Adrian Humphreys, National Post, September 5, 2013
Kellie Leitch, the federal Status of Women Minister who is also an orthopedic surgeon, uses her experience in the operating room to explain the delicate reasons for the government’s special funding announcement Thursday to combat “honour” crimes in Canada’s Muslim community.
“Not every broken elbow is the same and I take a different approach in the operating room to fixing certain types of fractures of the elbow depending on what might need to be addressed,” she said in an interview Thursday.
“And I think we see those differences amongst ethno-cultural groups as well,” she said, noting different communities often deal with different family violence issues.
“They are different amongst different ethnic groups; they are different amongst different cultural groups. They require, sometimes, a different approach.”
With that as backdrop, Ms. Leitch announced $306,040 in federal money for a project to curtail domestic violence linked to cultural practices among some Muslim families.
“I think Canadians and Canada is a very open and generous country and we don’t want to extend — and we don’t extend — any tolerance to harmful cultural practices: spousal abuse, killing in the name of so-called ‘honour’, female genital mutilation,” she said.
There have been a number of high-profile crimes in Canada in recent years linked to the notion of honour or custom imported from abroad, usually by men against female family members out of a feeling the victim brought dishonor or shame to the family.
Only last year Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mohammad Yahya and Hamed Mohammad Shafia, the Afghan parents and brother of three teenage girls, were convicted of first-degree murder for killing the girls and the patriarch’s first wife. Their bodies were found in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal just outside Kingston, Ont.
In 2007, 17-year-old Aqsa Parvez was strangled to death by her father, Muhammand, at the family’s home in Mississauga, Ont., in December 2007, after moving away from her strict Muslim family to live with a friend and refusing to wear the hijab head-covering.
In a case more than a decade earlier, Adi Abdul Humaid of Ottawa even appealed his conviction for stabbing his wife to death on the grounds he was not only provoked, but justified under cultural and religious norms. His appeal was refused.
The government has previously said there are at least 19 honour killings on record in Canada.
“This funding is really an opportunity, a call to action for grassroots organizations to be involved,” said Ms. Leitch, so the list of such crimes does not grow longer; “so we can start to decrease, and in an ideal world eliminate completely, the violence.”
The money will fund a two-year, national project by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women for both community training and to develop, distribute and promote programs and tools for community use.
The CCMW was founded in 1982. Since 2000, it has received more than $1.2-million in federal government funding. The organization has repeatedly spoken out against such crimes.
“There is zero tolerance in our faith for the murder of another human being,” said Alia Hogben, executive director of the CCMW at the time of the Shafia murder trial.
“Many women and girls in Canada will benefit from this project,” she said Thursday.
Ms. Leitch said the organization’s evidence-based approach and its reliance on empowerment though education appeals to her sense of academic rigour.
“It’s what they call a train-the-trainer program so that in local communities there will be individuals available to continue to educate and support women from the Muslim community who are experiencing these heinous crimes, these heinous acts of violence, so they can act on them right there in their community,” said Ms. Leitch.
“They are based in Canadian law but understanding the Muslim traditions and their cultural background so these women can take action to protect themselves.
“Some of these young women and even older women… don’t know Canadian law and don’t know that certain things happening to them is against the law, that they are inappropriate, that this truly is violence against them and a total abuse of their relationship.”