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 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

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 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

  • June 11, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • June 11, 2013 Failed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “the House decline to give third reading to Bill S-2, 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, because it: ( a) is primarily a Bill about the division of property on reserve but the Standing Committee on the Status of Women did not focus on this primary purpose during its deliberations; ( b) fails to implement the ministerial representative recommendation for a collaborative approach to development and implementing legislation; ( c) does not recognize First Nations jurisdiction or provide the resources necessary to implement this law; ( d) fails to provide alternative dispute resolution mechanisms at the community level; ( e) does not provide access to justice, especially in remote communities; ( f) does not deal with the need for non-legislative measures to reduce violence against Aboriginal women; ( g) makes provincial court judges responsible for adjudicating land codes for which they have had no training or experience in dealing with; and ( h) does not address underlying issues, such as access to housing and economic security that underlie the problems on-reserve in dividing matrimonial property.”.
  • June 4, 2013 Passed That, in relation to Bill S-2, 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, not more than five further hours shall be allotted to the consideration of the third reading stage of the Bill; and that, at the expiry of the five hours provided for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
  • May 27, 2013 Passed That Bill S-2, 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, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
  • April 17, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
  • April 17, 2013 Passed That this question be now put.
  • April 17, 2013 Passed That, in relation to Bill S-2, 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, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill S-2, family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act.

Currently men, women and children living on the majority of on-reserve communities have no legal rights or protections in relation to the family home. In situations of family violence, for decades women have been victimized and kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go.

Statistics show that aboriginal women are almost three times more likely than other Canadian women to experience violent crime, including spousal violence. According to the 2009 general social survey, approximately 15% of aboriginal women in a marriage or with a common-law partner reported that they had experienced spousal violence in the previous five years. Of those who had been victimized, 58% reported that they had sustained an injury, compared to 41% of non-aboriginal women. Further, 48% reported that they had been sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a knife or a gun, and 52% reported that they feared for their lives.

This is why Bill S-2 is so important. It will help to mitigate occasions of domestic violence on reserve by providing for emergency protection orders and exclusive occupation orders.

Currently, individuals living on reserve cannot go to court to seek exclusive occupation of the family home or apply for emergency protection orders while living in a family home on reserve in the event of a relationship breakdown or the death of a spouse or common-law partner.

Bill S-2 extends this basic protection to individuals living on reserve. In situations of family violence, a spouse can now apply for an emergency order to stay in the family home, at the exclusion of the other spouse, for a period of up to 90 days with the possibility for extension. These orders may be granted upon a hearing or an application to vary the original order at the judge's discretion.

An emergency protection order is quick, follows a simple process and is recognized by child and family justice advocates as being one of the most significant means of preventing family violence. Violations of these orders can result in fines or jail time. We know that emergency protection orders are invaluable tools in efforts to end family abuse and violence. Each year, hundreds of Canadians, most of them women who are victims of spousal abuse, petition courts to acquire these orders and access the legal protection that they can afford.

Police who are authorized by the courts to enforce the orders typically represent an effective line of defence for victims of family violence. As it stands today, residents of most first nation communities cannot access these tools. I say “most”, because a handful of first nations have established and enforce laws in this area through authorities acquired in self-government agreements or through the First Nations Land Management Act. Nevertheless, the vast majority of on-reserve couples cannot access these orders because no court has the legal authority to issue them.

Bill S-2 would change this. For every other region in Canada, other than on reserve, family law is the domain of the provinces and territories. Legislation exists in most provinces and territories that deal specifically with violence and intimate relationships. Although the names of these laws, along with the specific legal instruments that they include vary from one jurisdiction to another, they all provide powerful forms of protection to victims of spousal abuse and violence.

In general, the laws authorize two types of protection orders: short-term and long-term. These orders, sometimes known as an intervention, prevention or victim assistance orders, can be obtained 24 hours a day, by telephone or appointment, from a trained justice of the peace. In many cases a police officer or a victim services worker can apply for the orders on behalf of the victim.

