Jason Kenney, the federal immigration minister, deserves congratulations for releasing an updated guide for newcomers that refers to certain unacceptable cultural practices as “barbaric.” Those practices include any that “tolerate spousal abuse, honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.” The term “barbaric” is strong, but it leaves no room for misinterpretation. That is the most important issue here.
There is no question that some will be offended by “barbaric” and its connotations of primitive cultures and a lack of sophistication. It is a provocative adjective to use in reference to another culture, especially in Canada, where it does not quite fit with our self-image of a multicultural, all-accepting country that embraces other peoples with open arms.
But there are three overriding points that justify the term’s use. One, the most obvious, is that honour killings, spousal abuse, female genital mutilation and forced marriage are unjustifiable and savagely brutal acts that have no place in Canada. Mr. Kenney is absolutely right about that.
Secondly, these sorts of gender-based cruelties have no place in any country, and Canada is sending a strong message about it. Gender equality is a basic human right, and countries that embrace it as such tend to fare better economically than those that don’t. Not that a basic human right needs economic justification, but Canada is a prosperous and safe place to live, and its attitudes about the rights of women and girls are a critical part of that success.
Finally, the absolute clarity of the government’s position on barbaric cultural practices is a healthy step toward pluralism and away from the illusion of multiculturalism. The latter – a word that gets tossed around liberally in Canada – presumes there is no dominant culture. But that is not true about our country. We are a pluralist society that welcomes other peoples and encourages them to celebrate their unique cultures and traditions but only, as Mr. Kenney’s updated guide also says, as long as they “are consistent with Canadian values such as human dignity and equality before the law.” Anything else is non-negotiable.