The Sanctity of the Family.
What in the world does that phrase mean that is so often cited in political statements?
This week an atrocious multiple murder that took place in Ottawa was in court and a verdict will be made public soon. An immigrant from Afghanistan who settled with his family in Montreal, his second wife, and his son allegedly conspired to kill his first wife and three daughters.
In whatever world would this ever be considered legit or justifiable, you ask? Possibly in a backward culture on the other side of the world in an undeveloped country, where women have little influence beyond making some domestic decisions within the walls of their homes and might still be considered chattel, worth no more than the animals that provide an income for the family in a rural area. Cattle, if they are sick or not useful anymore, they get killed and eaten to save scarce resources.
This could not happen in Canada, you say, and yet, it did, and what’s more disturbing, it happens more often than you might think. The fact of the existence of religious, male dominated cultures that are freely abusing and killing women elsewhere would be hard enough to accept as it is, but that it also exists in Canada is mind-boggling.
This is how I imagine it happens: immigrants from a different culture arrive in a different world in Canada. Their values and judgements that were completely acceptable in their old world often are not catching up with the realities of life in their new world. Left unchecked, their immediate environment sustains that old way of thinking, as they all think the same way within the family, until the kids go to school. The daughters in above mentioned multiple murder case had made a disclosure, but recanted it in front of the courts and social workers, for fear of repercussions at home. They were going to school in Montreal, aged 19, 15 and 13, were not abiding by their father’s repressive parenting anymore; they were fearful and had stated to school staff they were physically abused at home. This because their liberated dress style (no burqa or hijab) and the wish to have, and socialize with, a boyfriend – completely acceptable within Canadian mainstream culture – did not fit the father’s culture, and he felt justified killing them, to protect face. How can we prevent this effect of a culture clash with such disastrous result from happening again and again?
Yes, Dad, welcome to the club of parents who are not happy with their teens’ behaviours. The solution in Canada to this type of problem would be to learn more conflict resolution and negotiation skills, maybe anger management or de-stressing skills, or whatever you can find that can help you to better deal with conflicts. If your kids reject your values, too bad, as by that age most of your parenting and the instilling of values in your kids has been completed. Get used to it; your kids’ actions do not reflect you. The kids are NOT an extension of you and you do not own them. Yes, adolescence is difficult at times, for both kids and parents, but a necessary stage in developing independence…
Premeditated killing has no place in Canada. Divorce is the usual way of dealing with a wife that fell out of favour, but that costs some money and assumes equal power between the divorcing couple for its completion.
Immigration officials will have to make those basics of Canadian society much clearer during the process of immigration.
As an immigrant I can empathize with the culture clash immigrants might experience when first arriving. The lack of immediate involvement of the people around you – neighbours – compared to the closer social interactions with its social control back home that might prevent extremes of action by one, where people often live in extended family groups, might have felt as alienation and rejection by the Canadians; the more different-looking the immigrant, the greater the distance. The Oh-so-Canadian great respect for privacy and for a family’ autonomy, is sometimes not quite appreciated as such by newcomers. Their isolation within the community allows for greater opportunity for abuse without intervention of the surrounding community as well as side effect.
The services for immigration are quite hands-off and little education is provided. Before being able to become a citizen, Immigration Canada provides a booklet with only broad generalities of the Canadian governmental structures, existence of provinces, some important historical dates, the existence of a constitution with human rights and so on. Then a test follows; the standard was 70 % correct answers for passing, recently raised to 80% to cosmetically address some concerns expressed. Not much else is put in place to make newcomers aware that we take our fundamental, constitutional rights seriously. At my swearing-in ceremony, some new citizens very obviously couldn’t speak a word of English, but were part of a family group of which some could.
Contrary to popular thinking, not only the religious fundamentalists have a lack of respect for women and their constitutional freedoms. The Vancouver police, protectors of our community standards, just this week offered a half-hearted apology for not having acted sooner, expressed to the relatives of the victims of the pig farmer of Coquitlam (who strived to kill 50 women and made it to 49 before his arrest), this in spite of the fact that many had already tagged the man as the potential perpetrator and the police had spoken to him once before. “They are just a bunch of hookers” was the type casting by some police officials of the women reported to be missing at the time, as if they deserved to be tortured and killed because of trading sex for money or drugs. This attitude is not much different than that of the man who killed his daughters as their newly discovered sexual freedoms and values became an affront to him. “They got it coming to them.”
The freedom of religion is often used as an excuse for wife beatings and suppression of daughters. Reports of abuse are often followed by a hands-off attitude by the officials in the police forces and by the courts, especially when a woman recants what happened. The treatment of any woman in her home is still a very difficult area for police and the courts to tackle, in spite of ongoing policy reviews. Women and their children continue being killed by their (ex) partners, while teen girls in abusive homes might run away from home and get caught in other traps, such as the sex trade, addictions, or dropping out of school and dependency on another man, and early teen pregnancies.
As Trudeau said in 1967: the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, referring to legislation to deregulate homosexual acts, ease divorce, and allow abortion. That attitude however much applicable to the times, is not adequate and can be detrimental to women who might need protection within relationships. No man has the right to beat his wife in their home, or rape her, wherever they are. Although there is recourse in court when she reports this assault to the police, it often takes a long time and many beatings before she is ready to file a complaint.
Unfortunately, this government has withdrawn so many subsidies to the women shelters and women resource centers all over the country, that these centres that might have been helpful to immigrant women, have had to close or scale back services. If the help is elsewhere available, such as multicultural society centres, at hospitals, or at schools, I wouldn’t mind so much, but often there is no help even if she reported abuse. On top of that handicap, the women who are held hostage within the confines of a oppressive, immigrant culture and live in fear cannot easily leave the house and look for those services. They also might not be aware of their rights, or what the process would be in Canada, if they spoke up.
The front end of the work needs to be done at the point of immigration, in my view. Multi cultural/resettlement services for the first year should be mandatory in my view and focus on education and dialogue.
A second entry point for services could be when police, hospital, or school staff is involved after violent conflicts surfaced within a family. Victims’ recanting of disclosures should not be accepted at face value and ongoing services needs to be mandatory after an abuse concern is raised.
In this time of announcements of austerity measures and budget cuts, I sure hope that the subsidies and requirements for mandatory training in language and human rights for immigrants will increase, not decrease. For the sake of all daughters and wives and yes, also the husbands of the future, we can’t do less than educate, educate and educate, not only on the technical facts, but also on the kind of society we want, with equality, equity in life, and respect for all: no subgroup or gender excepted. Immigrants convicted of wife assaults or murder must be returned to their country of origin, if they have not yet become citizens.
Why should that concern us anyway? Immigrants make their own bed when they chose to come here, you might argue. I disagree, because we need more immigrants, not less, to deal with our future dire demographics as a nation. In the future, we will have an ever-smaller section of the population of working age that will have to provide the (tax based) government income to fund all of our nations’ social programs including old age security when our largest demographic, the baby boomers, have retired.
Immigrants have been historically very important to the building of Canada and their influence cannot be understated. Our ability to adapt and to integrate various cultures within Canada in a peaceful way is one of our biggest assets as a nation. We are an interesting and vibrant, international community.
We need immigrants.