A Quebec youth court judge has removed a 16-year-old girl in Victoriaville from her family after she was forced into a marriage with an older man who insisted she wear a hijab, rifled through her cellphone and controlled who she could see.
The girl was so afraid in the weeks before the ceremony was to happen last spring that she ran to a neighbour’s house and locked herself in a bedroom.
After a noisy and violent confrontation between the neighbours and the girl’s family, police escorted the girl to safety.
In July, a youth court judge granted the girl’s request to be placed in hiding with a foster family until she turns 18.
“This teenager has the right to emancipate herself, and aspire to more legitimate personal achievements such as marrying someone she loves, wanting to practise a profession and deciding herself what she wears and who she sees,” youth court Judge Bruno Langelier said in his decision.
“She has the right to freedom of conscience and religion, to be free to decide her future and not to be subjected to a fiancé who controls everything and who obliges her to wear the hijab. She wants to be free, and free from the dictates of the men around her,” Langelier continued.
Youth protection laws forbid CBC News from naming the girl or any details that might identify her.
The girl and her family came to Canada in 2016 as refugee claimants.
A copy of a marriage contract dated May 2018 between the girl’s family and her fiancé’s family was entered into evidence in court.
The girl was 15 years old at the time and the fiancé was in his 20s.
The contract shows the fiancé’s family agreed to pay a dowry of $3,000 to the girl’s family, and that the marriage ceremony would take place in May 2019.
The contract was signed by the girl’s father, the fiancé, some witnesses and an imam, but not by the girl herself.
Neighbours protect girl
Last April, just weeks before the marriage was to take place, the girl ran to a neighbour’s house, begging for help.
According to the court decision, the girl’s mother, brother and her fiancé showed up at the neighbour’s house demanding she be turned over.
Soon other members of the community showed up to support the girl’s family and things degenerated.
“People were aggressive and there was jostling. The fiancé tried to enter the neighbour’s home. He insisted and found his hand crushed by the door, suffering an injury,” the decision said.
The neighbours protected the girl and prevented her family from bringing her home until police arrived, along with youth protection workers, who took the girl into custody.
Girl forced to wear hijab, kept from friends
The girl told the youth protection workers she didn’t want to go home because her parents and fiancé were controlling every aspect of her life.
She said in the months since the marriage was planned, the fiancé controlled what she could wear and her choice of friends.
She said he refused to allow her to wear makeup and forced her to wear a hijab.
And she said he prevented her from talking to people, and decided when and where she could go out.
She told the workers she didn’t love her fiancé, and that her refusal to marry him would mean her parents would be forced to reimburse the dowry.
She said she feared reprisals from her parents, her fiancé and other members of the community.
The girls’ parents initially told youth protection workers the girl’s refusal to get married would dishonour the family
They changed their story later when they testified in youth court, saying the girl’s refusal wouldn’t dishonour the family and that she wasn’t being forced into the marriage.
Family, fiancé try to explain
The girl’s father and her fiancé both testified at the youth court hearing.
The father tried to downplay the significance of the marriage contract, calling it a “small agreement between parents” that was more like a promise to get married.
He also testified about his reasons for wanting his daughter to get married to someone he approved of.
“Here (in Canada) all the girls from my country have changed. Families are afraid. Our daughters come here, they talk back to their mothers, they want to leave. All my friends are afraid that their daughters will leave the house,” the father testified.
In his testimony, the fiancé admitted to controlling some elements of the girl’s life, saying that she now had a responsibility to him and to their household.
“Everything must be within certain limits. It is forbidden that she speaks with a man, or that she speaks with a stranger or even greets one with her hand,” he testified.
Judge believes girl
“The court believes the teenager about the fears she feels. Certainly she is under pressure and control to marry the fiancé,” Langelier said in his decision.
He noted that the girl was so afraid of her family and fiancé that she didn’t want to be present at the hearing.
He also noted that the marriage contract entered into evidence appeared to be illegal, and that the marriage was never properly registered with the government.
He said the imam who signed the contract should have known the marriage was illegal.
“The planned marriage certainly was in line with the customs of the family’s home country. However, these customs cannot prevail in the province of Quebec. There is only one rule of law, and it applies to all residents of the province,” Langelier said.
“The court acknowledges the existence of overwhelming evidence that the safety and development of the adolescent girl is compromised as a result of psychological abuse,” he continued.
Langelier ordered that the girl be placed in custody of a foster family until she’s 18.
The ruling stipulated that her new address must remain confidential, and that she wasn’t obliged to have contact with her parents unless she wished to.
Youth protection officials refused to comment on the case, citing confidentiality.