Ottawa says female genital mutilation is ‘abhorrent,’ but offers no commitment on tracking cases | Toronto Star

 thestar.com  7/18/2017 10:00:00 AM 

Canada Border Services Agency officials included this 2001 photograph, of blunt tools used to carry out female genital mutilation in Tanzania, in a report warning that FGM practitioners are "almost certainly" entering Canada to perform the ritual.
Canada Border Services Agency officials included this 2001 photograph, of blunt tools used to carry out female genital mutilation in Tanzania, in a report warning that FGM practitioners are "almost certainly" entering Canada to perform the ritual.  (Sala Lewis/Irish Aid / Press Association file photo)  

Days after a continuing Toronto Star investigation revealed that Canadian girls are being sent abroad to be subjected to female genital mutilation, the federal government is not yet committing to track the cases, nor will it provide details on initiatives it is undertaking to prevent FGM from happening.

“Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent and unacceptable practice. It is one of the most severe violations of the human rights of women and girls,” said a joint statement from Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. It added that Canada’s government is committed to addressing FGM “both at home and abroad.”

The ministers’ statement went on to say that Canada “has and will continue to” make efforts to prevent and address FGM. It cited $101 million set aside in June for a strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence, and $150 million over five years to be given to local women’s organizations. This is in addition to $650 million over the next three years to support programs for sexual and reproductive health abroad.

When pressed on exactly what the Canadian government is doing right now to address FGM, and whether it will start tracking known cases as other developed countries do, a spokesperson said the original statement stood.

(The Star has previously reported on one initiative funded by Justice Canada: $350,000 to a Quebec organization now working to raise awareness around FGM.)

Last week, the Star revealed that federal government officials are aware of cases in which Canadian girls are being taken abroad and subjected to FGM, an illegal practice known as vacation cutting. These same officials believe, based on the “limited information available,” that a few thousand girls are at risk.

Canada has done little to understand the scope of the problem and is lagging far behind other developed countries in efforts to prevent it.

For example, earlier this summer, U.S. Homeland Security launched a pilot program to help prevent vacation cutting. The program is based on an initiative at London’s Heathrow airport, where security agents are trained to identify girls at risk.

The U.S., Britain and Australia have all undertaken research to determine the number of girls at risk: 507,000 in the U.S., 197,000 in the U.K. and 83,000 in Australia, according to an internal report from the Canada Border Services Agency.

The CBSA report, initially reported on by Global News, deals primarily with what is strongly suspected by Canadian officials but, as yet, unknown: whether FGM is happening on Canadian soil.

In the U.S., a doctor in Michigan was recently charged with carrying out the practice on up to 100 young girls, according to federal prosecutors, who say that no Canadian victims have so far been identified. There have also been cases in the U.K., France and Australia.

Those who perform female genital mutilation, called FGM practitioners, are “almost certainly entering Canada” to engage in the practice, according to the five-page report, which was prepared by Canadian border intelligence for employees.

“According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian health-care providers, it is almost certain that FGM is also happening in Canada,” despite it being illegal, the report says.

A spokesperson for CBSA did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, is a procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to external female organs. It can be inflicted on girls as young as 1 and varies in severity from partial removal of the clitoris, to excising the clitoris and labia and stitching up the walls of the vulva to leave only a tiny opening. (The latter practice is known as infibulation.)

FGM has no health benefits for girls and women. It can cause severe bleeding, problems with urination, and later cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of death for newborns, according to the World Health Organization.

It can also deny women sexual pleasure.

FGM affects more than 200 million women worldwide, according to UNICEF.

In 1997, Canada’s Criminal Code was amended to include female genital mutilation as a form of aggravated assault. It’s not just the person performing the mutilation who can face justice. Provisions in the code also allow for others to be charged: for example, a parent who participates in the offence by holding a child’s hands or requests that someone perform it. And the amendments make it illegal to remove a child from Canada for the purpose of female genital mutilation.

There has never been a criminal conviction for female genital mutilation in Canada.

A practitioner of FGM would enter Canada with the purpose of committing a crime (aggravated assault), but “may not have the awareness that they are doing so,” the CBSA document says. It adds that, in Canada, the practitioner is most likely to be called to the home of a woman to be re-infibulated (re-sewn) after having a child, or to perform the practice on a young girl.

Women who are at risk of FGM “do not present with the typical criteria for child abuse” and the practitioners “believe they are promoting the long-term well-being and social acceptability of the child.” The reception at airports is “likely to include the future ‘patient’ or their family members.”

The report also includes photographs of tools that can be used to perform FGM, including razor blades, scissors and special herbs to place on the wounds. (The photos are presumed to be intended to assist border officials by depicting items they should look out for.)

FGM is practised in 29 countries, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, India and other parts of Asia. It is seen by some as a rite of passage into womanhood or a condition of marriage. It occurs in both Islamic and Christian communities, but is largely a cultural tradition that dates back hundreds of years. In many areas, there is huge social pressure on families to have their daughters cut in this way.

Some women who have had the procedure have asked their doctors to reverse it, the Star revealed. According to provincial records, in the past seven years Ontario has performed 308 “repairs of infibulations,” a surgery that creates a vaginal opening where it has been sewn mostly shut.

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