New citizenship guide to warn against 'abhorrent' practice of female genital mutilation

Canada's updated citizenship guide will include a warning to newcomers about the illegal practice of female genital mutilation.

Nearly 25,000 sign Conservative Michelle Rempel's e-petition pressing Liberals

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says Canada's revised citizenship guide will include a condemnation of the 'abhorrent' practice of female genital mutilation. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Canada's updated citizenship guide will include a warning to newcomers about the illegal practice of female genital mutilation.

In a statement provided to CBC News, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called it an "abhorrent practice" that is against the law in Canada.

"While the content for the new guide is still being developed, Canadians can be assured that the new document will include information on Canada's laws against gender-based violence, including FGM," he said.

"We would normally not comment on a product still under development, but given the interest in this specific issue, I felt it was important to update Canadians on where we stand."

The issue has become politically charged, with the Conservatives suggesting the revamped guide would drop a reference to the practice.

Immigration critic Michelle Rempel has repeatedly pressed Hussen on the topic, and sponsored an e-petition in the House of Commons that calls on the government to ensure the new guide condemns the practice.

Petition E-1310, which is open until Feb, 3, now has nearly 25,000 signatures.

On Nov. 28, 2017, Rempel urged people to sign the petition in a tweet that said: "Trudeau is removing references to female genital mutilation as being a harmful practice from Canada's citizenship guide."

Rempel was citing a report from The Canadian Press, which said a draft copy of the revised citizenship guide removed the reference to FGM. The current guide, brought in by the Conservatives in 2011, stresses that men and women are equal under the law in Canada. 

"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," it reads. "Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada's criminal laws."

200 million girls, women cut

According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where the practice is concentrated.

The procedure, which alters or injures the female genital organs, is mostly carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, and is considered a violation of human rights.

"It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women," the WHO website reads.

Such procedures can cause several medical problems, including severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths, according to the WHO.

Last July, the Toronto Star reported that thousands of Canadian girls are at risk of genital mutilation, and that some are being taken out of the country for the procedure in what is called "vacation cutting."

A spokeswoman for Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef said the Criminal Code was amended in 1997 to clarify that FGM is a form of aggravated assault, and extended criminal liability to any health practitioner or other person who performs or participates in the procedure, or removes a child from Canada for that purpose.

No criminal prosecutions in Canada

There have been no criminal prosecutions.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said the national police force is in the process of developing internal policy on "honour-based violence, underage and forced marriages and female genital mutilation/cutting" to assist RCMP employees on cases involving these issues. 

The RCMP offers specialized training and co-ordinates with community, provincial, federal and international partners and stakeholders, "enhancing awareness and outreach, and researching and co-ordinating with non-governmental organizations, care providers and victim services," he told CBC News in an email.

"An understanding of these concepts will facilitate the proactive identification of family violence crimes that may be based on honour and cultural values with a view of reducing the victimization of innocent individuals," he wrote.

Understanding laws, history

The statement from Hussen said broad revisions will aim to "take politics out of the guide" and make sure new Canadians understand the laws and history of the country.

It will aim to better reflect Canada's diversity and laws by highlighting the rights and historical contributions of under-represented groups such as Indigenous peoples, women, LGBT Canadians, minorities, francophones and persons with disabilities.

"We are engaging with a wide range of experts to produce a new non-partisan and inclusive guide that accurately informs newcomers about Canadian history, our laws and the responsibilities of citizens," he said. "This feedback is being incorporated into the new guide."

About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections. Follow her on Twitter @ottawareporter