Bill C-21 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Chuck Strahl Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment repeals section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and provides for a statutory review, within five years after the enactment receives royal assent, of the effects of the repeal. It also contains interpretative provisions as well as transitional provisions with respect to aboriginal authorities.
Motions in amendment
First Nations Elections Act
December 10th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to also take a few minutes to speak to Bill C-9, An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations. Like my colleague, the leader of the Green Party, we were not asked to submit amendments to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. That is why the Speaker has given us permission to discuss these amendments at this point, the report stage.
Bill C-9 provides an alternative to the regime in the Indian Act governing the election of chiefs and councillors in certain first nations. As I said earlier when I questioned the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, the Bloc Québécois of course fully supports the transparency, accountability and better governance that Bill C-9 provides for.
The problem does not lie in the bill itself or in the improvements that I just mentioned. The problem is the way in which the government imposed its solutions and opinions on first nations. That is what I am going to try to demonstrate, and I am also going to introduce my amendment in the next few minutes.
The Bloc Québécois agrees with the provisions in the bill limiting terms of office for chiefs and councillors to a maximum of four years, stating that the election of a chief or councillor may be contested before a competent court, and setting out offences and penalties. However, we oppose the fact that the Conservative government did not consult the first nations before going ahead with these major changes to the Indian Act. These are unilateral changes. As usual, the government acted paternalistically. When I say the government, I am talking about successive federal governments. The government paternalistically imposes unilateral changes on the first nations when it should know that we must talk, nation to nation, when working with aboriginal peoples.
Everyone agrees that there must be more transparency, not only during elections but also during each elected official's term of office. The government can give us examples of times when band councils or other councils, chiefs, leaders and councillors—as we see in any population—failed to govern appropriately. That is not the issue. First, as the Green Party member said earlier, this bill originated in the Senate. However, before introducing this bill, the government should have done what the Government of Quebec did in 2002, which I will talk about in a moment. The government should have sat down and talked, nation to nation, in order to come to an agreement and propose changes. The government would have no doubt received the unanimous support of the House for the bill had the bill first been approved by first nations.
However, we cannot do anything without considering the first nations rights affected by this bill, the direct impact this bill will have on the structures in the communities themselves and how that can affect the communities. The first nations are not opposed to the changes proposed by the federal government. They want to be consulted and be involved in the decisions that will have a direct impact on them. That is a dialogue as opposed to a monologue.
We are asking the Conservative government to sit down and have a dialogue, negotiate, come to an agreement with the first nations. We do not want it to have a dialogue of the deaf or a monologue in which it tells the first nations what is good for them. This goes back to what I was saying earlier when I described the attitudes of federal governments since the very beginning. They have shown a paternalistic attitude towards the first nations.
I used the example of the peace of the braves, and I want to come back to that. This was a historic agreement signed in 2002 by the Cree and the Government of Quebec, led at the time by Bernard Landry, the leader of the Parti Québécois. The peace of the braves is a good example. There were some economic improvements for many peoples, but there are still many problems. I am not saying it is a good example because everything was fixed. It is a good example of how negotiation can lead to a formal agreement, so that the people and communities involved agree with the changes being proposed and carried out. The Quebec National Assembly recognized the first nations as nations, and the peace of the braves is an agreement between nations, as Bernard Landry pointed out when he was interviewed by a journalist who was reporting on what had become of the peace of the braves several years later.
I would like to remind the hon. members that Quebec made a commitment to involve the Cree in northern development and give them $4.5 billion over 50 years. In exchange, the Cree put an end to certain land claims. A few months later, Quebec signed the Sanarrutik agreement with the Inuit, which is designed to accelerate economic and community growth in Quebec's far north.
The peace of the braves and the agreement signed between Ottawa and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee in 2008 brought prosperity to Quebec's Cree. The 16,000 aboriginal people of James Bay now have some of the highest levels of disposable personal income in Quebec, according to a 2011 article in La Presse.
However, as I said, things are far from perfect. There are still health problems and a housing shortage. There is still an unequal distribution of wealth, despite the fact that some people are better off. Right now, 92% of Cree youth interrupt their schooling before earning their diploma or some sort of certification. As I said, the agreement was not a cure-all, but it is a good example of negotiation. That is the point I wanted to make about the peace of the braves.
I do not understand why governments that, generally speaking, like precedents so much could not have used that 2002 agreement as a precedent to create a bill that is endorsed by the affected first nations.
Now, I want to talk about the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, which long ago developed a consultation protocol that the government is supposed to follow when drafting bills or taking action that affects first nations in Quebec and Labrador.
This protocol includes the duty to consult and accommodate first nations before taking actions that could have a negative impact on their interests. Such actions include the modification or adoption of legislation, policy-making, planning processes, the modification or adoption of resource allocation regimes and the approval of specific projects or resource allocations. A consultation and accommodation report must be prepared.
The protocol also includes the duty to conduct consultation and accommodation follow-up. What is more, as provided in the consultation plan, provision must be made for the establishment, funding and operation of mechanisms for follow-up, mitigation measures and compliance monitoring with respect to the contemplated action.
The first nations have therefore already set out a procedure that should be followed by the other levels of government, including the federal government. It is really unfortunate that the government decided to bypass the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador's consultation protocol. We hope that the implementation of this bill is not harmful to first nations communities.
