Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act

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)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Chuck Strahl  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment provides a new entitlement to Indian registration in response to the decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs) that was issued by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia on April 6, 2009.

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.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this very important bill to put an end to 25 years of injustice in the case of Ms. McIvor. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill, and I gather the NDP will as well, as will all members of the House, I imagine, given the urgency of the matter. We urgently need to rectify an illegality that has been committed against aboriginal women in Canada and Quebec for more than 30 years.

I am reluctantly voting in favour of the bill because there is a problem. We have met with Quebec Native Women and Ms. Audette who organized and participated in the Amun March. We have met with the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and its Chief, Mr. Picard. We have met with a number of aboriginal individuals, including Ellen Gabriel, who was the president of Quebec Native Women. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Michelle Audette, the newly elected president of Quebec Native Women. All these aboriginal women and men are quite preoccupied by the implementation of Bill C-3.

The purpose of this bill is to correct an injustice. I do not want to get into all the details, but some things need to be said. This bill is the result of a court challenge by an aboriginal woman, as usual. It is the women who were discriminated against, who still are today and who, unfortunately, will continue to be even after Bill C-3 is passed. I will come back to that in a few minutes.

Aboriginal women have decided to stand up and ensure that an injustice is corrected once and for all. The government waited and waited for a Supreme Court ruling requiring it to rectify the situation. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case on appeal and it is therefore the ruling of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that applies. That ruling requires the Canadian government to rectify a situation that is unfair to aboriginal women in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, you chaired the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development—for too short a time, unfortunately. In reading the Indian Act, you realized that this legislation was fundamentally and completely discriminatory towards women. We must admit that when this act was implemented, the purpose was to assimilate aboriginals, period. I encourage anyone who doubts that to read a very well-written book that explains the three reports that led to the creation of the Indian Act. The book is called L'Impasse amérindienne, published by Septentrion in Quebec. Mr. Vaugeois, a renowned historian, studied the three reports, since 1878, that led to the creation of the Indian Act at the start of the 1900s. I do not want to go into too much history, but this is important. Before the implementation of the Indian Act, which aimed to warehouse—yes, I said “warehouse”—aboriginals on reserves, these aboriginals moved throughout the territory.

The reserves were created out of nothing. The aboriginal communities did not ask for them. Today, people think that the aboriginal communities asked for the creation of reserves. That is entirely untrue. The federal government fabricated the reserves entirely. We need to look at what is said in the act, but I do not want to take up too much time. Ever since the Indian Act came into force, it has had the ultimate goal of assimilating aboriginals into the majority. It could not be clearer. That is exactly what they wanted to do. That is exactly what aboriginal women fought against. They did not want anything to do with this process, because when the reserves were established, they shifted from a matriarchal situation, in which women were the elders, to assimilation. Women were hugely respected within aboriginal communities. As soon as the Indian Act came into force and the Indian reserve system was developed—I cannot stand the word “reserve”, but that that seems to be the word to use—we started to see the objective of assimilating aboriginals take shape.

How was that accomplished? It is not complicated. If we put 100 people on one square mile of land, they may get along, but if we put 1,000 there, it soon becomes impossible. That is exactly what is happening. That is precisely the problem we will have to face over the coming years when Bill C-3 is passed.

Why? Because as soon as the bill is passed the numbers we have show that in Quebec alone between 15,000 and 20,000 new people will move onto reserves. We are being told that there are between 45,000 and 50,000 across Canada, but I highly doubt that. Why am I so doubtful? Because, back in 1985—I do not want to go too far back—when the government passed Bill C-31, the Minister of Indian affairs responded to a question in the House of Commons by saying specifically that there were about 56,800 additional aboriginals. That was in 1985, not 100 years ago.

On December 31, 2000—10 years ago, and we have the numbers from 2000—more than 114,000 aboriginals were granted Indian status. Imagine what will happen with Bill C-3. That is the problem the Bloc sees. I hope that when the Minister of Indian Affairs appears before the committee, he will have more to say than that they have invested in water and housing. What I want to know, and what my colleagues want to know, is how much has been set aside for implementation of Bill C-3, which, as we know, will lead to at least 50,000 more aboriginals moving into reserves.