To me, the absence of legal protection on reserve is simply unacceptable. We have tolerated a legally sanctioned form of discrimination in Canada, for women and children and other victims, for far too long. It is one that has claimed and continues to claim victims. Bill S-2 will change this.

In order to understand the value of these orders, it is crucial to appreciate the larger context. An act of domestic abuse, such as a husband beating his wife, may be an isolated incident, but it is also part of a relationship's larger dynamic.

Domestic abuse is often a gradual and incremental process, and the frequency and seriousness of the violence tends to escalate slowly over the years, even decades. In many cases, abusers express deep remorse and promise to change, and then go on to break these promises.

For the victims of violence, it can take years to recognize that the violence will never stop and that the relationship is poisonous, dangerous and unsalvageable. Until victims come to this conclusion, though, they often cannot conceive of acting decisively by leaving the family home or by securing a court order to banish the abusive spouse.

The victims' long-term experience leads to the erosion of self-confidence, making it even more difficult to believe that they deserve better treatment, that they can find the courage to leave and that they can manage on their own.

Exclusive occupation and emergency protection orders provide the separation victims often need to heal and to make a new start. It is regrettable that the need for these orders remains so strong in 2013. Part of the reason for this sad reality lies in the history of how our society and legal system address relationships between spouses. As my hon. colleagues recognize, the law has not always protected the rights of women as it does today.

Of course, we all recognize that our laws have evolved dramatically over the years to reflect the needs and aspirations of Canadians, but the legacy of the past shapes our current circumstance. There was a time when Canadian women had few options in life. Living as independent citizens was virtually impossible, employment options were extremely limited and few of the jobs that were open to women paid a living wage. The vast majority of women married, and most went on to have children and to enjoy happy, fulfilled lives.

Women were assigned a specific role in society, were expected to fulfill this particular role and were respected for it. The laws at the time reflected this social norm. As norms have changed in recent generations, we have done much to eliminate outdated laws and attitudes. Bill S-2 would take us one large step further along this road.

Part of the legislation now before us addresses the link between spousal violence and matrimonial rights and interests. Over time, the laws governing matrimonial rights and interests have evolved to reflect new social norms. Yet, this type of evolution typically occurs in fits and starts, and the law usually lags behind progress in societal attitudes. This is because the impetus to amend the law often comes only from incidents and trends that the public considers repugnant; such as husbands being able to beat their wives with impunity.

Today, of course, Canadian attitudes about violence against women have changed dramatically. Violence against women is no longer socially acceptable, and the law reflects these attitudes to a large extent. This is why family law includes instruments such as emergency protection and exclusive occupation orders. These orders are designed specifically to address spousal violence and to complement the protections provided by the Criminal Code.

However, the authority for these orders exists only under provincial or territorial law. The Supreme Court ruled that these laws do not apply on first nation reserves. Bill S-2 proposes to fill this unacceptable gap and to help prevent the harsh reality experienced by so many victims.

Under Bill S-2, a spouse or a common-law partner residing on reserve could apply to a judge or justice of the peace for an emergency protection order. The order, enforceable by police, would exclude the spouse or common-law partner from the family home for a period of up to 90 days. The order may be extended once, for a period of time determined by a judge. Orders issued by a justice of the peace or a provincial court judge must be reviewed by the superior court as soon as possible.

The federal regime would authorize applications submitted by telephone or email to ensure that people living in remote communities could access the orders. The regime would also authorize a police officer or another appropriate person to apply on behalf of a spouse or a common-law partner. This provision would enable people who face dangerously unpredictable spouses or common-law partners to secure orders without exposing themselves to undue risk.

The regime would also enable people to apply for exclusive occupation orders, which could provide longer-term protection.