Members of the House agree that the Assembly of First Nations' protocol was not followed and that the bill will be passed because the government has a majority. That is why the Bloc Québécois is proposing to amend the bill in order to, at the very least, respect the second part of the protocol, which involves assessing the bill's impact on first nations communities. We are therefore proposing the following amendment to clause 41.1:
Within one year after the coming into force of this Act and every three years thereafter, the Minister must prepare a report on the implementation of this Act and its effects on elections of band councils and elections on reserves.
I would like to once again speak about precedents. People might ask why we are proposing this when such a measure has never been implemented before. However, this type of measure has been implemented before in Bill C-21, which pertained to the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and affected first nations. At the time, the government had a minority. The opposition required that the changes be reviewed every five years and the bill was passed by a majority vote. A precedent therefore exists.
In closing, we would have also liked to introduce funding and mitigation measures, but unfortunately, they would have been deemed inadmissible. However, we would like to take this opportunity to urge the government to implement those sorts of measures.
Motions in Amendment
Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
May 25th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
Todd Russell Labrador, NL
Madam Speaker, it is interesting that my hon. colleague says the government must respond to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision. I take it that the government's position is that if Bill C-3 does not go through, it will have to provide alternative legislation in order to comply with the B.C. Court of Appeal's decision.
The member also says we have to meet the deadline because of the huge impact it is going to have on first nations people who might be eligible to register in B.C. However, if we talk to the member for Simcoe North about the financial implications of this bill, we do not know how many people are actually going to register. We cannot quantify that. We do not know if it is going to be one or 45,000. We do not know if it is going to be one or 3,000.
The government does not know if it is punched or bored on this particular bill. I wish it would get its story straight so that Canadians and first nations people could at least have a clear understanding of where the government is with this.
I ask the member, what is the interaction between repealed section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and clause 9 of the bill? I ask because government seems to say, on the one hand, that because of Bill C-21 aboriginal people can go to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but the government, on the other hand, denies them at every turn and wants to limit its liabilities with clause 9.
I would ask the member what the interaction is between those two different provisions.
Motions in Amendment
Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
May 25th, 2010 / 12:20 p.m.
Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments and questions, and I am very pleased actually to have the opportunity to respond to him.
First, if it were such a significant item, I would say to the minister that it might have been identified as a separate clause in the bill as it relates to first nation communities.
He is absolutely right. The government has the might of hundreds of lawyers at its disposal, at its will. I think it is all the more important to acknowledge the Herculean effort of someone like Sharon McIvor in using the court challenges program and the resources she had to get this far.
However, I would say to the minister that this was not a concern of his when we were dealing with Bill C-21, the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and I am struck by the irony of having it brought forward in this case.
I am also struck by the fact that we are hearing in regard to the repeal of section 67 and its exclusion of first nations human rights complaints to the Human Rights Commission that the government is challenging every aboriginal community and aboriginal group that is going before the commission in order to get to the tribunal.
Thus, there is a lot of inconsistency here.
Motions in Amendment
Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
May 25th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
Todd Russell Labrador, NL
Mr. Speaker, first, I acknowledge four women with the AMUN March . They are marching 500 kilometres from Wendake to Ottawa. These brave women are opposed to Bill C-3. They are demonstrating by their actions just how opposed they are and how they continue to fight for equality for aboriginal women in our country, a fight that has been taken up by people like Mary Two-Axe Early, Ms. Lavell, Ms. Lovelace and Ms. McIvor. The struggle of Ms. McIvor is why we are in the House this morning debating Bill C-3 and, specifically, amendments to it.
However, let us take a very brief moment to find out how we got here. This is a 25 year struggle by aboriginal women for equality. They have gone through the court system. The courts have ruled in their favour, not once but twice, at the B.C. Supreme Court and at the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The government says that it only wants to respond to the B.C. Court of Appeal in the narrowest possible terms. The government had it in its craw, it had the will, to introduce a bill that would speak to the broader issues of discrimination. If it were sincere about discrimination under the Indian Act, it could have taken the measures to broaden the scope of the bill and to once and for all end all gender inequality and sex discrimination under the Indian Act. The Conservative government chose to make it very narrow.
The member opposite said as much. He said that we were one step closer. By his own admission, we are not there yet to end gender discrimination under the Indian Act. Therefore, the government could have taken the steps to do it but it did not.
The member went on to say, and I want to respond to some of what he said, that this was a situation of such urgency. The parliamentary secretary said in committee on April 27, when we put in a provision about reporting to Parliament, that the concern was after two years we just would really be getting going in terms of some of the registration numbers.
The parliamentary secretary by his own admission seems to feel, speaking on behalf of the government, that even if the bill passed, there would only be a negligible impact upon the new numbers that would come forward.
Therefore, the government, by its own admission, has said to each and every one of us that on the one hand it is so urgent, yet on the other hand it does not really know if it will have much of an impact at all. Where is the government when it comes to this bill.
To be quite honest, I think the government likes to play a charade on people. It loves to stand up for individual rights or gender equality, but it is not willing to put the heart or soul in to this to ensure it is done once and for all.