Let me share a specific example of what this means. In my riding, there is Timiskaming First Nation in Notre-Dame-du-Nord and Long Point First Nation in Winneway. Long Point First Nation is a settlement. They do not even have reserve status yet, but they predict that 100 additional aboriginals will come to Long Point First Nation and swell the ranks of an already exploding community.

Worse still, information that I have received in the past month suggests that over 1,000 aboriginals will join the Timiskaming First Nation in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, and this will have a considerable impact. Today, November 22, 2010, the Timiskaming first nation is already unable to meet its needs because it is facing serious challenges regarding education. Classrooms are full and it has to send students to Ontario. More importantly, however, it is not properly equipped. The government has not prepared it for the arrival of these new registrants.

Some say the impact will not be all that significant. The department wanted to reassure people, and I cannot say I blame the department. When it comes to this issue, we must avoid playing petty politics and claiming to be the best, the most caring, the most intelligent. We are on the verge of a crisis. Several aboriginal communities will face a major crisis because of the addition of these new registrants. I am not saying there will be a flood of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of new status Indians. Even if it is only 10, 20 or 30 more families, that is more than many aboriginal communities can handle, because they are not properly equipped for it.

The government is being asked to implement Bill C-3. There is no doubt the Bloc Québécois will closely follow the implementation of this bill, because it is very important for the aboriginal communities that will have to deal with the arrival of these new status Indians over the coming months and years. I know of some people who have been waiting for years to return to their communities. They should not be considered newcomers; rather, they are people who have been waiting since 1985. Ms. McIvor, the B.C. woman who fought to assert her rights all the way to the Supreme Court, has been waiting since 1985. She is now a grandmother, almost a great-grandmother. She wants her grandchildren to be recognized as status Indians.

We are trying to tell the government that it absolutely must take action to deal with the arrival of these new status aboriginals, if that is indeed the right term, because personally, I think they have always been aboriginal people, even though many lived off-reserve in big cities. Now they want to return to their communities. It is extremely important that the government be prepared to deal with this problem.

We must not, in an attempt to delay applications, establish a system as complicated as the one used to implement Bill C-31 in 1985. We must simplify this process as much as possible. I agree wholeheartedly that Indian status should not be given to those who do not have a right to it. A minimum of control must be applied. I repeat, “a minimum of control”.

We must ensure that the aboriginal people who are given status are those who have the right to it. If we think that Bill C-3 will put an end to all discrimination, we are sadly mistaken. We have just barely scratched the surface of this issue. This bill will likely mean that a minimum of 50,000 new aboriginal people will be registered, but there will be just as many remaining who are still unable to register, and other cases have already been brought before the courts. According to the most recent statistics, 19 cases related to discrimination that go further than McIvor are still pending . These cases will likely be won because they are based on the same legal argument, namely, discrimination against women.

We are of the opinion that the government should have accepted our amendments. The Chair ruled that our amendments were out of order and that there would be no more discussion. We submitted our arguments and they were rejected. We respect democracy. We submitted Bill C-3, as it was presented to the House at third reading, to Quebec Native Women and the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

Last July, at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations held in Winnipeg, there was a presentation on this bill and we were asked to vote in favour of it. Therefore, we will vote for C-3 to at least close one door so that some of the discrimination against women is eliminated.

We are dreaming in colour if we believe that Bill C-3 will put an end, once and for all, to the problems of the acceptance of aboriginal peoples in communities. That is not the case. Michèle Audet, the new president of Quebec Native Women, gave us a number of examples, and we have received letters. I will not go into the details, but there are other cases pending and there will be other debates before the courts.

If I could recommend one thing, it would be to ask the government to let aboriginal men and women who wish to register do so. It is the infamous section 6 of the Indian Act that is clearly discriminatory. I believe that section 6 maintains a form of discrimination against a segment of the population—aboriginal women and their children—that is unacceptable in 2010. For those listening, it is not complicated: an aboriginal woman who marries a white man has fewer rights than an aboriginal man who marries a white woman. That is exactly what will be perpetuated even if we adopt bill C-3.

In closing, members must try to not play politics with this bill, as was done in committee. We all agree that it must be passed quickly. The bill will pass, of course, but the main problem will be implementing it.

