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.
The Canadian federal minister for the status of women, Rona Ambrose, went to an immigrant health centre to issue a warning that honor killings and other violence against women will not be tolerated in Canada. “There is a small minority in some communities who use violence against women as a method of avenging their so-called honor,” Ambrose said at the Punjabi Community Health Services in Mississauga, west of Toronto, which is home to many immigrants from South Asia.
The Conservatives have spent much time and capital courting the South Asian communities and Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week appointed a Pakistani immigrant who was a Tory candidate in the 2008 election to the Senate. With the death of Aqsa Parvez in 2007, Mississauga was the location of one of the most shocking cases of so-called honor killing in recent Canadian history.