When it comes to Bill C-3, contrary to what the member opposite has said, every witness said that Bill C-3 was not adequate. It did not respond to all the issues of gender discrimination under the Indian Act. When asked, all the witnesses said that if they had the opportunity, they would definitely want the bill amended to ensure that once and for all there was no gender discrimination under the Indian Act.
We tried everything in the House. We put a motion before the House to try to expand the scope of the bill. The government shot it down. We tried to bring amendments forward and they were ruled out of order. Now we are debating amendments at report stage.
I will give an example of what some of the witnesses said, in particular the Quebec Native Women. They said:
—while Quebec Native Women recognizes the need to amend the archaic nature of the Indian Act, Quebec Native Women, as stated earlier, deplores the restrictive vision of the federal government based solely on a patchwork remedy to the specific problem of discrimination brought to light in the McIvor case...
Another quote is:
LEAF supports this demand to remove all vestiges of sex discrimination from the status provisions, and submits that the elimination of residual sex discrimination under the Indian Act best meets the federal government’s constitutional obligations to achieve substantive equality for Aboriginal women and Canada’s obligations under international law.
Sharon McIvor, Pam Palmater, an individual who came before us, CAP and the Assembly of First Nations all said the same thing. They were in unanimity when it came to this point.
I will speak to clause 9, which is one of the proposed amendments by the government. Interestingly, the government never spoke to the specific amendments it proposed. The member went on in some rhetorical terms about how the government stood up for the individual rights of women, and all that sort of thing.
However, when it comes to clause 9, we again hear two stories. The government officials came before us and said that clause 9 was a bit innocuous, that it really did not do much, that it was for greater certainty. Yet when the parliamentary secretary spoke at committee, he said that Bill C-3 could not pass if we clause 9 was not in it. When the vote comes, if clause 9 fails, we will see what the government will do.
Chief David Walkem of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says that we should strike clause 9. On April 20, at committee, he said:
—we're recommending is to strike clause 9 to allow Indian women and their descendants who lost status due to the discriminatory operation of the Indian Act to pursue, through the courts or other negotiation, restitution or compensation for the losses their families suffered as a result of the historical discrimination imposed on them by this legislation, similar to the process followed for people who went to residential schools.
On Tuesday, April 13, CAP, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said this about clause 9:
This section is an insult to Indian women and their descendants all over this country. Not only was Canada forced to make amendments to address gender inequality after fighting against the McIvor case for over 20 years; and not only has Canada proposed a very minimalist amendment; now Canada wants to ensure that it does not have to compensate the victims of gender discrimination?
It goes on to say that it cannot now be said that Canada did not knowingly discriminate against Indian women and their descendants.
This is what Dr. Pam Palmater had to say on April 20:
Clause 9 is an offence to Indian women and their descendants who have already waited more than 25 years for justice. It is also counter to both the spirit and the intent of the Charter of Rights.
The Canadian Bar Association said:
Section 9 is a concern, as it would remove the right of anyone to sue the federal government for not providing them with status as a result of the gender discrimination addressed by the Bill. If the federal government can be presumed to have been aware that Bill C-31 was not consistent with the Charter as far back as 1985, and did not act for over twenty years until the McIvor decision reached the BC Court of Appeal, the CBA Section is concerned with the justice of such a “no liability” provision. Further, we caution that including such a provision could make the Bill vulnerable to further Charter challenges.
Again, almost every witness who came before us was opposed to clause 9.
Then the government brings up the wonderful example of the repeal of section 67 of Bill C-21 passed in 2008. It said that this was a wonderful thing, that now complaints could be brought against the government and against Indian Act bands.
Guess what? It has said that there is a remedy for first nations women use the Canadian Human Rights Act as a vehicle. Over 30 complaints have been launched against the federal government by aboriginal people, first nations people, and the Government of Canada has gone before the Canadian Human Rights Commission and said that it has no jurisdiction and that it cannot provide a remedy because it does not provide a service.
Therefore, it tells us that we have a remedy on one hand and tries to deny us that remedy on the other hand. It is hypocritical.
Clause 9 is a no go. We will not support it and we hope all our colleagues in the House will join us. Certainly I know that in committee all of the opposition parties voted to not include clause 9 in the bill.
Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
April 27th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. Obviously, we are supporting her motion. The Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development examined Bill C-21 to repeal section 67 of the Indian Act. Mr. Speaker, you were chairing the committee at that time. The bill was finally passed after many discussions and a lot of work. The committee worked so hard that the bill went to committee with just one clause and came back with more than nine or ten clauses.
I do not agree with the parliamentary secretary and I say more about that later. Ms. McIvor, in the McIvor decision, was the last woman to take advantage of the court challenges program, which was abolished by the Conservative government. That is one of the reasons we are asking to amend this bill.
I have an important question for my colleague: does she think that other aboriginal people, who will not have access to the court challenges program, since it has been abolished, will be able to defend claims and make it to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec?
April 22nd, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
I listened to you very carefully, and I remembered that we had passed Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act. On March 30, 2010, I read a report entitled “Balancing Individual and Collective Rights: Implementation of section 1.2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act”.
I have a question for you. You have one year left. Are you prepared to deal with the dozens of complaints that are going to land on your desk, as a result of section 67 being repealed and Bill C-21 being implemented? You have one year left, just amongst ourselves.
