November 30, 2010
So-called ‘honour-based crimes’ should not be viewed as distinct from mainstream violence against women and the Criminal Code should not be amended to include a separate ‘honour killings’ charge, a panel agreed at what was believed to be the first-ever symposium on the subject in York Region in Ontario, Canada. The panel — which featured self-proclaimed Muslim feminist, social worker, and beauty queen Tahmena Bokhari, and which also included Det. Christina Baker of York Regional Police, lawyer and activist Zarah Danani, and Anita Khanna, of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians — agreed that the term ‘honour killing’ wrongfully suggests so-called honour crimes are somehow different from the crimes of yore.
The symposium — entitled Honour Based Violence and the Canadian Context and hosted by the Sandgate Women’s Shelter of York Region — drew 50 or so mostly female community members, activists, and social workers to Richmond Hill, Ontario’s Elgin West Community Centre.
In July, Rona Ambrose, Canadian Minister for the Status of Women, told a news conference in Mississauga that the government was “looking at” adding a separate charge. Yet, later the same day her statement was hastily rejected by the Justice Department.
The Canadian Council of Muslim Women opposes the addition of “honor 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 to such a change, floated by Rona Ambrose, federal Minister for the Status of Women, at a recent news conference.
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 “honor killings” and they knew of no Canadian judge or jury who treated cultural family “honor” as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
Police forces in different parts of Canada claim charges will be laid against anyone who refuses to remove religious face-coverings such as Muslim niqabs when being booked after an arrest.
The RCMP and the Montreal police forces, who outlined the policy in interviews, laid down one notable caveat: such a case has never actually come up in either of their jurisdictions.
“This is getting absurd, really,” said Wahida Valiante, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. “There are only, in the entire Quebec province, 25 women who wear the niqab so they can’t be in the highest number of criminals expected to be arrested.”
The RCMP and the Montreal force confirmed that to their knowledge no one wearing a niqab has ever refused to remove it for a mugshot. In fact, they can’t actually recall arresting anyone with a full veil either. While Montreal police sought legal advice on the issue a year ago, the RCMP say they’ve always followed the Identification of Criminals Act, part of the Criminal Code of Canada.