Conservatives continued to focus on controversial issues of identity politics ahead of tonight's French-language leaders debate, pledging that a re-elected Tory government would establish a tip line for reporting "barbaric cultural practices" to the RCMP and would increase funds to help international organizations fight against forced marriages of young girls.
Conservative candidates Chris Alexander and Kellie Leitch said during a news conference in Ajax, Ont., that in addition to a tip line, a Tory government would establish an integrated RCMP task force with units in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal to step up enforcement of the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which received royal assent in June.
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If elected on Oct. 19, the Conservatives would also commit $12 million over four years to help international organizations working abroad to prevent forced marriages of girls and young women, particularly in conflict zones, they said.
Money provided in the first year would be targeted at girls impacted by the ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq, especially those who have been forced to flee their home countries for refugee camps in neighbouring nations.
Forced marriages were part of what motivated the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which was a series of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Civil Marriage Act that made permanent residents and temporary residents inadmissible to Canada if they practice polygamy and established a national minimum age for marriage of 16.
The changes also made it illegal to take a child or non-consenting adult out of Canada to have them married abroad and limited the use of provocation as a legal defence for so-called honour killings.
"The Conservative government is not afraid to defend Canadian values," Leitch said. "By contrast, Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are more worried about political correctness than tackling these difficult issues that impact women."
Leitch pointed out that the new initiatives are in addition to $8 million already committed to the RCMP's anti-human trafficking units operating in large cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. If re-elected, another $20 million would be provided to those units over the next five years.
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The announcement comes just hours ahead of the French-language leaders' debate tonight in Montreal, likely the last before voters go to the polls on Oct. 19. Cultural-identity issues — which have become a primary focus of the campaign so far with the parties battling over the Tories' proposed ban on niqabs during citizenship ceremonies — are expected to be a primary focus of the debate.
The Tories appear willing to make identity politics a key component of their campaign, especially in Quebec, where there is widespread support for the niqab ban. Alexander on Friday directly linked the new measures to enforce the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act to the niqab issue.
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"We need to stand up for our values," said Alexander. "We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices."
The NDP voted against the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act in the House while the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have said that while they agree with the legislation in principle, its name could be considered offensive to people who hail from regions where these practices are common.