Did the committee do a good job? Are there elements you are lacking, things we could ask the government for in preparation for June 18, 2011, so that you are not accused of being unprepared? I am not criticizing. On the contrary, we want to help you. Obviously, there will be a lot of applications.
April 20th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Chair, I'll soon be making a proposal—I'll wait for my Liberal colleagues first—that the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill be postponed to next Tuesday. I'll explain why later. I realize there are many people with us now and that is something I regret. I respect the witnesses, and they have only five minutes to make a statement concerning a bill that is key to their future, not ours, theirs.
With all due respect, Mr. Chair, this process is beginning to weigh on me. I would like the witnesses to have the time they need to explain their positions. If ever we do not have time to ask them questions, we could continue Thursday during the first hour. The witnesses are here and I know that some of them have worked very hard to prepare for today. This is probably one of the most important bills we have debated, along with Bill C-8, An Act respecting Family Homes situated on First Nation Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, and Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act. So I think we can take another day or two. I'm ready to listen to the people here today; we have until 6:30 p.m. If we're not finished, then we can continue Thursday afternoon. Five minutes is not enough to discuss section 6 of this bill, C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs).
Mr. Chair, I am not questioning your good faith. I know you want to do the right thing. I have the utmost respect for that, but there are essential aspects. The members of the committee have questions and so do the witnesses. It is their future that is at stake here, and I say this with all due respect.
April 13th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
What I'll do at this point is I'm going to just move on. I think everybody understands that this section is an insult to aboriginal women and their descendants.
To move on the road for reconciliation, we are in the midst of real political action to resolve many problems created by Indian policy and Indian acts from colonial times to the present. From June 2008 to the present, the current Government of Canada, in historic terms, has launched a suite of public statements, acts, policies, strategies, actions, and plans focused on the aboriginal peoples of Canada that mark a significant turning point in Canada-aboriginal peoples relationships not witnessed in Canada since 1982.
CAP would safely say the “spark” that gave life to this political action, which CAP calls the “time for honest reconciliation” in Canada, started when this government formally made a televised public apology for the pain and losses clearly etched on the survivors of the residential school experiment and the aboriginal peoples of Canada as a whole. From that day forward, we can follow the government's suite of actions, which form vital elements of the larger picture of the “time for honest reconciliation” in Canada. I believe that CAP's recommendation three is very significant. CAP is an important national aboriginal organization on this topic.
Let us look at the suite of changes moving relationships forward. We have political and financial support with an extensive compensation package issued for a majority of the survivors of residential schools. We have the continuing support and a celebrating event with the Governor General on the occasion of the establishment and launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this past fall, 2010.
This past summer there was announced and rolled out the forward-looking federal framework for aboriginal economic development, with its four key pillars. This framework is accompanied with a new aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, ASETS. ASETS is also laying out a carpet for partnerships with industry and business in Canada.
We have the matrimonial real property act, a bill that CAP strongly supports. This government clearly recognizes the humanity of aboriginal men and women. The MRP has more significance than meets the eye. The bill is addressing the real human issue of an aboriginal person, something taken for granted by all other Canadians and provincial governments. A spouse within an aboriginal relationship should not be denied, or put out on the street alone and without any recourse, because of a family breakdown. The MRP is a very significant piece of legislation.
Last year there was the repeal of the shield of section 67, against Human Rights Act recourse for actions made under or through the Indian Act. This repeal of section 67 from the Canadian Human Rights Act with Bill C-21, and the accompanying work and time for preparing to meet the challenges, is cause for celebration.
December 3rd, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
On page 186, on the implementation of Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, you may have covered this and I may have missed it. Can you tell us what progress is happening on reserve around that consultation process and around making sure that people are aware?
June 16th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
Deputy Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission
That's an interesting question. I would have to say that certainly in our submission on the UPR we had highlighted aspects of social equality and social condition, but we had also particularly focused, if I might say, on aboriginal issues. We made specific reference.
By the way, we will be more than pleased to provide you with a copy of our submission.
We noted with regret that Canada had not concurred with or signed onto the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As well, we had noted our work in terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
The aboriginal one is a particular issue for us. I can say that from the Canadian Human Rights Commission the number one priority stated within our commission is our work on the implementation of the repeal of section 67. We've established a national aboriginal office in Winnipeg that is specifically geared towards the implementation of the repeal of section 67.
As you may of course be aware, the transition period for the full implementation of Bill C-21, the act to repeal section 67, is a three-year period. It was June of last year when it passed. There are two more years before it has full application to aboriginal authorities, but it does have immediate effect as against the Government of Canada, so we are receiving complaints, and obviously there may be a significant volume of cases coming in the next two years. That is why it has really been a focus of our activity.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 14th, 2009 / 12:10 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Madam Speaker, we are discussing an extremely important bill. I, too, am somewhat surprised by my Liberal colleague's position. I do not think that his is the right approach just now, particularly when it comes to the matrimonial rights of aboriginal peoples. This bill has gone by several numbers, of which I will list just two. Bill C-47 died on the order paper last year when the election was called, and now we have Bill C-8.
The Bloc Québécois believes, and I hope the NDP will agree, that this bill should be studied in committee. It is of utmost importance that this bill be debated, analyzed and closely examined with witnesses by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Allow me to explain.
