The Conservative government has announced new legislation aimed at eliminating polygamous and forced marriages from Canada’s immigration stream.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said Wednesday the new legislation will also strengthen laws to protect immigrant women from cultural, gender-based violence.

“Polygamists are not welcome in this country," he said. "If and when we find them in our immigration stream, they will be removed.”

Alexander said the laws are aimed at deterring “barbaric cultural practices” on Canadian soil that are “incompatible” with the country’s values.

“We will be saying to newcomers: we will not tolerate human rights violations, crimes that in the past people have tried to defend as cultural traditions,” Alexander said.

Under the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, temporary and permanent residents who practice polygamy in Canada could be found inadmissible, even without a criminal conviction. They could also be removed from the country.

The new legislation will also:

  • Set a new national legal age for marriage at 16 (Current minimum age for marriage varies by province and is subject to interpretation)
  • Criminalize the act of removing a child from Canada for the purpose of forced marriage;
  • Create a new offence under the Criminal Code prohibiting “active and knowing participation” in a forced marriage or underage marriage ceremony. The offence would be punishable by up to five years in prison;
  • Create a specific court-ordered peace bond to be used in cases where someone is suspected of trying to take a child outside the country to be forced into marriage;
  • Limit the defence of provocation in spousal murder cases so that it can’t be applied in so-called honour killings.

Referring to honour-based killings as “nothing more than murders,” Alexander said legislation will ensure that perpetrators won’t be able to justify such crimes based on cultural differences.

“We will be working through this bill to make sure that such killings are considered the murders that we know them to be,” Alexander said. “There is absolutely no room for ambiguity.”

The minister made the announcement at a Toronto news conference with Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.

Alexander cited high-profile crimes, including the Mohammad Shafia “honour killing” case, as examples of why the laws must be strengthened.

Shafia came to Canada from Afghanistan with his two wives and was later convicted of murdering one of them, along with his three daughters, in what prosecutors described as “honour killings.”

Sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, along with Shafia’s first wife Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal in 2009.

In 2012, Shafia, his other wife and their 21-year-old son were each found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder.

But one Toronto immigration lawyer said she’s puzzled by the government’s reference to the Shafia case, which she said had “absolutely nothing to do with polygamy.”

“It was an honour killing, which was allegedly committed because the father felt that his daughters were becoming too westernized and were not obedient enough,” Chantal Desloges told CTV News.

Desloges said she supports the criminalization of forced and underage marriages, but questioned whether prohibiting people in polygamous marriages from entering Canada is really about protecting women and girls.

She said the ban on polygamous relationships seems to be “more of a moral pronouncement” about polygamy, rather than protecting women.