Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Chuck Strahl  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of May 25, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the adoption of First Nation laws and the establishment of provisional rules and procedures that apply during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse or common-law partner, respecting the use, occupation and possession of family homes on First Nation reserves and the division of the value of any interests or rights held by spouses or common-law partners in or to structures and lands on those reserves.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • May 25, 2009 Failed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following: “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 not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.”.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was here last night when the member addressed the House on this very important bill. It has some dimensions that deal not only with the substance of the policy matters but also the substance of how we do legislation.

One of the criticisms of this bill is that it appears that some parties in the House think we can just pass this flawed bill at second reading, send it to committee and somehow, miraculously, repair its various problems. I think the member well knows that once we pass a bill at second reading, we have a situation where we have approved the bill in principle. Substantive amendments cannot be made in committee. Therefore, it would seem that the approach to this bill would, in itself, be flawed.

I want to give the member an opportunity to refresh the House on his principle argument in his speech, which was quite focused, and maybe he could comment on a strategy to get a good bill.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10 a.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I was suggesting is that instead of referring the bill to committee after second reading, where the committee is limited in the scope of what it can do, I had hoped the government would consider referring the bill to committee before second reading where we could then engage, in a constructive manner, in crafting legislation that would reflect the will of all parliamentarians and of the interested parties, the aboriginal community of Canada.

The member for Simcoe North agreed with me when I pointed out that the committee we currently have is functioning very well. We have already dealt with two bills, Bill C-5 and C-28, expeditiously after listening to witnesses, but in both cases there was exemplary co-operation between the government side and the opposition parties. Also, in both cases, the aboriginal communities that were interested in the legislation supported the legislation.

We have a situation now with Bill C-8 where the aboriginal communities do not support the legislation and have expressed great reservations. If we approve this legislation at second reading and then send it to committee, it will tie the hands of the committee in its ability to improve the legislation. The amendments that could be introduced at that stage are rather limited and must be narrower in scope than what the legislation says.

When I hear the members of the NDP and my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois say that they want to improve the legislation by passing it at second reading and sending it to committee, I think they and the government forgot that we could have gone another route, which would have made for a situation that would have been much more constructive and more in keeping with the spirit of co-operation that is supposed to exist between the Crown and aboriginal communities ever since we had an incredible ceremony in this House, as people will remember, and ever since we had a royal commission look into the matter. We have all agreed that we need to start dealing with the aboriginal communities in a much more respectful manner and in a manner that engages them, gives them a voice and we listen to their voice. It is a matter of the honour of the Crown that we must respect that.

That is essentially what I was saying in my comments yesterday. I would hope that the members from the Bloc Québécois and the members from the NDP would support this motion, would give an occasion to the government to go back and consult properly and then bring forward a bill that we could refer to committee before second reading in order to give the committee the chance to do good work, as it has.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.
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Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Ottawa—Vanier was not on the committee in the last Parliament, nor was I, but I do know that the legislation that came forward from the government in the last Parliament to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act so that the exclusion of status Indians from its provisions would end was virtually in the same position. It was taken to committee and, lo and behold, the committee proved successful and that act was eventually adopted.

We have a living example of the value of getting second reading and then getting things to committee. Does the member for Ottawa—Vanier not think that is an illuminating example of how this legislation might very well go?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

No, Mr. Speaker, because the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada both said, quite clearly, that they did not support the bill as it is. They actually do not think it can be repaired and that it is beyond repair.

If the member goes back to the 38th Parliament, and he was here then, when we had a Liberal minority government, we made good use of this ability to give a wider mandate to committees to work at legislation by referring over 30 some pieces of legislation to committees before second reading.

In the 39th Parliament, when the Conservatives formed a minority government, they referred three. In this Parliament, when they are still in a minority situation, they have not referred any to committee before second reading. I think that shows some misunderstanding of the ability of committees to work together, and especially this committee which has demonstrated, time and again, with a very able chair, the member for Simcoe North, and very able members from all parties, a capacity and a willingness to work constructively together.

The government missed a golden opportunity of giving a bill to the committee and giving it the latitude and the ability to really engage the aboriginal communities to understand the issues thoroughly, to respect the honour of the Crown concept that has been imposed upon us by the Supreme Court of our country, by the Constitution and to come up with a better solution than what is likely to happen now, if we are forced to deal with it at committee with it having been approved in principle at second reading.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the member for Toronto Centre addressed Parliament on the bill and the thrust of his presentation was that there were no groups of the National Aboriginal Women's Council or of the AFN, which speaks for all aboriginals, that support the bill. He felt that it was inappropriate to move forward with a bill when there was zero support from the stakeholders who would be impacted by that legislation.