I am aware of the rules of Parliament. By presenting an amendment to delay study of the bill for six months, the Liberal Party knows full well that the bill will die on the order paper. I am absolutely certain that that is not what aboriginal women want. They want respect, and the Bloc Québécois believes that aboriginal women will get respect if we study the matter of matrimonial rights respectfully once and for all.
I hope that my Conservative Party colleagues will not take it for granted that our support for Bill C-8 is firm and unconditional. I want to say right now that we really do not like Bill C-8, not one bit. It does have some good points and measures, but some things in the bill are just not well thought out. If the government is serious about this, and I hope that it is, it will understand that we want to take as much time as we need in committee to properly study this bill, pick it apart and amend it as necessary. This bill must meet the needs of aboriginal women, first nations and aboriginal peoples across the country.
The government will have to explain why it set aside the main recommendations made by Ms. Grant-John, who did an exceptional job of examining this issue. The issue of matrimonial rights has been around for a number of years. With all due respect, the Liberals do not have a leg to stand on when criticizing the Conservatives at this stage regarding Bill C-8. It was the Liberals who introduced the famous Bill C-31 on women's matrimonial rights, the 1985 bill that erased women's rights in their entirety in one fell swoop. They should remember that the bill languished. Although the Conservatives adopted the bill, it originated with the Liberals some time before that.
It is odd because the Liberals know this. An extremely interesting ruling was just handed down by the Court of Appeal. It concerns the rights of aboriginal peoples, especially women's rights. This ruling was handed down on April 6, 2009.
The government will have to take it into account because the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling overturns several decisions and forces the government to recognize that it imposed a law that discriminated against aboriginal peoples.
In the matter at hand—and we will come to an agreement rather quickly—it is clear that 90% to 95% of the matrimonial rights cases concern women and children in native communities. It is equally clear that the rights of women have been violated. In my opinion, moving forward and adopting the amendment would kill the bill. With all due respect for my colleague from Labrador, and based on my extensive experience, I know that unless the government is forced to act it will not do so. In this case, it is not true that there will be further consultations if we give the government six more months. That is not true. I do not buy it.
We in the Bloc Québécois prefer to move forward, and I hope that my NDP colleagues will feel the same way. I hope that what I am about to say will be well translated and that our friends opposite will understand me clearly. I have just one hope, and that is that they do not seriously believe we are going to pass this bill in a rush and study it quickly in committee. It will take months. I hope they realize that, because if they do not, then there will be trouble. But that is very clear.
I have a few questions. Why is it that Ms. Grant-John's entire report was set aside?
Why is it that none of the recommendations made by the rapporteur, Ms. Corbett, were acted on?
It is odd, because I was looking for support for this bill among aboriginal women in Canada and in Quebec, but both groups said no. I spoke this morning with Grand Chief Picard, who also has problems with this bill. But I will give it a chance.
In my opinion, the Bloc Québécois, probably with the support of the NDP, will be willing to refer this very, very important bill to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that it is studied properly in the interest of the rights of women living in aboriginal communities. This problem has existed in aboriginal communities for too long, and we must find solutions. For my part, I believe, with all due respect, that having a minority government is not a bad thing.
We have seen evidence of this. I will give my colleagues opposite the chance to respond. I will quickly give a brief history of Bill C-21, which was passed during the previous session. This bill repealed section 67 of the Indian Act. As a result, aboriginal communities will now be accountable, and complaints can be filed against them with the Human Rights Commission.
Our Conservative colleagues opposite were opposed to all the amendments we had made to the bill. The original bill consisted of just one clause. When it came out of committee, was reported in this House and was passed, it included 12 or 13 clauses. I was very closely involved in the study of the bill, and I can tell you that it was thanks to the aboriginal communities and all the members of the committee that we were able to seriously amend Bill C-21 so that it respected the rights of aboriginal peoples.
I have a problem with hoisting this bill. In my opinion, we need to study it and make amendments, and we need especially to heed the protests of the aboriginal women who were not consulted.
There is a Supreme Court decision about consultation with respect to Supreme Court rulings. If this is the case, I do not believe, with all due respect for my colleagues across the way, that such consultation has taken place. They could have taken a few more months. We will set the process in motion during those months and it will take the time it needs to take. The Bloc Québécois wants to see this bill amended to take the rights of aboriginal women on reserves into consideration.
The situation can be easily summarized. An aboriginal couple marries, has children and accumulates assets on reserve. They might, for instance, own a convenience store, a service station or some other business. The couple separates. The woman leaves the marital home, as usually happens, unfortunately, and leaves the reserve. She settles in town or somewhere else. Then comes the issue of who owns the convenience store, the garage or the business. They are located on the reserve and thus on federal territory. The situation is not clear.
The Bloc Québécois wants to examine this bill. A lot of work has been done on it by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and they have sent recommendations to us. I have read them and I believe that they need to be taken into consideration because a number of Mohawk communities, and probably some others as well, have what is called a matrimonial property rights tribunal. These are in place in the communities and we must respect what is being done in the communities. We need to take steps to ensure that we respect what is already in place, but the bill as it stands is not clear about this. What is more, the government seems to want to have a degree of control over the settlement of matrimonial property rights on the reserves, but I must admit this is not clear. If the regulations do not work, the federal government could change them. I believe I read that. If the government wants to go ahead with this, there is going to be a serious problem.
