MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The Conservative government dispatched one of its ministers Monday to the city where a 16-year-old girl was killed by her father and brother to condemn so-called honour killings, but it appears Rona Ambrose may have spoken out of turn.
The event was a statement from the minister for status of women, containing no program or funding announcement, and the news to emerge was that Ambrose said Ottawa is “looking at” amending the Criminal Code to include so-called honour crimes.
She was asked if the government was considering such changes, and she replied that it was under consideration.
“I’ll say that it’s something that we’re looking at,” she said. “Nothing more than that at this time.”
However, when contacted for more details about possible changes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said in fact, that is not the case.
“There are currently no plans to do that,” said Pamela Stephens.
“While we’re always interested in new input into ways to improve the Criminal Code, currently honour killing suggests a certain motive or conduct. But regardless of the motive the law as it exists in Canada is clear that intentional killing is murder, regardless of the motive.”
In an email Monday night, Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, did not directly address Ambrose’s remarks, but offered a comment that the government is always looking at existing laws.
In her statement, Ambrose said honour killings have no place in Canadian society and urged women’s groups to submit project proposals for government funding to prevent future violence.
The announcement coincided with the release of a report written by social worker Aruna Papp that explores violence driven by culture.
“In Canada all girls and women are equal to men under the law and have the right to live free from violence and abuse,” Ambrose said.
The minister condemned all forms of violence against women, calling such crimes “heinous abuses of power and abuses of human rights.”
This city west of Toronto where Ambrose made her statement was home to 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez, who was killed in 2007 by her father and brother after repeated conflict with her family over her desire for some independence.
According to facts entered in court when the two Parvez men pleaded guilty this year, they believed they could keep the family’s pride intact by killing Aqsa, rather than letting her have a part-time job and go to the movies with friends.
The announcement also came the same day a Montreal woman alleged to have stabbed her daughter in a so-called honour crime was declared fit to stand trial.
Johra Kaleki, 38, will next appear in court on July 26 for a bail hearing.
She is alleged to have stabbed her 19-year-old daughter in the head.
Papp said she is surprised and shocked that there is domestic violence in south Asian families whose members have grown up in Canada.
She decided to write her report after 30 years working in the south Asian community.
“I think this is a very good start,” Papp said of Ambrose’s statement.
But one critic said referring to crimes as honour killing creates a double-standard that isolates ethnic communities.
Anisa Ali, chair of the Toronto chapter of United Muslim Women of Canada, said the term honour killing is not used for the same types of crimes committed between white people.
“My question would be, are we using that specifically to identify certain ethnic communities and thereby ostracize certain communities?” she said.