Quebec's Council for the Status of Women says groups that deal with children and families should be given better tools on dealing with cultural differences and so-called 'honour' crimes.

The Council studied 26 instances of honour crimes that have taken place in Canada since 1991. Twenty-one of those women or girls were murdered; five survived their attacks. Researchers, however, say the numbers could be higher and much is hidden.

The four murders of the Shafia women and girls in 2009 is considered the most severe case.

In fact it was the Shafia murders that prompted the provincial government to ask the Council to examine honour crimes and see what could be done to stop them.

“We feel it's urgent to train the groups; the social workers who are dealing with potential victims of honour-based violence, said Julie Miville-Dechene, president of the Council on the Status of Women.

The analysis says in many ways honour crimes are similar to conjugal violence, except that instead of just one person attempting to control a woman, with honour crimes members of an extended family can seek to exert control over a woman or girl.

Honour crimes can consist of confining a woman to her home, forcing her to wear certain clothing, arranged marriages, genital mutilation or murder.

"These violent acts are not exclusive to any one culture or religion," said Miville-Dechene. "It wasn't that long ago that in Quebec underage and unmarried women were sent away from home if they got pregnant," and often forced to give up their children.

The Council said there should be legal changes made to make it easier to grant injunctions against family members -- and not just spouses.

"What we are saying is that in certain cases related to honour-crime violence, parents could be complicit," said Miville-Dechene.

Groups like The Shield of Athena, which helps victims of family violence, said more work needs to be done to break the taboos concerning abuse.

"There might be only a few cases but each case is something that is so deeply troubling and unacceptable," said executive director Melpa Kamateros. “It's also reinforced by the parents, by the mother, by the father - it can be the siblings.”

She feels that in many cases where a woman has come forward and asked for help, aid groups might be missing signals that something is wrong.

"Everything has to be put into place to really train our people to detect those situations and to intervene the best way they can," said Kamateros.

When red flags were raised by the Shafia daughters, their complaints legally had to be shared with their parents. Later, the girls recanted.

So the complaint is ignored because it has been retracted, because there is a real risk for the young to talk about the violence they have been submitted to in front of their parents,” said researcher Yolande Geadah.

The new study about honour crimes suggests that the law should be adjusted allowing the Department of Youth Protection to give certain minors confidentiality when they make such allegations.

The council says measures in place in Great Britain can serve as a model for Quebec.

“They have civil laws that prevent families for example from bringing their daughters to another country for a forced marriage,” said Miville-Dechene.

The minister for Social Services and Youth Protection, Veronique Hivon, said the provincial government will look at making changes and providing training and tools to social workers, and said she supports the study’s findings.

“It's disgusting. We cannot tolerate such things in our society so everything has to be put in place to really train our people,” she said.

Report available online

The Council's report is available online in French, and an English translation will be available by mid-December.

Kamateros said it's important to make sure as many agencies that deal with women and children as possible read the report and use some of the clues it contains.

"I just want to say to people that language is very often the first door of entry. It doesn't mean that a women victim will access the services, but it does mean that she has a choice," said Kamateros.

"For most of the women that are honour-based violence victims they do not, unfortunately, have this choice, in addition to the lack of support at the institution level etc. etc."

Bernard Drainville, the minister for Democratic Values, said the Charter of Quebec Values should go some way to reminding citizens that honour crimes are unacceptable.

"I wouldn't make a direct link between the two but the symbolism of the Charter with regards to protecting and strengthening the principle of equality between men and women may help us in preventing these crimes," Drainville said.

Liberal critic for social services Stephanie Vallee disagreed, saying it is not a solution.

“It's not by asking someone to take away their veil that you're going to change what happens in a house, in a household,” she said.

Miville-Dechene also expressed doubt that the Charter would do anything to solve or prevent honour crimes.

“May there be a charter or no charter in Quebec, the issue of honour-based violence will not disappear,” said Miville-Dechene, adding that only education, cultural sensitivity and concrete action will help stop the suffering.