However, I want to point out that matrimonial rights have a huge impact on communities. Often, the women and children wind up with nothing and are expelled from the reserve, while the men keep everything. I do not want to generalize, but I would say that this is what happens in 80% or 90% of cases. I know, because I live in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and I have a good idea of what is happening in my communities. We must not be blind or ignore what is happening. We need to pay attention and take into account individual and collective rights.
There will be a serious debate about collective versus individual rights. This bill is not clear. It deserves to be debated and examined in greater detail. I will say to my Liberal colleagues, as I said at the start, that the worst that could happen would be that, if the committee is not happy with the responses and if the amendments we propose are not incorporated, we kill the bill. The three opposition parties can kill the bill, obviously. The government will have to understand that it is in its interest to respect what aboriginal communities want, which is not to be pushed around. They want to be heard. The main groups want to be heard and want to have a chance to speak.
I have asked that they propose amendments. We will have to look at the clauses. I know that aboriginal communities and groups, the Native Women's Association and the Assembly of First Nations of Canada may be opposed to the bill as it currently stands.
In life, it is not enough just to be opposed to something. You have to come up with solutions to the problem. When a party is opposed to the bill, I respect its position. But what solutions does it have? What amendments does it propose? This bill also raises the whole debate about incorporating provincial and territorial laws. The problem of respecting women's rights has never been easy to solve, and it will not be easy to solve with Bill C-8.
But if we do not make the effort to sit down all together at the same table to discuss, amend and adapt this bill so that it respects women's rights, we will miss the boat and pay the price. I especially do not want to be pushed around on this issue. I want us to take our time and study this bill carefully, and I want us to listen to the groups that propose amendments that we will study and analyze. I hope that the government does not think that this bill will be passed before the end of the current session. If it does, then we will have a serious problem.
This is a very important bill. Bill C-21 repealed section 67 of the Indian Act. We took the time we needed, and we did things properly. We also passed a bill about specific claims. We took the time to talk to aboriginal communities and aboriginal association representatives. This is a good bill that should satisfy aboriginal communities.
This morning, the committee—and I am in a position to know—passed Bill C-28 without amendment, or rather, with a small amendment concerning syntax. The bill should be back before the House when we return from the Victoria Day recess or, in our case, the fête des Patriotes. We passed the bill, and the Cree people are satisfied. It took 10 years, but now it is done. I am not suggesting that it will take 10 years to pass Bill C-8, but I think that it will take a few months. We have to take the time to listen to aboriginal community representatives. Important things, such as federal legislation on matrimonial property and recognition of the jurisdiction of first nations, must be taken into account. How will we do that?
I will end with a discussion of a principle that I believe in: if one wants what one has never had, one must be prepared to do what one has never done.
We are about to do something that we have never done: respect aboriginal women. That is what we will do as we study the bill in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development over the next few months.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 11th, 2009 / 6:10 p.m.
Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
moved that Bill C-8, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my support for Bill C-8, Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act.
We have before us in Canada, an inexcusable and intolerable situation that has gone on far too long. Before I discuss this bill, it is important to have a sound understanding of matrimonial rights and interests.
An inexcusable and intolerable situation has gone on for far too long in Canada. Before I discuss the main planks of the bill, it is important to have a basic understanding of matrimonial rights and interests.
Matrimonial real property, or MRP, typically refers to the family home where both spouses in a marriage or common law relationship live on reserve. For almost all Canadians, provincial and territorial laws protect the MRP rights and interests of both spouses in the event of separation, divorce or death. These laws address a wide range of circumstances. If the family home is sold, for instance, both spouses must share in the proceeds. These laws also authorize a judge to order a spouse to temporarily leave the family home, particularly in cases of domestic violence and physical abuse.
Shamefully, these same laws that all Canadians take for granted do not apply on reserve. Spouses who live in communities governed by the Indian Act are afforded no such protection. This is because the Indian Act does not address the issue, and past governments have failed to remedy this glaring omission through legislation. As a result, relationship breakdowns in first nations communities often lead to homelessness and poverty, particularly for women and children.
Although each victim's situation is unique, we can all envision the following type of unfortunate and sad scenario: A husband and wife and their family live together in a house on first nations land. The marriage breaks down, who knows why, and the husband forces his wife and children to leave the family home. The woman has no legal recourse. She must find another place for her and her children to live. Often she has no choice but to leave the community. She is homeless. She is impoverished. Meanwhile, no court in the land can prevent the husband from selling the home and pocketing the cash.
It is unacceptable that this scenario continues to play out in Canada in the 21st century. Parliament must act. This bill would quickly remedy this legal void.
In highlighting the importance of this Parliament passing Bill C-8, I want to stress four important aspects of this legislation.
First, our Conservative government fully recognizes that first nations are best placed to make choices about the balance between the rights of first nations and the collective property rights. They are in the best position to develop those laws. That is why Bill C-8 describes a process for first nations communities to develop and enact their own laws in this area. That is the first thing. Let us allow first nations to develop the laws that apply in their situation on reserve. I think all sides of the House recognize that.
Second, while first nations develop their own laws, a remedy for vulnerable citizens living on reserve is urgently required. Bill C-8 proposes the immediate application of interim federal protection on reserves similar to those enjoyed by all other Canadians.