Exclusive occupation and emergency protection orders are only one part of the protection that Bill S-2 would provide. It would provide stability for women and their children, through continued access to the family home; continued connection to the community and extended family; access to services, children's programs and education facilities within the community; and the equitable distribution of marital real property assets. In addition, it would improve the ability of first nations to meet the specific needs within their communities.

A little more than 30 years ago, the members of this House laughed when one of their hon. colleagues raised the issue of violence against women and suggested that new laws were needed. The laughter caused a public outcry and inspired a host of changes, including legislation. Today, violence against women is widely recognized as a scourge.

Statistics Canada research indicates that aboriginal women are more likely than non-aboriginal women to suffer severe injuries, such as broken bones, inflicted by a violent spouse. Today, we have an opportunity to help eliminate a factor that contributes to this violence.

Canada has made substantial progress in the issue of violence against women, but much more remains to be done. While the factors that contribute to the issue are manifold and complex, there can be no doubt that emergency protection and exclusive occupation orders are effective, both as deterrents and as defensive mechanisms.

Today, we are seeking to eliminate a human rights issue. Through Bill S-2, we would finally be extending the same basic rights and protections to aboriginal women as all other Canadians currently enjoy.

I urge the opposition to stop denying aboriginal women equal rights and to vote in favour of this legislation.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:25 a.m.
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NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question about her speech.

This is the fourth version of this bill. Were first nations involved so that their needs were made known, their concerns were heard and those needs and concerns were incorporated into this bill?

Can the Conservative member explain how this bill fulfills the needs that were expressed during meaningful consultations with first nations?

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the witnesses, Rolanda Manitowabi, said at committee that if this bill were in place, there would have been an option. In a situation where there is domestic violence or abusive behaviour, there are no choices. When she was thrown out of her home, she had no place to go; that was her home. To this day, she continues to pay for that home. If this bill had been in place, it would have given her an option for some place to go with her children.

This victim came to our standing committee and told us a horrible story of how, for years, not only was she thrown out of her home with her children but she was also thrown out of her community. Due to family violence and the breakdown of her marital situation, she and her children had no place to go. Bill S-2 would address this.

As the member opposite knows, this bill has been debated a fair amount. There were 172 consultations across this country. This government spent some $4 million on consultations with groups. The Manitoba Legislative Assembly sent us a resolution, and it completely supports the bill. This has certainly been discussed, and consultations have occurred; we have heard of real-life situations in which this bill could help these women.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:25 a.m.
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Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's speech and the work she has been doing on the standing committee to work through this piece of legislation.

What is interesting is that, last Thursday at the special committee for missing and murdered aboriginal women, we had a chance to hear first-hand about an aboriginal woman's experience. What I have been most consumed with or have grappled with at great lengths in this piece of legislation in particular is the emergency protection order and the priority occupation, which the member just referred to in her response to the question by the member opposite.

I wonder if the member could expound a bit more on how that could definitely make a difference in a situation where there has been an unfortunate situation in the home that has resulted in domestic violence, so that the courts, the judge or the police officers would have the opportunity to ensure that the woman and her children stay in the house, as opposed to their having to move out, which is very problematic if not troubling, as I have seen first-hand in first nations communities.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I worked in the downtown east side of Vancouver some 20-odd years ago. It was heartbreaking to see women arrive with garbage bags of clothing, their children in tow, not having had a meal and with nowhere to go. That is because for 25 years there has been a gap in legislation, as has been pointed out by the Human Rights Commission. For 25 years this bill did not exist, which has impacted hundreds, thousands, of women across this country. Previous speakers have spoken about the statistics and the horrifying impact this has had on women and their children across Canada.

I would like to quote from Jennifer Courchene, who is also a member of the first nations in Manitoba. She came to the standing committee as well and told her heartbreaking story. She said that she and her children became homeless after her abusive partner forced them out of their home.

She stated:

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has gone through this in a first nation community. There are probably many, many other women who have gone through what I've gone through, and the story is pretty much the same: the woman loses the home. I'm not sure how other first nations communities are run, but if there had been something to help us, we would have taken it, rather than be homeless, that's for sure.

The acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission came to committee as well. He said the situation was urgent. I asked him what exactly he meant by “urgent”.

It has been 25 years. The opposition has been vehemently opposing this legislation to grant these rights and protection for these women and children for more than 25 years. I ask the opposition members how much longer they will oppose this for these hundreds and thousands of women who have been in the streets. I not only ask but beg them to vote with us on this legislation.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-2 puts the onus on couples to resolve disputes in court, yet it does not improve access to provincial courts. In addition, it is difficult for the bill to be enforced, in a practical sense, in many first nations communities. It is unrealistic.

Instead of presenting first nations with a bill that is ineffective, will the Conservatives commit to supporting the implementation of remedies within first nations communities that would stem from their own legal traditions?

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, that would be like saying that human beings cannot fly in an airplane. Just because things are sometimes difficult, it does not mean they are not the right thing to do, nor are they insurmountable.

We have built into Bill S-2 all kinds of abilities with respect to technology, as well as funding a centre, which would help first nations across Canada devise their own laws and devise how they would implement this within their own communities across Canada. With this new convention centre as well as the ability to phone, email or talk to a peace officer, certainly the access points for an order would be there, through Bill S-2.

In addition, I do not believe that this Parliament, in righting a wrong, should hang on the fact that it is difficult. The government and this country have overcome many other difficulties and we are confident that this is a good bill, a necessary bill and an urgent bill.

Again, I would urge the member opposite to vote with us on protecting women and children on reserve.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not doubt for one moment the intention my friend from Vancouver South brings to this is to right a wrong.

My problem is that I have looked at the briefs and talked to women in first nations communities who do not think the bill would accomplish its end, and they see significant problems.

Because she is not on the floor of the House to say this, my friend Ellen Gabriel from Kanesatake in her brief said that the areas of concern for the bill, the problems, include, one, the incorrect assumption that the bill was accompanied by a consultation process. She was clear that it was not. Two, the lack of inclusion of the Constitution Act that protects and affirms inherent treaty rights of aboriginal peoples; three, the lack of resources for communities' implementation of the bill and problems with potential court orders; four, non-legislative matters and lack of access to justice; five, financial burdens placed on women who pursue these issues and are reliant on their spouses; and six, jurisdictional issues of provincial, federal, common law, civil law and indigenous customary laws.

Native women's associations of this country are not supporting the bill, and I ask my hon. friend from Vancouver South if we cannot step back and ensure that any bill we pass can work.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am indeed shocked that someone of the member's stature, being a lawyer herself, does not recognize the fact that we need to start somewhere. By starting somewhere, we need to have the legislative framework to do so.

My short answer is, without the bill, women and children have no rights on their reserve. There is nowhere to start in terms of any of these programs and services.

The hon. member knows that consultation has occurred extensively across this country.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who will be taking the second half of the speech on Bill S-2.

I was deeply disturbed last night by the aggressive, attacking tone of the government on the bill. What we heard last night from speakers, and we are hearing a bit of that today, are very aggressive attacks from the government.

I certainly understand that the government feels it is in a weak position. The Conservatives brought forward Bill S-2 for consultation. They actually tried yesterday to say that they consulted with groups like the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada. They talked about the consultation process as something meaningful. None of them, not a single Conservative member of Parliament who spoke on this issue last night, and we have not heard any this morning, acknowledged that those organizations opposed the bill. In the consultation process that supposedly took place, the government was met with opposition from aboriginal women's groups from across the country.

There is something profoundly disturbing about government members who would stand in the House and say that they have done some kind of consultation when the organizations that they consulted with have said that the bill would not get the job done and, in many respects, the bill would actually be harmful.

