3 Feb 2011

Canadian government offers money to community groups to fight honour-motivated violence against women and children

The National Post - Canada January 16, 2011

Ottawa seeks ways to stop 'honour killings'

by Linda Nguyen, Postmedia News

TORONTO— They are disturbing stories of fathers trying to kill their daughters, of brothers murdering their sisters.

Long prevalent in certain Muslim, Hindu and Sikh cultures in South Asia and the Middle East, “honour killings” have increasingly been making headlines in Canada in recent years.

Now, the federal government is urging more community groups to come forward to help fight the rise of such crimes.

Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose first called for a pitch from organizations for projects targeting this type of violence in July.

Since then, the department has received a couple of dozen formal applications but says it still has more funding that can be put toward helping eradicate these “intolerable”acts.

Since 2002, experts say, there have been 13 honour killings in Canada.

“We continue to encourage women’s groups and other community-based organizations to apply . . . for support for projects that explore, expose and (contribute) to ending violence against women, including honour-motivated violence,” said the minister’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Thompson, in a recent email.

Just over $2-million was set aside to fund initiatives curbing violence against women. So far, about $800,000 has been allocated to three projects in the Greater Toronto Area aimed at empowering women, particularly immigrants, to learn about their rights and to speak out against abuse.

Honour-based crimes or killings are usually committed by a man against a woman who is seen as having brought “shame” on their family. This perception has been triggered by such things as the woman not dressing in traditional clothing, embracing too much of “Western” culture or even just looking at a man of whom her family does not approve.

Since 2002, experts say, there have been 13 honour killings in Canada.

In July, Ms. Ambrose hinted that the Conservatives wanted to draw more attention to the growing issue and were looking at making honour killings a separate indictable offence under the Criminal Code. A Justice Department official quickly refuted the claim, though.

Ms. Thompson said the minister is not now pursuing that option, and one expert agreed that is the right choice.

“Honour killings should be treated as first-degree murder,” said Amin Muhammad, a psychiatrist at Memorial University in Newfoundland who studies honour killings. “The public should be aware of the sensitivity and we should recognize it as an honour-based crime, but there should be no separate law.”

Mr. Muhammad said the issue is not necessarily cultural, but another example of domestic violence. If it were made a separate offence, it would make it easier for defendants to argue that they themselves are victims of a “cultural trend,” wrongly paving the way for more lenient sentences., he said. It may also perpetuate stereotypes that honour killings only occur in certain cultures or religions.

“We should not be focusing on any particular group or culture,” he said. “Honour killings can happen to anybody in Canada.”

Mr. Muhammad said the government should establish a committee to closely monitor the issue.

Last year, a Toronto man was sentenced to five years in prison for trying to run over his daughter, her boyfriend and his son-in-law with a speeding minivan. The Sri Lankan man apparently disapproved of his daughter’s boyfriend, who came from a family of a lower caste.

In October, the pre-trial motions began in the case against a Montreal couple and their son accused of killing three teenage sisters and the husband’s first wife in a submerged car in the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ont.

Mohammad Shafia; his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya; and their son, Hamed, face four counts each of first-degree murder in the deaths of their 19-, 17- and 13-year-old daughters, and the death of Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad.

Authorities have alleged that perceived “immoral behaviour” was behind the killings.

In June, Muhammad Parvez and his son, Waqas Parvez both pleaded guilty to murdering 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez on Dec. 20, 2007. The girl from Mississauga, Ont., was killed by her father and brother for apparently refusing to wear a hijab head covering.

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