Third, the bill was developed after exhaustive study, authoritative research and comprehensive consultation with first nations groups.
Finally, Bill C-8 complements this government's larger initiatives to protect the rights and interests of first nations people. Again, I would point out that Bill C-21, which we passed in the last Parliament, was supported by all sides of the House. For the first time it brought the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act to bear on people living on reserve.
The first element of Bill C-8 provides an enabling process for first nations to establish MRP regimes of their own, regimes based on the cultural and social norms of their communities. To create such a law, a first nation most hold a fair and democratic vote on its proposed MRP legislation that must be approved by the entire community.
Laws that meet these conditions are not subject to review, consideration or rejection by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development or by the department. In other words, as first nations develop those laws based on their community customs, they bring them forward and have them endorsed at the community level. I cannot intervene, nor should I, in making sure that those would be the laws of application for that particular community.
The next element of the proposed legislation goes hand in hand with my first reason for supporting Bill C-8. It sets out a federal regime that will immediately protect the MRP rights and interests of first nations spouses and common law partners. The regime would provide residents of first nations communities with access to legal recourse similar to that available to all other Canadians. This would close the unacceptable legislative gap that currently exists. It will protect some of the most vulnerable Canadians who right now have no protection in case of that marital breakdown.
Our outright support for Bill C-8 is also based on the fact that the proposed legislation is founded on a sizable body of sound research and an exhaustive consultation. There are multiple standing committee reports with all parties voicing support, having recommended a swift and enduring legislative solution. International groups, including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, reached similar conclusions.
A comprehensive consultation process also informs the legislation now before us. In 2006 a collaborative process facilitated by the esteemed Wendy Grant-John and involving the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations saw 103 consultative sessions held at 76 different sites across the country. In fact, over $8 million was provided to the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to carry out a consultative process. We wanted input and we got it.
This government also went to great lengths to create a legislative solution that would satisfy all stakeholders. Our proposal was largely based on the results of the consultations and many of Wendy Grant-John's thoughtful recommendations. A draft legislative proposal was then shared with key stakeholders, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the First Nations Lands Advisory Board and the provinces and territories. Their input resulted in significant improvements to the legislation before us today.
I would also point out that Bill C-47, this bill's predecessor, has been in the public domain for all to see and review for a full year now. It passed at second reading in the 39th Parliament. I think members on all sides of the House wanted to get this into committee for further evaluation and study, knowing that we need to address this legislative gap. That is why it passed in the last Parliament with all-party support.
The proposed legislation incorporates the ideas put forward and addresses concerns expressed during many years of study, analysis and discussion.
Virtually every first nation group in Canada that spoke to this issue during the consultation strongly opposed the application of provincial laws, so that option was discarded. To respond to those who demanded that any solution address the cultural values and traditions of first nation communities, Bill C-8 provides a process for first nations to develop their own culturally specific laws on the issue.
At the same time, the national approach taken in this bill will ensure that the immediate protection provided will be consistent for first nations across the country. In other words, it will apply immediately, but first nations are encouraged to bring in their own laws, and I am sure many of them will do so quickly, developed in their own communities that under this legislation will supersede the national standards in this act. It will have the stand-alone, community based, community endorsed, community ratified solution for that particular first nation. That is as it should be, in our opinion, and that is why this deserves broad support.
Some groups also raised concerns about the implementation of a federal MRP regime. There are two answers to this.
First, as I have mentioned, this legislation takes the minister and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs out of the picture regarding first nations MRP laws on reserves. Instead, this bill recognizes that first nations, not the federal government, are best placed to make these decisions related to MRP.
We have taken many measures to ensure that even during the time when the interim federal protection applies, collective interests are well balanced with individual needs. That is important for first nations. They need to know that the reserve property that is owned collectively is not going to be sold out from underneath them. This cannot happen under this legislation. No one ever intended that and we were careful to make sure that the protection and balance is in this legislation. Again all of it was done with the intent that first nations will develop their own MRP laws that will be community specific and ratified in the local community.
Given that implementation concerns cannot be readily addressed in the legislation itself--we cannot answer all these questions that way--the Government of Canada plans to establish a centre of excellence to support first nations and to deliver training and information sessions to law enforcement and court officials. It will be a place where best practices are maintained. A repository of information and research material will be there for first nations that are in the midst of developing their own laws for their own communities.
These actions touch upon my final point.
Bill C-8 is part of a much larger strategy to improve the quality of life experienced by residents of first nations communities. This strategy involves working in collaboration with first nations organizations and other willing partners to identify and attack the root causes of injustice and inequity.
This strategy has already produced tangible results on a variety of issues and a comprehensive plan developed in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations. A good example is the specific claims legislation that this government brought in. It addresses the unacceptable backlog of hundreds and hundreds of claims. First nations have been looking for some 40 years for laws to give some assurance that these will be settled in a timely fashion.
We worked with first nations. We brought in that legislation. That plan was endorsed by Parliament to establish an independent tribunal to adjudicate these claims. I mentioned earlier Bill C-21 and the issue of the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is another good example of how that kind of application on reserve, specific claims on reserve and a record number of treaty land entitlement resolutions that we have had especially on the Prairies, all point to addressing those long-standing issues in order to address other inequities and inequalities in the system, and certainly that is what we are eager to do.