I wonder if the member would agree and perhaps comment on why it is important that we get this right, because the possibility of sending a bill to committee that is irreparable and fundamentally flawed may take an awful long time, which would only delay the ultimate resolution of the problems that we have identified.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, because choosing that path would leave us with three possibilities. One is that we may not end up with a bill. We may just get hung up in committee with acrimony and so forth. Two, the bill may be passed but very flawed and, therefore, exposed to a very serious and easy challenge in court. Three, we may eventually not adopt it and kill it in committee.

As opposed to referring it to committee, we should have engaged Parliament, members of the House and the aboriginal communities into crafting legislation that would meet everyone's expectations, including the government, the aboriginal communities and the opposition parties. I honestly believe that could have happened. It could still happen if the government backs up a bit, takes the six months to go back and consult, reintroduces legislation that may be more suitable and amenable to the aboriginal communities of Canada and then send it to committee with the latitude to do its work. If we were to do that, I think we could end up with a exemplary legislation in which we could all take great pride.

On the current track on which we are being sent, the pitfalls are too numerous to end up with that kind of a result, unfortunately.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
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Conservative

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need consistency here. The Assembly of First Nations and the Liberal Party opposed the Canadian Human Rights Act amendments in the last Parliament. There was considerable consultation. Our expectation was that the Liberals would join with the other opposition parties to pass the bill at second reading so we could do something useful. I am just amazed at the change--

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

There is no amazement, Mr. Speaker. I asked the parliamentary secretary yesterday why the government chose not to refer the bill to committee before second reading but I did not get an answer. I think that is the true question. If the government had chosen that route, there would be no question about getting the bill to second reading. We would be in a situation where the committee, which has demonstrated its ability to do good work, would have the mandate and the latitude to do just that. Unfortunately, we may be set on another course now.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating 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.

The summary of the bill reads:

This enactment provides for the adoption of First Nation laws and the establishment of provisional rules and procedures that apply during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse or common-law partner, respecting the use, occupation and possession of family homes on First Nation reserves and the division of the value of any interests or rights held by spouses or common-law partners in or to structures and lands on those reserves.

Members are probably aware that I do not have any reserves in my riding so I will take a moment to explain why I am speaking to this and how I came to take an interest in the bill. It really started in the last Parliament with a former colleague, Tina Keeper, who is from the north and who had done a lot of work on this issue. There was a bill, Bill C-47, before the House that she expressed a lot of concern about. I met with her not too long ago and she was very adamant that she wanted to continue to be involved and that she would help in any way she could to ensure that any legislation that comes forward on matrimonial real property will be appropriate legislation that is fairly reflective of the aboriginal rights to self-determination and self-government.

About four weeks ago, when we had the last parliamentary break, the Ontario caucus of my party extended an invitation to groups to speak to us about the issues that were important to them. It was an outreach event. One of the groups that came before us was led by Mr. Richard C. Powless who is a consultant for first nations. Mr. Powless and his colleagues from the Six Nations came to talk about Bill C-8. After they were finished their brief presentation, there was some silence. I was not sure why because, to me, their presentation was very serious. The presentation basically said that there was no support whatsoever for this bill in the first nations across Canada but it is going forward, which is a travesty. Some of their reasons were laid out.

I decided to speak up and ask a couple of questions. The next thing I knew, Mr. Powless had agreed to send me many more details about the bill than he could possibly talk about in the brief time that he had to deal with us. He did send the material and it was terrific. It went virtually clause-by-clause down the bill and laid out some of the problems. I could, with the unanimous consent of the House, spend about two hours going through each of those but I do not think it is necessary. I will circulate it to members. It is important if they have not seen it already.

Subsequent to that, Mr. Powless, as we were corresponding, asked me whether or not he could meet with additional representatives and we did that a week or so ago. At this meeting, in addition to Mr. Powless, were: Lawané:Wan Clinton M. Cornelius, Oneida Nation of the Thames Council; Julie Phillips-Jacobs, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne; Mr. Carl Hill, Six Nations Council; and Ava Hill, Six Nations Council.

We spent some time reviewing the representations that Mr. Powless had made to our caucus and I was presented with some additional materials that laid out the concerns that they had with the bill.

Then we talked about strategy. It was pretty clear that Bill C-8 was identical to Bill C-47 in the last Parliament. There really has not been any evolution with regard to the policy or the proposed legislation.

Because Bill C-8 had been delayed down the order paper and did not come forward as expeditiously as it should, that was an indication the government did not really have its heart behind it, that it knew there were problems and it did not want to have to face this.

Strategically, some things could be done. The AFN and the National Women's Aboriginal Council, representing all aboriginals across the country, could write the minister to let him know there was no support among aboriginal communities for this bill, for substantive reasons. They could ask the government to withdraw the bill and have the appropriate consultations and discussions on all the points identified as being flawed, flawed to the point that the bill could not even be repaired at committee. That was their view.

