree murder, which is the most serious offence that we have, and carries the most serious penalty, a mandatory life sentence with no parole eligibility for at least 25 years.'
Sheehy said creation of a separate crime would embed in the law the erroneous notion that murders of wives and daughters only happens in minority groups.
'It would be racializing the crime to consider honour killing as a different form of murder,' she said.
In response to public outrage, Grant said governments have a record of adding to the kinds of murders related to stalking, terrorism, and organized crime for example that must be considered first-degree murder.
But in this case she wondered how it would be defined.
'How would you draft one that wasn't discriminatory against certain ethnic communities?' she asked. 'I think that would be really tricky.'
Nova Scotia MP Megan Leslie, NDP deputy justice critic, said the government has undermined its own case by cutting programs to help immigrant women, denying settlement services to refugees and stripping 'equality rights' from the mandate of the status of women office.
'Murder is murder is murder, it doesn't matter why, it doesn't matter how or who, murder is murder,' Leslie said. 'The Criminal Code covers that. The focus needs to be on how do we prevent these murders.'
Winnipeg MP Anita Neville, Liberal critic on status of women, said Canada has the laws and sanctions in place already.
'Is this for politics or is this for policy?' Neville asked. 'It strikes me that Rona is making up policy on the fly.'