As I mentioned, this will be, in my opinion, the flagship human rights legislation introduced in this Parliament, certainly by me. It deals with something that has been a legislative gap for far too long. It is something that other Canadians take for granted. It is time we addressed that gap. Some people and some communities talk about human rights. Some other countries talk about the importance of human rights; Canada certainly does, but we are acting on this basic human right.
I believe Bill C-8 offers another historic opportunity to better protect the basic rights of first nations people.
The legislation asks the members of this House two fundamental questions. First, should this country extend the legal rights, recourses and protections enjoyed by all other Canadians, and should we extend that, with this legislation, to first nations communities?
Second, should first nations have the power to develop MRP laws that reflect the cultural and social traditions of their communities? That is the flip side of the same coin.
In my opinion, the answer is yes, we must move to protect the most vulnerable in society, to fill that legislative gap as quickly as possible, to ensure that first nation communities, and especially the vulnerable in first nation communities, have the access to rights that all other Canadians enjoy.
Equally as important, the flip side of that same coin is that we on this side of the House support first nations developing their own MRP laws to address that gap. When they address that gap, it will be approved in their local communities. They will address it in a way that is sensitive to their local situation and their social norms and their cultural traditions.
Once that is done, passed and ratified, then the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs cannot interfere in first nations' proper exercise of their authority to develop that MRP law of their own. That is essential to the flip side of this important coin.
It is my hope that hon. colleagues here today and in the days to come at committee will do the right thing and will do the honourable thing, which I think is to stand up for the most vulnerable in society and support Bill C-8 through all stages in this House and in committee so that first nations can enjoy the same rights as every other Canadian.
When we went through the debate on Bill C-21 in the last Parliament, there was concern about trying to achieve perfection. We talked about whether it was the right time to do this, whether we could have done something more, and whether we could have consulted more. In this case, we have consulted at over 100 different community meetings.
I suppose we could always say we could more. We could spend more money on consultations. We could extend it indefinitely into the future. But at some point we have to come down solidly and say, enough is enough, it is time to extend this right that every other Canadian knows in their heart and has experienced, sometimes unfortunately has experienced it in the courts, but at least they have a way to address this longstanding issue in their community.
I would just ask people to wrap their head around this. What would one say to that first nation lady who is looking for some access to the matrimonial real property that she and her husband have built over the years? She might say, “Unfortunately the marriage has broken down, but I could get off to the next step by getting half of the assets of the matrimonial property and move forward, maybe into another home or into another situation, looking after my children”.
We need to say to that lady or that man, “We are there for you. We will do the right thing in this Parliament of Canada. We will extend to you the same rights as every other Canadian.” We are going to do it starting today, and we are going to do it as quickly as we can.
February 11th, 2009 / 6:35 p.m.
John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC
Madam Speaker, with regard to Bill C-21, yes, it was a long journey. It did have the effect of amending the Canadian Human Rights Act and it does bring full legal access to the Canadian Human Rights Act on reserves. This marks a turning point in the relationship between first nations and the Government of Canada.
This legislation and other measures we have talked about clearly demonstrate the Government of Canada's strong commitment to protecting the human rights of all aboriginal people in Canada.
February 11th, 2009 / 6:35 p.m.
Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB
Madam Speaker, I too was part of the discussions that saw Bill C-21 pass, which resulted in the rescinding of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It was a long journey that required many discussions and many amendments, and I was pleased to be part of it.
I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's comments. However, it is vitally important that the government address these responses on the international stage and respond to the CEDAW criticisms that it has one year to respond to. I urge the parliamentary secretary to urge his minister and those he works with to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Nothing would give aboriginal people more hope than to see the government ratify that agreement.
The government is one of four countries that has chosen not to ratify it, and it has taken the attitude that because it did not ratify it, it does not have to honour it. I urge him to urge his minister to ratify that agreement.
February 11th, 2009 / 6:35 p.m.
Vancouver Island North
John Duncan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the question from the member for Winnipeg South Centre. I would like to add my regards to Mr. David Matas, a man I have met and respect greatly.
Our government has a strong record of supporting and advancing aboriginal rights at home and abroad. As a leader in human rights, we take our commitments in this respect extremely seriously.
In fact, we recently passed Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, critical legislation which underscores this government's strong commitment to protecting the human rights of all Canadians.
What is more, we have reintroduced in this Parliament the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act. This bill would finally resolve the intolerable and inexcusable legislative gap of on reserve matrimonial real property.
Our government recognizes the vital place that aboriginal women hold as the emotional and spiritual centre of their families. We also recognize that to support aboriginal women is to bolster the entire community. However, there are some very real challenges facing aboriginal people both on and off reserve. It is often women and children who are the most affected and the most vulnerable. That is why we are focused on making progress on quality of life issues such as education, drinking water, health and housing.
Budget 2009 provides $1.4 billion over two years for specific initiatives aimed at improving the well-being and prosperity of aboriginal people in Canada.
Aboriginal families and communities will benefit from almost $1 billion in immediate investment toward urgent infrastructure needs on reserves like housing construction and remediation, school construction and improved access to clean drinking water.
Budget 2009 builds on the progress we have made together over the last couple of years, progress that is the result of genuine collaboration between aboriginal women's groups and the federal government. The greatest asset we have going forward is the determination and drive of aboriginal people themselves.