I call upon the government to be extremely prudent and presume that those who apply for Indian status after this bill is passed—which I maintain will not put an end to discrimination—will be acting in good faith. Nevertheless, we hope that this bill is a step in the right direction.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks and he raises a very important issue when he talks about this bill. I am not going to get into the substance of the bill at this point, but I do want to ask him about the issues of implementation that he raised, which are so important.

I would like to know what he views as an appropriate process for implementation, both in terms of identifying the individuals who would gain status, but also the issues that communities on reserve will find themselves needing, such as education, health care and water resources, all of which we know are lacking in many communities.

What should the process be that will lead to the full implementation of this bill?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg South Centre. I think that the first and most important step is acting in good faith. I believe that everyone must act in good faith. It is important to understand that real people are affected by this bill and that they have been waiting for over 25 years to have the right to be acknowledged as aboriginal people.

In my opinion, we must not erect an impenetrable and unacceptable administrative barrier that would penalize applicants and unduly delay their applications rather than help them. Some files are already ready. Thousands of files at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada are just waiting for this bill to be passed. Let us not go back to square one.

In response to my fellow member's question, I believe that it is extremely important that additional amounts be allocated in the next budget, which the government is currently planning. My greatest wish would be to put an end to the infamous 2%. Right now, the various budgets at Indian Affairs cannot be increased by more than 2%. We have to get rid of this cap, which is penalizing aboriginal people and depriving them of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Accountability does not pose a problem; aboriginal communities are ready to accept it. However, we have to be ready for the tens of thousands of new aboriginal people who will gain status. Aboriginal communities are currently not prepared to receive them.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. His riding is definitely much more connected to our first nations than is my Toronto urban riding, but I could not help but think, during his speech and other remarks, that some people tend to view this legislation as being strategic in some way, when I view it as being more like a band-aid to fix what has been identified as a legal inequality in the legislation that governs our first nations.

I and a lot of other legislators would have been a lot happier if our first nations could have had the ability to resolve these types of issues themselves, but regrettably, this century-old, anachronistic Indian Act that is now governing much of this jurisdictional envelope is so old that we can hardly work with it, nor can our first nations, who very much want to.

Given the hon. member's experience, and there are a lot of other members in the House who have this experience with first nations in their riding, does he see any possibility of this House and first nations generating a capacity that would enable them, facilitate them and empower them in the near future, and into the future, to resolve these kinds of definitional, inclusion-exclusion issues for their local first nation or across the country? Does he see that anywhere in the pipeline as a possibility in the future?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, in short, the answer is no. No, because there is a section in the Indian Act, section 6, that has unfortunately been there far too long. As long as section 6 is in place, there will always be some people who are not equal, and discrimination will persist.

Obviously, the easy solution would be to abolish section 6 right now. Then, anyone could declare that they are an aboriginal. We cannot go from one extreme to another, and I absolutely agree about that. However, we could work on getting there. Unfortunately, the governments have done nothing. I do not want to get too political here, but I have to mention, with all due respect to my Liberal colleague, that the aboriginals had to go to court. It seems as though it is always necessary to go to court to have a right recognized, or to prove that a situation is discriminatory even when it is very clear that it is. It is, and unfortunately it will continue to be, even after Bill C-3 is passed.

I agree that we should pass Bill C-3 and I agree with my colleague, but this government should find a way to abolish section 6 of the Indian Act as quickly as possible. To do so, it will have to find the means and, with all due respect, have the political will to put aboriginals on equal footing with the government for the implementation of the bill.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the bill. I am supporting Bill C-3, but I am supporting it with considerable reluctance and certainly not with much enthusiasm.

There should be no doubt that Bill C-3 moves the agenda forward on addressing gender discrimination in the status provisions of the Indian Act, but it is only one very small partial step toward full equality for aboriginal women and their descendants.

The government has brought forward these amendments as a response to and because of the efforts of Sharon McIvor of British Columbia. In my previous remarks on Bill C-3, I paid homage to the other brave aboriginal women who have fought the battle for full equality and have pushed the courts to recognize discrimination under the law and subsequently pushed Parliament to remedy the injustice. I would like to do so again today.

