The new edition of the Canadian guide for immigrants deserves praise. Welcome to Canada, just released by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, is a gold mine of useful information, written in clear, accessible language. One only wishes that all government publications would be produced in the same style. The guide tells immigrants “en route” to a new land everything they need to know about housing, social programs, job market and language skills needed in this country.
And it does more. Taking into account the fact that most immigrants come from non-Western countries and that some are especially vulnerable, the guide unequivocally states that practices such as polygamy and human trafficking are illegal in Canada.
There’s a glitch, though. The word “barbaric” is used to describe “cultural practices” such as female genital mutilation and “honour killings,” wording that also appears in Discover Canada, a guide aimed at preparing immigrants for their citizenship tests.
My reasons for objecting to this wording have nothing to do with critics who argue that such a harsh adjective would offend some cultural groups. Accommodating those who believe it’s fine to mutilate girls and kill emancipated women would be multiculturalism gone wild – and I couldn’t care less about the sensitivities of those people. My objection is purely stylistic. It concerns the level of language required in a government text.
As an individual, and probably like most other Canadians, I would not hesitate to use the word “barbaric” to describe such repulsive acts, in a column or in conversation. But emotional and heavily judgmental terms have no place in an official document. The word “barbaric” looks like a pique of juvenile anger in a text otherwise written, as it should be, in a neutral tone.
(The same rule applies to news reports, which shouldn’t contain overly subjective language. For instance, no serious TV anchor would announce, after the conclusion of a highly publicized trial, that Mr. So and So has been found guilty of a “barbaric” assassination. He would do so only if the adjective was contained in the judge’s verdict.)
It would have been enough to state that female genital mutilation and “honour killings” are criminal acts in Canada.
As for “forced marriage,” as deplorable as it is, it belongs to a category more akin to a grey zone. In certain communities, young women agree to marry against their will because losing the love of their parents and being excluded from the community would be even more painful. This is deeply regrettable, but there’s no crime involved – unless the family exerts physical, rather than psychological, pressure on the young woman.
To add to the incongruity, the statement in the Welcome to Canada guide containing the word “barbaric” reads like an accumulation of confused concepts: “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”
First, tolerating or not tolerating genital mutilation or honour killings has nothing to do with fuzzy feelings like “openness” and “generosity.” This ban is imposed for basic moral reasons and respect for the integrity of all human beings, women included. Second, why include “spousal abuse” in a list of practices that don’t belong to Canada’s traditions and history? Isn’t “spousal abuse” and “other gender-based violence” something that happens quite often in Canadian homes?