Canada’s government will shortly introduce a bill intended to further discourage “barbaric cultural practices,” such as polygamy, forced marriages, and “honour” killings. I suspect that this bill will be supported by the vast majority of immigrants to Canada. Speaking for myself, I would certainly agree that such practices are barbaric and do not belong in Canada (or anywhere else). The clearer we can be about the illegality of these acts, the better.
It is interesting, although I am sure purely coincidental, that this bill is being introduced during the ongoing Jian Ghomeshi scandal which has brought the issue of violence against women to the forefront. Clearly, whether we are immigrants or not, we Canadians have a lot of work to do in order to improve our record in the way we treat women.
Jian Ghomeshi, a son of Iranian immigrants, who for many years was known as a charming and talented radio host, appears now to have been physically abusing many women over many years with impunity. It is reported that Ghomeshi’s abuse affected many women, all his staff knew about it; it was even reported within the media organization, but Ghomeshi’s abuse was allowed to continue.
Campus Frosh weeks
In September 2003, a story broke about a chant promoting rape at events during Frosh Week at the University Of British Columbia’s Sauder School Of Business. Not having learned anything from the UBC incident, a similar chant was reported at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax the following year. Apparently, Frosh leaders, both at St. Mary’s and at UBC, said “it’s just lyrics, it’s just a chant, they have no meaning behind it.”
In November 2014, two players from the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees hockey team were charged with sexually assaulting a young woman at a Thunder Bay hotel during a game trip seven months earlier. Taking no chances, the university president, Allan Rock, suspended the entire team, but his caution was criticized by students as “unfair”.
We have a reputation for being polite, liberal, and egalitarian. Perhaps we do not deserve it.
Radio hosts and university students are considered to be among the most educated Canadians, and such educated people are expected to understand that women are not their sexual toys. Some people have suggested that Canadian universities have a “rape culture”. I think that the problem extends far beyond universities.
According to Canada’s Department of Justice, “the highest number of police-reported sexual offences were against girls between the ages of 11 to 19, peaking at age 13 (781 per 100,000 population).” Think about this for a minute: 13-year-old girls are the favourite target of rapists. The same document also states that “78% of sexual assaults were not reported to the police”; other reports give even higher numbers, going as high as 94%.
One could argue that 781 per 100,000 population is only 0.78% and therefore not representative of the general Canadian population. However, since only 78% of sexual assaults are reported, the actual rate is 3.5%. In addition, the 3.5% rate of rape is only the tip of the iceberg. Sexual misconduct goes well beyond rape. In June 2013, almost 300 current and former female RCMP officers joined a class-action lawsuit alleging harassment in the workplace.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, “10% of women 18 to 24 years of age report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace within the previous 12 months.” At this rate, it is not hard to imagine that most women in Canada have experienced sexual harassment at least once during their lifetimes. In fact, a private company, Canadian Labour Relations, estimates that over 90% of women in Canada have been sexually harassed at least once. This is far beyond an innocent Frosh week chant; this indicates a sense of entitlement on the part of men towards women and girls.
This is far beyond an innocent Frosh week chant; this indicates a sense of entitlement on the part of men towards women and girls.
Our global reputation
This is clearly not a Canadian problem alone, but we pride ourselves on being better than the rest of the world. We have a reputation for being polite, liberal, and egalitarian. Perhaps, we do not deserve it. The reality is that the vast majority of Canadian men have been abusive to women at one point or another in their lives, and many, like Ghomeshi, appear to feel fully entitled to do so as often as they wish. It is not just our universities that have a twisted idea of sexual consent; this syndrome appears to be widely shared among men in our society: even former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps was not immune, as we have just learned.
Whether it is “honour” killings, rape, or other attacks on women, we Canadians, immigrants or otherwise, clearly have a lot of work to do. We need to provide more support to women who are victims of these crimes so that they will feel secure enough to come forward. We need to recognize gender equality as very high among our cultural values, and we need to shun old male chauvinist attitudes and behaviours traditionally promoted within many cultures.
Laws are essential, but they are not enough. We need to take personal responsibility for this, in our families, in our workplaces, and within our communities.