These women are Mary Two Axe Early, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bédard, Sandra Lovelace and, as I mentioned earlier, Sharon McIvor. Yet in acknowledging these individuals, I feel great sadness for them that the battle for full equality is falling to yet another generation of aboriginal women. We can be sure it will be the battle for aboriginal women. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination and at some point we must take it upon ourselves as parliamentarians the responsibility to fully eradicate all gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

When Bill C-31 was passed in 1985, Parliament and the government of the day knew that the residual discrimination would remain. I want to read into the record some of the comments made. It is important that we know this because 25 years later we are poised to pass a bill that also leaves residual discrimination.

In April we heard in committee from Martin Reiher of the Department of Justice. He said Bill C-31:

—is a very focused answer to the McIvor decision, given the limited time we had to develop legislation in response to the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision of April 9, 2009. There are other issues that have been raised in litigation that are not dealt with by this bill at this time. Depending on subsequent court decisions, obviously, the government might have to consider how to respond to these other decisions.

I also want to read from Sharon McIvor, an increasing hero of mine, when she said to the committee in April:

—But when the act was changed in 1985, parliamentarians knew there was residual discrimination. [Former Minister] Crombie's records show that they understood that some of us would still suffer from the residual discrimination....yet they forced someone like me to take it through the courts and have the courts decide that it was discriminatory....I am here today to ask you, to plead with you, to include all of those women and their descendants who are discriminated against, not just the narrow view that the B.C. Court of Appeal addressed. As parliamentarians you know that the court does not draft legislation. They just put it back into your lap so you can do what is right.

A final quote from April that I will cite is from Gwen Brodsky, who is counsel to Ms. McIvor. She said:

—the 1985 act was--failed remedial legislation. Bill C-3 is a set-up for yet another instance of failed remedial legislation, for disappointment to aboriginal women and their descendants, who have been waiting for a long, long time for Parliament to do the right thing. That must be dealt with immediately.

Earlier this year the Liberal Party tried to end the cycle and address all the remaining residual discrimination in the Indian Act's provisions concerning entitlement to status. When Bill C-3 came before the aboriginal affairs committee, we introduced amendments that would have granted descendants of status Indian women born prior to April 17, 1985, full status under the Indian Act, exactly what had also been given to the descendants of status Indian men.

These amendments, although passed by committee through the unanimous support of the opposition parties, were ruled inadmissible by the Speaker after Bill C-3 was returned to the House.

We need a comprehensive legislative remedy. The amendments were ruled out of order as being beyond the scope of Bill C-3, which reads “provides a new entitlement to Indian registration in response to the decision in McIvor v. Canada”.

Again, I want to emphasize what others have said about the need for a comprehensive remedy.

Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said in April at committee:

With respect to discrimination in any form, I do not agree with it whatsoever. I believe that it would be the position of any reasonable person, as you say, to eradicate discrimination wherever and whenever possible in today's age.

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said again this year that if all discrimination was eliminated:

—then I would think that as aboriginal women, as an aboriginal women's organization, maybe part of our work would be done. We could move on to other things. But that would be really good to see if it took place in the very near while.

One last quote, although I have many comments, is by Betty Ann Lavellée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In April of this year she said:

—I want to see any and all forms of discrimination end once and for all, so that our children are not having this same discussion 25 or 35 years from now.

It is unfortunate that the government chose to write Bill C-3 in a way that responds solely to the narrow reading of the B.C. Court of Appeal in the McIvor case without providing the option to Parliament to address further residual discrimination through the legislation.

This regrettable choice has forced all stakeholders and opposition parties to make an extremely difficult choice regarding Bill C-3. How can we say no to equality for some when saying no means equality for none? What we can do, and we have tried, is to improve the bill, but as I will try and explain, the government has made this impossible.

I would like to remind the House that the B.C. Court of Appeal was only able to rule on the gender discrimination in the Indian Act experienced by Sharon McIvor and her son. That was the case before the court, not the full gamut of gender discrimination under the act.

While the court acknowledged that other types of discrimination most likely existed, its decision in the McIvor case could not apply a remedy to those issues as well. Therefore, the court ruled narrowly in favour of McIvor and left it to those of us in Parliament to craft a more fulsome response. Let me repeat, it was the government that then decided what this response would look like.

