Another fake accommodation crisis?

Le Devoir should do its devoirs.


Female genital mutilation is a misogynistic practice that should have no place in society. Any society. It’s the sexual equivalent of ripping out someone’s tongue to deprive them of the pleasures of taste. Mainly practised in Islamic countries in Africa and the Middle East, it’s as barbaric and unacceptable as honour crimes, and anyone who participates in performing such procedures here, or who arranges to have it done to members of their family outside the country, should be thrown in jail.

The Canadian Criminal Code is pretty clear about this, but you may get the impression in the coming days that the country has gone soft on FGM because the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recently modified its guidelines for requests for reinfibulation.

The medical procedure is used on women who have have previously been subject to infibulation, one of the most extreme forms of FGM. I won’t go into the disturbing details of precisely what infibulation and other forms of mutilation do to a woman, but if you want to know, here is a good place to start.

In general terms, infibulation usually involves suturing or adhering labial tissues in girls to create a barrier to the vagina, with just a small hole left for urination and menstrual flow. That seal is often forced or cut open after marriage and must be completely breached to allow childbirth.

Reinfibulation is the name for the procedure to reclose the barrier.

In November, the SOGC modified its guideline for reinfibulation requests, replacing “must be refused” with “should be refused.” The change largely flew under the radar until Monday, when an article in the Ottawa Citizen brought it to wider public attention. This morning, Le Devoir followed suit in a front-page article entitled “Une ouverture aux mutilations vaginales? Stupéfaction au Québec”.

(As if the rest of the country isn’t equally stupefied. But Le Devoir neglected to ask the Canadian Medical Association or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons for their opinions.)

Packaged under a story about two Sikh men who are hoping the new Quebec premier will reverse a ruling that bars them from carrying ceremonial kirpan knives into the National Assembly, the so-called “reasonable accommodation” debate is right back on the front burner.


According to the Citizen, Dr. Margaret Burnett, an ob/gyn who was one of the principal authors of the SOGC guidelines, said “the approach was softened to be more culturally accepting.” Those are the reporter’s words, not Burnett’s, but the fact that the Winnipeg ob/gyn admits to having performed reinfibulations herself clearly shows that, in some cases, she thinks it can be justified when the victim of the infibulation agrees and would be “devastated if it isn’t done.”

Burnett argues that the Criminal Code doesn’t expressly forbid reinfibulation if a FGM victim wants to be sewn back up. Whether she’s right about that is highly debatable, and we all know how lawyers love to debate.

But the position of United Nations agencies on reinfibulation is clear. Writing specifically about countries where the operation is performed on immigrants who request it following childbirth, a 2008 World Health Organization interagency statement says “some medical personnel misuse the principles of human rights and perform reinfibulation in the name of upholding what they perceive is the patient’s culture and the right of the patient to choose medical procedures.”

The report adds: “There are serious risks associated with medicalization of female genital mutilation. Its performance by medical personnel may wrongly legitimize the practice as medically sound or beneficial for girls and women’s health.”

If the Criminal Code law isn’t clear about the illegality of reinfibulation, then it should be changed to make it so.


The SOGC guideline change will almost certainly be trumpeted by the ayatollahs of intolerance at the Journal de Montréal as yet another example of how Canadian multiculturalism allows the worst practices of foreign cultures to flourish in Canada. It will be used as more evidence of how Muslim fundamentalism is dechlorinating our swimming pools — sorry, I meant subverting our laws — and turning our women into chattel.

Instead, however, this will no doubt be yet another classic case of the exception proving the rule. Dr. Burnett and her co-authors are not running the country and their interpretation of the law and their duties as physicians will be roundly challenged and condemned in the coming days. Their misguided attempt at cultural sensitivity and patient empathy will be placed in the more fundamental context of global human rights and sexual inequality and their “softer guideline” will be reversed or rendered moot in short order.

Already, the Society has posted a new message on its website clarifying that it “is opposed to Female Genital Mutilation and Reinfibulation. The SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline on Female Genital Cutting is quite clear that the SOGC condemns this practice, and that FGM and Reinfibulation should NOT be done.”

The Quebec College of Physicians and the Québec Council of the Status of Women also voiced their opposition in this morning’s Le Devoir story.

So far from creating “an opening to vaginal mutiliations,” the SOGC has instead sparked a worthwhile public discussion of an issue that has directly affected some 80,000 Canadian immigrants.

With Quebec’s growing reliance on French-speaking immigrants coming from a dozen countries where some form of genital mutilation is commonplace, it is essential to let potential newcomers know that the practice is unacceptable in this society, and to know why we feel that way.

At the same time, however, we need to ensure that we don’t revictimize these girls and women by demonizing their condition and sending the message that they and their religion are unwelcome here.

There has been more than enough of that lately from our own barbarians. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every Wednesday. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.