The aggressive tone of government members has done nothing to allay the many concerns that we are hearing from first nations, aboriginal women's groups and aboriginal groups across the country. The reality is, the aggressive tone belies what the government's agenda has been when it comes to first nations. We have seen it cut back on funding for the aboriginal police forces that should be ensuring that women are protected on reserve across the country. It slashed and closed the First Nations Statistical Institute that gave us important information about what was happening right across the country. It closed down the National Centre for First Nations Governance.

The Conservative government has a lamentably poor record when it comes to adequately funding of first nations organizations. It is making first nations and aboriginal peoples in Canada pay the price of the Conservative agenda of bestowing billions of dollars on its pet projects, whether it is the F-35 or many others that we have spoken of over the last few days. It is aboriginal Canadians who are paying the price for the government's mean-spirited attitude toward first nations across the country and indeed toward all Canadians.

The government stands in the House and says it has slashed funding and would not provide any funding for Bill S-2. Yet any aboriginal women's organizations that raise concerns, any opposition members of Parliament who raise concerns, are treated with an aggressive and attacking tone. We simply beg to disagree. This is a fundamentally wrong approach.

There is a duty to consult by the government and it did not consult in any meaningful way. Aboriginal organizations across the country are opposing Bill S-2.

Aboriginal organizations and aboriginal women's organizations are on one side saying the bill should be opposed. The government says it knows better, it will try to ram it through with closure and takes a very aggressive attacking tone with anyone who raises any of the very valid concerns that aboriginal organizations, aboriginal women's organizations and first nations have raised across the country.

The question then is, who has credibility? It is worth reading into the record what the Conservative government's record is. It has closed a wide variety of first nations organizations doing important work. It actually shut down the statistical institute that allowed all Canadians to understand the current situation of first nations. After seven years in power, here are the results: a quarter of first nations' children live in poverty. That is double the national average.

Suicide rates among first nations youth are five to seven times higher than rates among young non-aboriginal Canadians. Life expectancy of first nations citizens is five to seven years shorter than that of non-aboriginal Canadians. Infant mortality rates are 1.5 times higher among first nations. Tuberculosis rates among first nations citizens living on reserve are 31 times the national average.

A first nations youth is more likely to end up in jail than to graduate from high school. First nations children, on average, receive 22% less funding for child welfare services than other Canadian children. There are almost 600 unresolved cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

The Conservative government's record is appalling. It has not taken action on any of these issues. Last year, we saw our former leader, the member for Hull—Aylmer, go with the member for Timmins—James Bay to Attawapiskat, where they saw appalling housing conditions.

In the same way that the government is attacking members of the opposition, it told aboriginal women's groups and aboriginal groups in first nations across the country on Bill S-2 that if they dared to disagree, it would attack them. It would insult them and degrade them. In the same way that the government did that, we can remember the attacks on Attawapiskat. The attacks were on the first nations there, which were simply looking to ensure a better future for their children.

The Conservative government's attitude is that anyone standing in the way of its agenda is somebody to be attacked, insulted and degraded. The first nations of this country deserve much better than a government that will insult and deride them when they disagree fundamentally on a bill's direction.

The government introduced the bill, first in the Senate and then here in the House. The government introduced the bill and it has not got it right. The government cannot stand and say that it has done the consultation when the groups that it consulted with oppose the bill. There is an illogical disconnect between government members standing up and saying they have done the consultation and not mentioning that the groups they consulted with oppose the bill. It simply does not make any logical sense.

What it does, of course, is lessen the integrity of the individuals from the government side who are standing up and making these comments. Maybe they do not know. Maybe they are reading prepared talking points from the Prime Minister's Office, so maybe they really do not know that the organizations that they are trumpeting about having consulted with are opposing the legislation. I do not know.

On this side of the House, when we carefully read our comments on any bill that is coming forward, we make sure that we get it right. We make sure that we are making comments that are factually true. However, here we have Conservative members who, perhaps in a mean-spirited way or perhaps unknown to them, are mentioning organizations like the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada and saying that they have consulted with them, when those organizations oppose the bill and disagree with the government, very vehemently in some cases.

