Cultural violence no laughing matter
by Candice Malcolm
April 22, 2016
If Kellie Leitch could go back in time, she would not have made the pledge to set up a “barbaric cultural practices tip line” during the 2015 election.
In a recent CBC interview, the federal Conservative leadership hopeful said the announcement was a mistake, but that her heart was in the right place. She wanted Canadian women and kids to know that if they picked up the phone to call for help, someone would answer.
The campaign announcement flopped, and the Conservatives were condemned and belittled – accused of using dog whistle politics and stroking bigotry against immigrant communities.
There is no doubt that the news conference was poorly handled. Leitch appeared tone deaf and insensitive to those who may be truly suffering. It didn’t seem like the Conservatives were trying to do the right thing. It seemed like they were trying to win an election.
The idea of a ‘tip line’ to report barbaric practices has become a favourite punch-line for some journalists and the liberal elite.
But the issue of cultural violence is no laughing matter.
As Canada continues to welcome the highest immigration rates in our history, we have to deal with the fact that some newcomers bring along unpalatable practices that have no place in Canada.
Blundering politics aside, the idea of a help line isn’t a bad one.
What if girls and women who were being abused had a number they could call to be connected directly with a person who has experience and expertise dealing with that exact issue – be it female genital mutilation, forced marriage, or the threat of a so-called honour killing.
“Isn’t that what the police are for?” CBC host Rosemary Barton asked Leitch in the interview.
That question gets to the heart of the matter.
In the high-profile 2009 Shafia murders, the police were contacted. Multiple times. But they failed to help, and because they failed to help, three young sisters and their father’s polygamous wife were murdered by the girls’ father and brother in Kingston, Ontario.
When the family lived in Montreal on two occasions, Quebec’s youth protection agency investigated the Shafia household. Both times, the cases were closed.
Before she was killed, one of the sisters went directly to police. She told them that her father was going to kill her and her sisters.
Another sister fled to a women’s shelter. And the third sister tried to take her own life, swallowing a handful of pills in a failed suicide attempt. “I’ve had enough and I want to die,” 16-year-old Sahar Shafia said to her school’s vice-principal.
But no one helped these girls. No one stopped this family’s cultural violence.
Instead, three teenage girls and an adult woman were murdered for the sin of becoming ‘too Canadian.’
The Canadian system failed the Shafia girls. The reality is that our police are often not equipped to deal with the incredibly sensitive issues that surround ingrained cultural practices.
Offering at-risk girls and women direct access to someone with the knowledge and resources to help could be incredibly beneficial.
Canadian women of all backgrounds deserve the same rights, and the same protections. Talking about cultural violence may make some people uncomfortable, but we shouldn’t let political correctness stop us from addressing these important issues.
During the election campaign, some Canadians found this issue too divisive. It really shouldn’t be.