The government could have chosen to provide a legislative remedy to the McIvor situation, while also leaving the door open for Parliament to expand the legislation through amendments in order to get rid of the residual discrimination. If it had conducted a fulsome consultation with aboriginal leadership, aboriginal women, women's groups and communities, it would have heard a resounding desire to end the discrimination once and for all. That is certainly what we heard at committee. Instead, Bill C-3 was introduced without any real consultation and in a matter that meant all amendments would be out of order.

This is how Bill C-3 came to be, a bill that takes one more step in the long and arduous battle for full equality for aboriginal women, a bill that would extend status to approximately 45,000 aboriginal women and their descendants, but a bill that will leave the fight for full equality once again yet to another generation. Very soon we will be voting on Bill C-3, but at some point, as parliamentarians must decide when we are going to right this wrong.

We are now faced with Sharon McIvor taking her case off to the UN. Sharon announced that she would file a complaint against Canada at the United Nations. She has contended that Canada continues to discriminate against aboriginal women and their descendants in the determination of eligibility for registration as an Indian.

As she said, in taking this case forward:

I contested this discrimination under the charter. It took 20 years in Canadian courts, and I achieved only partial success. Now I will seek full justice for Aboriginal women under international human rights law. Canada needs to be held to account for its intransigence in refusing to completely eliminate sex discrimination from the Indian Act and for decades of delay.

She went on to say:

Because neither Canadian courts nor Parliament have yet granted an adequate and effective remedy for the sex discrimination which has been a hallmark of the Indian Act for more than a hundred years, I will take my case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

I would contend that it is unfortunate and, perhaps some might describe, shameful that this case has yet to go to the UN human rights committee. It will undoubtedly result in a further rebuke to Canada in the international arena, something our country and the government does not need.

As I said at the beginning, I am supporting the bill. I am doing it with reluctance, not with much enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing it move through Parliament.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very curious. In the member's opinion, what is standing in the way of a comprehensive solution to this alleged and apparently real discrimination? Is it a lack of courage? Are there some obstacles contained in the reality of first nations life across the country? Is there some other legal impediment? Why could the government not have proposed and consulted on a more comprehensive solution that would have addressed Ms. McIvor's concerns and the concerns of so many others?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague identified some of the factors. Perhaps it is courage, perhaps it is the circumstances within which aboriginal communities find themselves. There are many larger issues that have to be dealt with, such as issues of what constitutes citizenship. What is really required, when dealing with a bill of this sort, is a full and meaningful consultation with aboriginal peoples, aboriginal women's groups and coming up with a comprehensive plan, both in terms of the legislation and, as my colleague said previously, an implementation plan.

I do not know whether there was a real will to undertake something of this sort, but there is a need for a comprehensive consultation process to make this happen.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, my colleague, the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, since coming to the House 10 years ago, has been a champion and an advocate on a great number of issues, certainly none more so than the rights of first nations women. It is an issue she continues to drive within caucus and in the chamber as well.

I was not in the House for the first part of the member's speech. Out of the ruling, I understood fully that this had been tied up for a great number of years. What has the response been on Bill C-3? Has Ms. McIvor had an opportunity to testify before the committee? What was her impression of the legislation being presented by the government?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, yes, indeed, Sharon McIvor has had an opportunity to testify before the committee. I would say that by virtue of the fact she is taking her appeal on to the United Nations, it shows her commitment to the issue. It has been a considerable cost to her not only financially but personally.

She is profoundly disappointed in the fact that the amendment put forward in committee has been overruled by the House and that there has been no further action by the government in bringing forward broader legislation. She has had a 20-year battle to get to this stage and I do not think she would wish it on another generation to have to carry on the battle, which has been at considerable cost to herself and others around her. It has been arduous, it has been hard work and it has been emotionally wrenching. She wants more for her children and her children's children.

I would say that, on balance, she has been profoundly disappointed by what Parliament has chosen to do.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on this particular legislation.

While there is not any major overt controversy on the floor of the House at this time, there clearly appears to be a huge residue of discomfort out there in the real world among our first nations with this legislation and its failure to go a further distance in resolving some of these unresolved issues of equality, in particular gender equality among our first nations.

The legislation deals with the issue, at least on the margins, of who is and who is not a member of a registered Indian band. That has a whole lot to do with the lives of a whole lot of people.