Where do we go from here? We have an appalling state of first nations after seven years of a Conservative government. We have slashing and cutting of a wide variety of important first nations organizations, including the First Nations Statistical Institute. It did not cost a lot of money, but given the horrendous situations in health and unemployment and the lack of opportunities for children and youth on reserve, one would expect that a government would want to know what was going on. The Conservative government wanted to be blind and wanted to shut off that source of information.

With that approach from the government, we can only say this. Yes, we will continue to stand up and speak against this bill, as so many aboriginal women's organizations, aboriginal organizations and first nations have. The New Democratic Party members of Parliament will be the voice of first nations, the voice of aboriginal women and the voice of aboriginal Canadians here in the House of Commons. We will continue to say, very clearly, that this bill needs to be strongly redrafted.

The duty to consult still exists for the government. The government has the obligation to consult with first nations and heed what they say.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. It was a sincere question, and I appreciate it.

There are numerous reports that deal with matrimonial real property that make solid recommendations. I am talking about “A Hard Bed to Lie In”, 2003; “Still Waiting”, 2004; “Walking Arm-in-Arm”, 2005; the Status of Women Report, 2006; and the Wendy Grant-John ministerial report from 2006.

All of these reports could have been guidelines for the government. They spoke to the issue of matrimonial real property rights and provided very substantive recommendations. A number of the aboriginal organizations across the country supported those recommendations. The question is this: Why did the government not heed those reports and follow those recommendations? The work had already been done, which is what I find so sad.

Aboriginal women have been waiting for such a long time. The government had a number of reports that provided substantive recommendations, but instead of following those recommendations, the government ignored them. Then, when first nation organizations said that this bill was inadequate and would do more harm than good, the government refused to listen to those aboriginal organizations and women's groups. It is sad. However, there is still time for the government to pull back and do the right thing.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a concept that has been developing over the last two decades, and that is the honour of the Crown as it applies, in particular, to the aboriginal communities of Canada. I have been listening to some of the interventions on this debate at various readings, but I have yet to hear this mentioned. It puts on the Crown, as my colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster said, a true obligation to consult, and not to consult without the conclusions the consultations would lead to. The honour of the Crown is almost a fiduciary obligation and responsibility vis-à-vis our aboriginal peoples. I was wondering if my colleague would comment on that.

I hope that some members from the government side will speak to this later today. I might ask this question again. This is a very important matter that, unfortunately, has been neglected, but it should not be, because there is an obligation upon the Crown, and therefore the government, to act in a very particular manner vis-à-vis the aboriginal peoples of this country.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the Conservative government has imposed closure, so there is not going to be this debate. The government's position seems to have weakened as the fact that it has not consulted aboriginal women's groups and organizations has become more apparent, and the government is shutting down debate.

I would quote Ellen Gabriel, the former president of the Quebec Native Women's Association. This is what she said:

It is reprehensible that the Government of Canada is so eager to pass legislation [that seriously impacts the collective human rights of indigenous peoples] without adequate consultations which require the free, prior and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples. While it is understood that legislation is not accompanied by commitments to adequate financial and human resources necessary to implement laws, these Bills will create further financial hardships on First Nations communities.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this bill is the fifth of its kind to be introduced by the government since 2008. The background on this issue has been given and we have debated it. Every time it has had the opportunity, the NDP has opposed the bill, and that is the case again here.

I am a feminist and I fight for women's rights. I fought as part of the Quebec section of the NDP women's council for years, before I was elected, and I have had the honour of chairing the NDP women's caucus. I take these issues to heart.

Division of matrimonial property is an important issue. Courts have rendered decisions on this issue since the mid-1980s, and parliamentary committees have been studying it since the early 2000s.

