Rona Ambrose Wants To Take Action On Honor Killings

Or rather ‘Dishonor Killings’ as most Canadians would consider them. From Wikipedia an honor killing is

An honor killing or honour killing[1] (also called a customary killing) is the murder of a (typically female) family or clan member by one or more fellow (mostly male) family members, in which the perpetrators (and potentially the wider community) believe the victim to have brought dishonour upon the family, clan, or community.

Most Canadians would consider them as dishonor killings, in that the killer has dishonored his/her family and heritage by doing this.

Recently Rona Ambrose, Conservative MP for Edmonton-Spruce Grove and the Minister of the Status of Women, has called on community groups to help stop honor killings. Her call for action was covered by The National Post, The Globe and Mail, CTV, and most of the rest of the Canadian media, however most of the media did not seem to understand what she was actually proposing.

Honor Killings are a social issue, affecting many different faiths and societies. The common factor in all cases, is that the actions by a ‘junior’ member of the family and/or clan, usually female, are considered to reflect on the family or clan’s reputation. If the junior member does not act in a manner that is considered socially acceptable by the family/clan, and there is no law which would force the junior member of the family/clan to act in a socially acceptable manner, than the family/clan may take action outside of the law to prevent that person’s actions from dishonoring the family/clan.

Historically a wide range of groups took part in actions or protect their ‘honor’ including Roman Catholics in Ireland, some ‘Protestent’ groups in the United States, some Hindu and Moslem sects in India and Pakistan, etc. The only commonality between the groups is that the person who is targeted is part of a group that is treated with disrespect by the main part of the society. For an example in Ireland in the early 20th century the Catholic Church considered young women to be of lesser status than men. Any action by a young women that was not socially acceptable was meet with severe action (see the article on the Magdalen Asylums). Under the Napoleonic Code it was legal for a husband to kill his wife and/or her paramour if they were caught in an act of adultery.

During the 20th century many such one sided laws were either made equivalent, or removed. Changes in the law don’t always have an immediate effect on society. Also many things have become socially unacceptable. For example in most of North America rape was acceptable, even though there were laws against it, but socially rape is now considered a ‘creep offense’. The attitudes toward honor killings need to change in the same way.

Even in those places where honor killings are considered a creep offense already, like Canada, killings still occur. The jailing of the father and brother of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez served to send a message to those who would have considered doing the same thing. But even strong laws can be worked around, in the Middle East honor killings are often carried out by juveniles, who are urged to do so by the family elders, as the juveniles will server a lesser sentence. This is an issue that I could see arising in Canada, with our Youth Offenders Act.

There is no perfect answer to the problem caused by honor killings, however by showing a willingness to tackle the issue, Rona Ambrose is to be congratulated.


Wayne Borean

Friday July 23, 2010


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