The legal fact of whether or not one is or is not part of a band can affect a person's life hugely in many of our first nations localities. It is not just simply whether one is a member as in whether or not one is a member of the Rotary Club, it has to do with whether one is actually a member of a band, a living organism of people, a group who have a cultural, historic and an existing and dynamic presence in many of the parts of our country today.

This, of course, does not include most of our large cities but as we right these definitions about who is and who is not registered or registerable we are actually dealing with a huge bundle of rights and obligations of these persons as a class.

That, as I said, can have a whole lot to do with what that person is, how that person carries on his or her life, and in this particular set of circumstances that this legislation is intending to cover the court has accepted the allegation that the current definition is discriminatory. In fact, I have not heard anyone say that this is not the case. In fact, I am hearing members say that there is existing and additional discrimination that will continue even if this legislation is passed.

I can only ask the question, why we could not have tried to take a little more time and developed some legislative amendments that would be more comprehensive, more targeted, and hopefully fully address the issue of this legal or illegal inequality.

I know there are probably first nations women out there who would say, “You really ought to do that”, and it seems to me if we were really showing leadership the government through the Department of Justice could have proposed that the government go back to the courts, go back to the litigants in this case and propose a time sequence for consultation, even if it did involve a year--it has already been way over a year--or two or three and get the parties to agree that this was an opportunity for such consultation with some deadlines and attempt to bring on legislation that would fully resolve this bundle of equality issues.

That did not happen and most of my colleagues in my party, if not all who are very active on behalf of constituencies that have first nations communities, are disappointed with that.

Is there a resolution in this bill? No. I understand there were amendments proposed at committee. They were found to be out of order. I know that all of us in the House would be very pleased if there were a scenario that had the first nations somehow coming together with a resolution for us.

I and many of our colleagues in the House have accepted that it is preferable for us in the House not to make law for our first nations, involving first nations matters.

It is much preferable that our first nations manage their own affairs; albeit, under the aegis of our Canadian Constitution and legal framework. I think by now most of our first nations accept that. However, I as a legislator, many times, have had to note the fact that some of our first nation citizens resent this House, our federal institutions, purporting and actually legislating and making policy decisions with respect to first nations when those people who are governed by those laws and policies would prefer very much to make those decisions themselves.

I think over time the policies of the federal government are leaning in that direction of empowering our first nations to do more and more of their own governance. They do much of it now. However, the remaining bits and pieces in the Indian Act still make it a responsibility of this House, of the federal government, of the federal jurisdiction. I guess the buck stops here in Parliament or in Ottawa. If there has to be legislation, if there has to be a policy decision made and there is not a consensus among our first nation communities on how it should be done, then those decisions have to be made.

I recall approximately 15 years ago, at one of our committees, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, where a particular regulation under the Indian health regulations was found to be unconstitutional. The particular regulation authorized, empowered, federal officials working in the health envelope, where there was a contagious disease found on a first nation's land, to enter into any building, any place, and remove the people and actually destroy the building.

Thinking from the present, it is almost unbelievable that we would have a regulation that would empower somebody to do that, keeping in mind that one of these buildings, one of these places, could have been a dwelling house.

In some ways I suppose we could plead that history has allowed this to happen. Over 200 years ago many of our first nations did not have permanent settlements. They moved from place to place. While that was a very good way of interrelating with the land and was quite sustainable, they tell me, most of our first nations now are permanently settled. This particular regulation allowed federal officials, for health purposes, to go in and just take the people out. They did not need a judicial warrant. They did not need anybody to sign anything. They would just go in and take the people out and get rid of the building. That regulation was actually on the books.

This particular committee, in doing its work on behalf of Parliament, noted this and asked the government to remove the regulation. My recollection is that the committee had to move to a disallowance. It was the committee itself that brought the matter to the House. I believe there was an order from the House to revoke the regulation, and that happened.

Subsequent to that, I am presuming that the government would have re-enacted other regulations to try to deal with those types of situations, but nothing so egregious as to allow federal officials to go in and physically remove people and destroy a building.

That was 15 or 20 years ago. It was also near the beginning of a time in our history where we began consulting much more meaningfully with our first nations.

That has a nice ring to it, but our first nations are not one big happy family in one place. They are spread out across the entire country, from one ocean to the other, to the other. So it is not easy for government to accomplish a comprehensive consultation.

