Federal Conservatives are pressuring the Liberal government to ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes a warning that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a crime in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak to the guide when pressed about the issue in question period Wednesday, but said he is committed to ending the "barbaric practice" around the world.
Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel noted in the House of Commons that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — better known as UN Women — tweeted about FGM as part of its "16 days of activism."
The UN group called FGM — the intentional cutting of female genital organs for non-medical reasons — a human rights violation that has been perpetuated against 200 million women and girls.
"Canada's citizenship guide informs newcomers that FGM is a crime in Canada. However Canada's prime minister has decided to delete this information," Rempel charged.
The MP was referencing a working copy of the new citizenship guide the government is preparing. The draft, which was obtained by The Canadian Press in the summer, reportedly omits lines stating that certain "barbaric cultural practices," such as FGM and honour killings, are illegal in Canada. The previous Tory government included those warnings in their overhauls of the guide.
Rempel urged Trudeau in the House to stand with FGM survivors and the UN by reversing what she called his "decision." She made similar comments on Twitter shortly after question period.
Trudeau responded that he "personally brought up this issue" during a visit to Liberia last year, "challenging local leaders and governments to step up on the fight against FGM."
Then he said something that drew an immediate reaction from Tories.
"We will continue to lead the way pushing for an end to these barbaric practices of female genital mutilation everywhere around the world. This is something... and here in Canada... this is something we take very seriously."
Tories bashed Trudeau over comments in 2011
The use of the word "barbaric" harkens back to a controversy in 2011, when Trudeau was serving as the immigration critic of the then-opposition Liberals. He initially took exception to the way the Tories' revamped citizenship guide described honour killings as "barbaric."
Trudeau said at the time that the government should have instead called all violence against women "absolutely unacceptable" and made a better "attempt at responsible neutrality." Top Tories, including then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, relentlessly blasted Trudeau over his remarks.
Trudeau later apologized and retracted his initial take on the guide.
"I want to make it clear that I think the acts described are heinous, barbaric acts that are totally unacceptable in our society," he said in a statement at the time, according to CBC News.
The debate over so-called "barbaric cultural practices" also factored heavily in the 2015 election, when the Tories famously pledged to create a tip line for Canadians to call if they suspected a child or woman could fall victim to forced marriage, FGM, or polygamy. Liberals said then that the Conservatives' campaign pledge was really about stoking "fear and division."
PM brings up lessons from 2015 election
Trudeau referenced that ill-fated Tory promise in the House Tuesday while responding to Conservative questions about how his government is handling suspected ISIS terrorists after they return to Canada. The prime minister said Tories have learned nothing from the results of the last federal vote.
"They ran an election on snitch lines against Muslims, they ran an election on Islamophobia and division, and still they play the same games, trying to scare Canadians," Trudeau shouted.
"The fact is we always focus on the security of Canadians, and we always will. They play the politics of fear, and Canadians reject that."
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With files from The Canadian Press