Right now, when a couple divorces, the division of family property, such as the house and the couple's personal property, is determined by provincial legislation. Subsection 92(13) of the Constitution Act, 1867, provides that property and civil rights are under provincial jurisdiction. However, under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution, the Parliament of Canada has exclusive legislative jurisdiction over Indians and lands reserved for Indians. Therefore, provincial laws are not applicable to the division of property on the reserves.

In 1986, in the Derrickson case, the Supreme Court of Canada created a legal vacuum when it ruled that the courts could not rely on provincial law when determining the division of matrimonial real property on reserves. The absence of provisions at both the federal and provincial levels with regard to the division of matrimonial real property on reserves is a problem, because the people who live on reserves cannot appeal to the Canadian legal system to resolve issues relating to the division of property when a marriage has broken down. It is usually aboriginal women who pay for this legal vacuum.

The Assembly of First Nations determined that the following three broad principles were key to addressing matrimonial rights and interests on reserves: first, recognition of first nation jurisdiction; second, access to justice; and third, addressing underlying issues related to housing and economic security.

The bill does nothing to address any of these principles. On reserves, gender discrimination clearly exists when it comes to matrimonial real property. Everyone says so, including the courts, aboriginal people and politicians.

Bill S-2 does not solve the problem. It does not address the issues related to a lack of financial resources to support first nations governments to actually implement the law, a lack of funding for lawyers and legal advice, a lack of funding to account for limited geographic access to provincial courts, a lack of on-reserve housing, and a lack of land mass that would be necessary to give both spouses separate homes on reserves.

Here is what Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo had to say:

The legislation...does not provide the necessary tools or capacities for first nation governments to deal with the issues that arise when marriages break up. This is rightfully a matter of first nation jurisdiction and we must have this capacity.

First nations have repeatedly and forcefully called on the government to work with us on an approach that will truly give our people in our communities access to justice. There are already first nations that have put their own laws and approaches in place on this matter. These must be respected and a similar approach must be supported for all first nations.

The Native Women's Association of Canada also has a problem with this bill.

Despite previous recommendations that first nations must be involved and create the solutions that will address the multitude of socio-economic issues impacting on families, the government has consistently tried to rush the process and to push through legislation that has been drafted mostly on its own, with little involvement and disregard for the comprehensive recommendations of the past ministerial representative, and many first nations governments and organizations.

As I indicated earlier, a lot of work has already been done on this issue. For example, there was the 2005 report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development entitled “Walking Arm-in-Arm to Resolve the Issue of On-Reserve Matrimonial Real Property”.

The report set out a number of very worthwhile suggestions. It recommended that the government consult with the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations in order to develop a new law or amend the Indian Act. It also recommended that the first nations be given financial assistance so that they can develop their own matrimonial real property codes, and that any new legislation should not apply to first nations that have their own codes. What is more, the Canadian Human Rights Act should be amended to apply to people living on reserves. The report also suggested that Canada recognize the inherent rights of first nations to govern themselves.

Canada is a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, as such, consultation entails the consent of the people consulted. Although Canada conducted some limited consultations, no consent was given by the rights holders. As a result, we are opposed to Bill S-2 because it violates article 32 of the UN declaration, which requires the free and informed consent of the rights holders prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or well-being.

Those are the reasons why I cannot support this bill. However, I would like to add that the government must treat our first nations with more respect. In addition to a better bill on matrimonial real property, it is urgent that the government work with first nations in order to put an end to violence against aboriginal women. It must improve living conditions on reserves, particularly with regard to the housing crisis, and it must put an end to systematic discrimination with regard to funding for first nations children.

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

June 11th, 2013 / 11 a.m.
See context

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for all of the hard work she has been doing on women's issues for several years now.

She pointed out some problems inherent in this bill. Could she elaborate on those? We heard from first nations women, particularly in our women's caucus.

What is the member's perception of violence against women in aboriginal communities? What concrete measures could be taken, particularly with respect to the housing crisis and the fight against poverty?

I would like to hear the member speak to these major issues.