Yesterday, the member for Toronto Centre gave an eloquent speech about how important it was for legislation not fly in the face of the stakeholders affected by it. The stakeholders have to be consulted. They have to understand why it is necessary. The Government of Canada was basically imposing legislation on stakeholders, in this case the first nations of Canada, which would have an enormous impact on them and also seriously contradict a lot of the things it had earlier. There were big problems with the bill. This was two irreconcilable forces. It was not going to happen. The whole idea is we cannot force the bill through. It will not work because it is not reparable.

Some members have suggested we could send it to committee and fix it there. We have to listen to what the AFN had to say. We do not have to go to committee, have witnesses and try to identify what the problems are. It has already provided a paper, which I will give it to any member who wants it. Page by page, issue by issue, it is an extraordinary work. We cannot ignore that work. That should have been known and reviewed by the government prior to Bill C-8 being called at second reading. If the government would recognize that it is a fundamentally flawed bill and that it does not have a hope of passing, it would be in the best interests of the AFN, of Canada's aboriginal communities, to withdraw the bill, or defeat it, or hoist the bill, do anything to stop this flawed processed because it will not work. That is what should happen, but it has not. The government is insistent.

Let me quote from the minister's speech from Monday. Members will recall that we had a concurrence motion after question period, which took up most of the afternoon, so we did not get around to this until about 6:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the House was to adjourn for the day. The minister got up to speak to Bill C-8. I was astounded at what he said. The minister described a process in a bill, which is not the process I know. One of his statements was:

—the bill was developed after exhaustive study, authoritative research and comprehensive consultation with first nations groups.

Bill C-8 was not developed after exhaustive study because it bill is the same bill that we had in the last Parliament, Bill C-47. There may have been consultations on Bill C-47, but not on this bill.

As for authoritative research, there was no additional research. There was no additional work done on this. As for comprehensive consultation, there were consultations. I know the parliamentary secretary has boasted about having hundreds of meetings. There is a difference between having consultations and listening to the consultations.

In fact, members will know that the government's own consultant on the bill had many recommendations and 85% of them were rejected by the government. It has to tell us something. If 85% of the recommendations of its consultant are rejected by the government, if no first nations groups in the country support the bill and if all three opposition parties are telling the government that the bill must be defeated somehow at some stage, why is the government being so closed-minded to the realities?

I want to thank Mr. Richard Powless who raised this issue with the Ontario Liberal caucus in the hopes that we would be able to do something. I am not sure if we will be able to do enough to make the right things happen. We know we need a bill, but we need the right bill that is based on proper consultations and due respect for the laws of Canada. It is very important.

I have the resolution for Bill C-47, signed by Phil Fontaine, National Chief. It is quite long. It states:

The Ministerial Representative on Matrimonial Real Property submitted a report on March 9, 2007 and included important considerations and recommendations regarding consultation and First Nation jurisdiction;

In spite of the views of First Nations and many of the recommendations of its own Ministerial Representative, the Government drafted and introduced Bill C-47 on March 4, 2008;

I referred to this in the House. The consultant of the government made recommendations and they were ignored.

It also goes on to state:

Bill C-47 contains clauses that provide the Federal Government with control over the First Nation law making process through a “verification officer” and is therefore fundamentally inconsistent with the First Nation inherent right to self government.

I cannot think of anything more fundamental in legislation.

Let me refer to a couple of the resolutions:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that:

Chiefs-in-Assembly reject Bill C-47 and the approach taken by the Federal government as it did not fulfill the duty of the Crown to consult and to accommodate the views and interests of First Nations.

Therefore, it also rejects Bill C-8 because it is the same bill:

It goes on to say that:

Chiefs-in-Assembly demand that the Federal Government withdraw Bill C-47 and provide First Nations with resources to properly develop and implement a meaningful process that respects First Nation jurisdiction and existing First Nation processes addressing MRP.

This resolution, passed by the AFN and signed by Chief Phil Fontaine, was dated July 17, 2008. This is not new to the government.

Notwithstanding the clear statements by the AFN and the Native Women's Council, the government ignored them. In fact, the minister himself gave a 15-minute speech. The clock ran out and the minister did not come back to the House to finish his speech or to allow members to ask questions. That is significant.

I want to close the last part of my speech. Yesterday, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the AFN Women's Council, and the Assembly of First Nations published a joint release dated May 14, yesterday. This is a joint communiqué, and we have to take this into account very seriously.

It reads:

Today the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the AFN Women's Council united to express their opposition to the federal 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.

It goes on to say:

[We] all agree that Bill C-8 will do nothing to resolve or to solve the problems associated with Matrimonial Real Property (MPR) on-reserve; that the federal government failed in its duty to consult and accommodate the views of First Nations; and, as a result, the Bill is fatally flawed and cannot be fixed. It should not proceed to committee.