Our first nations are usually willing to engage in those consultations, but the whole concept of consultation has been neglected somewhat in the last number of decades and there is a big distance that we have to go.

As we move to the present, we have the B.C. Court of Appeal decision that determined that the provisions of the Indian Act were unconstitutional because of gender discrimination. When those things happen, it gets sent down the street, and in this case to Ottawa to fix and we had a certain amount of time to do it. This legislation is the result. As I said before, I regret that it is not more comprehensive.

As one legislator out of the 300 or so in this place, and I am probably joining with others, I am prepared to support this bill somewhat reluctantly.

One, it is not comprehensive. It does not deal with the full range of the alleged discrimination. It is alleged and I think accepted, but it does not deal with it.

Two, because of the shortness of time, which I do not think we tried to alter, we did not engage in any meaningful consultation. As a result, we do not have a product that we are proud of that does comply with the court decision. The Department of Justice tells us this.

Therefore, I am prepared to vote in favour of it on that basis. I just hope that in the months and years to come we will find a way, not managed by this House but by the government, to consult meaningfully with our first nations to preempt problems such as this and empower our first nations to deal with these types of issues in the way they should.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's intervention on this particular piece of legislation.

With speaker after speaker, I think there is a common thread: the fact that the government has taken a court ruling and designed legislation not to improve the overall situation that first nations women find themselves in, but trying to focus on compliance with the court ruling and doing the absolute minimum. I think we have heard that through the presentations here today and I understand that was the thrust of the witnesses' presentations received through committee.

Does my colleague see that as an injustice? Does he see this as an opportunity missed on the part of the government, by just doing the absolute minimum to address the outcome of that court ruling?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this legislation is the minimum and the government, either because it could not or, in ways that have not been explained here, did not want to look for additional time.

There was an event around the year 2000. It was a court decision called Feeney. The Supreme Court of Canada had disallowed an area of criminal law that involved search warrants and the ability of police in hot pursuit to enter a dwelling house. The court disallowed the provision and said that Parliament had six months to fix it and son of a gun if Parliament did not go into an election. Therefore, the Department of Justice and parties had to go back to the Supreme Court and say that they could not fix it because Parliament was in an election. That added another six months. Then when Parliament came back, we had to get the legislation passed through the House and the other place.

However, the point I am making is that, with leadership and determination, it is possible for the government to go to the court and say that it can do a better job on this, that it can hit a home run if it has a reasonable amount of time. If the parties to the litigation, the government and the court that made the decision did get together on this, in a sense, this could have been done.

In many ways, what I have just described paints a picture of an opportunity being missed here. If the court can expand six months to two years in the Feeney Supreme Court case, I do not see why we could not have bargained for a bit more time in the McIvor case, and done a better job in this resolution.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 12:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to 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).

The Bloc Québécois had indicated its support for studying Bill C-3 in committee. Since the bill would allow people who suffered discrimination because of Bill C-31 passed in 1985 to reconnect with their origins, we felt it deserved further study. As I just mentioned, Bill C-3 would repair the injustices created by Bill C-31 some 25 years ago. In other words, the federal government waited a quarter of a century to repair the injustices it had created itself. Even then, it had to be forced by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruling in the McIvor case. Thus we cannot talk about Bill C-3 without recalling how this aboriginal mother had to fight to have her rights and those of her children recognized. Sharon McIvor kept up her fight for many long years. Without her and her struggle, we would not be discussing this bill here today in the House.

To understand the implications of Bill C-3, we need to turn back the clock just a bit. Injustices against aboriginal women are nothing new. In 1876, the Indian Act stipulated that an aboriginal woman lost her rights and stopped being an Indian under the act if she married a non-aboriginal man. Obviously, an aboriginal man who married a non-aboriginal woman did not lose his Indian status. Aboriginal women have experienced a great deal of discrimination with regard to their race, gender and marital status. The Indian Act has contributed to marginalizing women and diminishing their social and political role in the communities. Since this legislation has a direct impact on lineage, the children of these women have also been discriminated against.