This goes on substantively. I would be happy to provide this to any hon. members who would like to have it. I think it is important. It is clear, concise, and correct.

As the hon. member for Toronto Centre said yesterday, how can the federal government bring forward legislation that does not respect the views and the interests of the stakeholders that will be impacted?

We cannot have this butting of heads. It has to be a respectful process. It has to be a process that acknowledges and respects the laws of Canada as they relate to aboriginals. It has to be a process with an understanding that, yes, we need a bill and the sooner we get the bill, the better. However, it has to be a good bill. Time is being wasted.

If we send the bill to committee, all we will do is have weeks of witnesses, weeks of questions on items, when in fact the work has been done already. It shows time and time again that consultations have not taken place. Where there have been recommendations from the government's consultant, the vast majority, over 85%, of them were rejected.

It is an insult to first nations, Canadians and Parliament to suggest somehow that there has been significant consultation. First nations, and in particular the Native Women's Association of Canada, which speaks for women's groups, and the women's council, which also represents women's issues through the full council of the AFN, should be taken into account. The stakeholders, those affected by the legislation, need to believe and feel they have been consulted. They need to believe their concerns and views have been respected.

When there is a rejection of any of those suggestions, the right thing to do is explain it in true, full and plain fashion. That has not happened.

For all of those reasons, my recommendation to the House is to pass the current hoist motion before us, which suggests the bill has to stop now. We need to start the process to get the right bill so we can work here and pass legislation in the best interests of first nations in Canada.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
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Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, the member for Mississauga South has once again demonstrated that the Liberals have lost total sight of the objective of the bill.

We have three Conservative members on the aboriginal affairs committee who have an extensive number of reserves in their ridings. We are not naive. The member for Kenora has about 50 first nations in his riding. My riding has about 24 reserves. The member for Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River has many reserves in his riding and has done policing on reserves.

The legislation was shared in draft form, in the same way the government was complimented yesterday in terms of the Cree-Naskapi act development, which sailed through committee.

Yesterday the Liberal Party wrote in its communiqué that Bill C-8 mandated that verification officers play an active role in the development and approval of local matrimonial real property regimes and that was a complaint of the AFN. This is wrong. The verification officers are only responsible for determining whether the community approval and ratification processes are held in accordance with the proposed legislation.

Would the hon. member care to comment on these statements?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament, I have a duty to consult as well. I did consult, and I heard what the first nations had to say. I listened. I looked at the documents, item by item, about all the ways this bill did not meet the test of good legislation.

I am not here giving my opinion. I am here, as a voice, on behalf of Mr. Powless, the first nations, and Chief Fontaine. That is their position.

The member should reconsider going after members who bring this information to the House and consider the best interests of the first nations of Canada, who are the stakeholders here.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech.

I wonder how he came to the conclusion that aboriginal women in Quebec and Canada would be satisfied to have their claims shelved. Their claims would not be acknowledged at all. If we adopt the amendment put forward by the Liberals, the committee will never examine the bill.

Aboriginal women in Quebec and Canada deserve to have their recommendations examined and acknowledged by Parliament. The only way this will happen is for the bill to be sent to committee.

I would like the member to tell me how he can think that aboriginal women in Quebec and Canada want to see their recommendations shelved.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is correct. We need to get a bill to committee to hear the witnesses and work with this. However, the point is that the AFN and the Native Women's Association of Canada, in conjunction with the AFN Women's Council, have united together to say they reject this bill because it does not work.

It is not in the best interest of aboriginal women to bring forward a bill that cannot possibly pass at committee and spend all that time debating and discussing it. The important thing is to get the bill right and get the right bill to committee so we can deliver appropriate legislation.

I understand the member's concern, but there is no way to repair this bill at committee. Once it is passed at second reading with approval in principle, substantive amendments cannot be made at committee. Therefore, this bill cannot be fixed. I understand that. The AFN understands that, and the Native Women's Association of Canada definitely understands that.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pose a question to the member about parliamentary procedure. He is knowledgeable about how that works. When we have bills we do not agree with, we need to provide a space so people can have their voice heard. I think we might be disagreeing on how to do that.

Many have said they do not agree with this bill. Sign me up; I am part of that group. However, to say we will not have an opportunity to discuss this bill is not the right way to go. I believe that women and other aboriginal representatives are very capable of going to committee. I remember very well that when we had the changes to the voting system, the hon. member's party heard from aboriginal people on changes to the voter ID. It did not listen to them. We put forward amendments. It did not listen.

I think it is an opportunity to actually hear from the aboriginal community. If the bill is not good enough, and it is a colonial attitude, and I agree with that, then we kill the bill. However, we want to open the space to let people be heard.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand what the member is saying, but he wants a bill that is going to be defeated to be the basis for discussion at committee. That makes no sense. The AFN, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the AFN Women's Council have all rejected this bill, for one reason.