In 1951, the Indian Act was amended, but again, a woman who married a non-Indian could not be registered in the new federal register of status Indians and therefore could not enjoy the rights that such status entailed. In 1985, following changes to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Bill C-31 was introduced to close the loophole in the Indian Act, but women's children still did not have the same rights as men's children.

Those who are paying close attention will have noticed that more than 100 years after the Indian Act was created, the rights of aboriginal women's children were still not guaranteed. It would take another 25 years for the federal government to introduce a bill to recognize the Indian status of people who had been discriminated against in the past. Were it not for Ms. McIvor's legal journey, the government might never have introduced Bill C-3, which we are discussing today, as a response to this discrimination. Many will say that this bill does not go far enough.

One such person is Michèle Taina Audette, another mother and a representative of the AMUN March, whose battle continues. I will read an excerpt from her testimony at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development:

In my opinion, Bill C-3...merely complies with the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in McIvor v. Canada...[and] the department is using this bill to do as little as possible about the problem...there may be serious problems as a result in the short, medium and long terms...Let us put an end, once and for all, to the discrimination that has existed for too long a time already...Aboriginal women continue to be victims of discrimination based on gender....

Bill C-3 would recognize the Indian status of people who have so far not been recognized as Indian and could therefore not benefit from the rights enjoyed by status Indians, such as the right to live on a reserve and to vote in band council elections.

Bill C-3, which was introduced thanks to Sharon McIvor's efforts, corrects these injustices, but it does not go far enough, because it allows certain other injustices to persist. That is why the Bloc Québécois proposed several amendments, all of which were deemed inadmissible.

People will have no trouble understanding that the Bloc Québécois believes strongly in nation-to-nation negotiation. That is why we have always consulted with our aboriginal partners in Quebec when preparing to vote on bills that affect them.

This time is no exception. The Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women were among those who felt that Bill C-3 failed to correct certain injustices, so that is why we initially decided to vote against the bill.

Sleeping on issues like this helps, and so does thinking about it over the summer. This summer, members of various Quebec aboriginal groups and associations discussed this matter at length. They decided that it would be better to accept the federal government's offer, so they asked us to apply a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” philosophy. The Bloc Québécois will therefore vote in favour of Bill C-3. I think this is a good time to share the words of Ellen Gabriel. Here is what she told the committee:

...for membership, you have to be a status Indian. That doesn't necessarily mean that if you have status, you have membership. That's been the problem for a lot of indigenous women who regained their status in 1985 but who are not allowed to live in their communities, to be buried in their communities, or to own land that their parents give to them... If this bill is going to be passed...then we need some guarantees that band councils will also respect it.

Ellen Gabriel is the president of Quebec Native Women.

I must stress that the federal government promised to establish an exploratory process. It committed to working with aboriginal organizations to establish an “inclusive process for the purpose of information gathering and the identification of the broader issues for discussion surrounding Indian registration, band membership and First Nations citizenship.” The government's intention is not very clear, and neither are the objectives of this exercise. Will it be a proper consultation, for the purpose of amending the Indian Act to bring it into line with the expectations of aboriginals? Will the issue of registration, band membership and citizenship be resolved? This exploratory process will take place before the implementation of Bill C-21, which would repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and which would apply to reserves as of June 2011. So it is important to use these consultations to identify the problems with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to the Indian register.

Another problem with the enforcement of Bill C-3 is that the federal government did not do its homework and has not estimated the cost of adding people to the Indian register. The Bloc Québécois does think that we should register new Indians, but not at the expense of those who are already registered. In other words, the federal government will have to increase funding for first nations to ensure that the needs of new registered Indians are met, while still meeting the needs of those who are already registered.

In conclusion, I want to remind all members in this House that they have a duty to ensure justice and fairness for aboriginal women and their children, and I urge members to support Bill C-3. I would also like to remind the federal government that, although it stated its intention in the latest throne speech, it has still not endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is shameful.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act
Government Orders

October 26th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague suggested, a number of women are still disenfranchised by the bill. Perhaps there will be 45,000 extra people who have status and, as he rightfully said, they will have to be funded either through the department's programs or those programs devolved to aboriginal governments or organizations. But why does he think the government introduced a bill in which only 45,000 were included, of perhaps the 200,000 people who are still discriminated against by the Indian Act? Why are so many people left out and only a small portion of the people included in this bill when it could have fixed the entire problem?