House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Fournier Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, as an associate member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs for the Bloc Quebecois, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-49 and to share my comments.

The aim of this bill is to ratify and implement a framework agreement signed on February 12, 1996 by a group of first nations and the federal government. This agreement concerns the management of first nations' lands and is intended to enable them to establish their own land code to manage the lands and resources.

This agreement is necessary to permit the first nations that are party to the agreement to withdraw from the application of the sections of the Indian Act governing the management of lands.

First nations and governments all agree that the Indian Act gives the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development discretionary power. It also gives public servants too much leeway, thus preventing aboriginals from exercising direct control over the management of the lands within their reserves. It is in order to rectify this situation that a bill to ratify the framework agreement was introduced.

We tried to introduce legislation addressing this issue in the previous Parliament. Bill C-75, as it was then called, was passed at second reading, but the process came to an abrupt end when Parliament was dissolved. Last year, my party pushed to have this bill put back on the agenda. It was introduced in its new form as Bill C-49. I am pleased that we are prepared to go ahead with second reading today.

It is vital that the signatories to the agreement be given the tools they need for their cultural and economic development. This bill recognizes the fundamental right of 14 first nations to manage their lands and their resources and constitutes another important element in their self-government.

The first nations are also glad to have the opportunity to exercise greater control over the lands and resources within their respective reserves and say that these changes will enable them to react more rapidly to opportunities for stimulating their economy. Control of the decision-making process will therefore enable them to improve management of reserves. In other words, we feel that Bill C-49 is essential and very consistent with the recommendations for self-government made by the royal commission on aboriginal peoples and self-government.

Furthermore, several native leaders have supported the bill and indicated that they are in favour of its speedy passage through the House. Being of the same opinion and wanting to see first nations exempted from the sections of the Indian Act concerning land management, the Bloc Quebecois and myself therefore support Bill C-49 in principle.

Second reading of this bill nonetheless provides me with an opportunity to address certain aspects that we feel pose problems. We are worried about one aspect in particular, and it concerns protection of aboriginal women.

Naturally we support the principle of giving back to first nations control over the management of lands that until now have been under federal jurisdiction and governed by sections of the Indian Act. It is essential that first nations be able to manage the lands and natural resources within their reserves themselves. The requirement for a community process to establish land codes is also an important and promising one.

The bill provides that rules on use, possession and occupation of lands will be arrived at through a community consultation process. In theory, all the members of a first nation living on or off reserve will be able to take part in the decision-making process through this community mechanism. However, certain groups of aboriginal women are opposed to Bill C-49, saying that it would be disastrous for them. Their fears have to do with the bill's wording with respect to the division of interests in cases of breakdown of marriage.

They say that the clauses on this issue do not protect them at all, that the framework agreement contains no provision on the division of property in the case of separation, apart from the community consultation process mentioned in clauses 6 and 17.

The British Columbia Native Women's Society is lobbying vigorously to show the weaknesses of the bill in the area of the division of marriage property. They criticize the government for not having done its homework in this matter, despite the gross injustices criticized more than 12 years ago.

They add that no effort has been made to resolve the problem even after the establishment of the charter of rights and freedoms to ensure equality for all. This is why last year they asked the federal court to issue an injunction against this framework agreement on land management.

Even though the bill comes from their own department, the minister of indian affairs and her officials also seem to think there may be an injustice. In June, the minister appointed an investigator to examine the impact of marriage breakdown on property rights. An independent inquiry is therefore set to study the matter.

In other words, the government recognizes the existence of a legal void in the matter and the negative consequences it may have on the protection of women.

However, the government says it has changed the former C-75 so that the new C-49 requires a community process to manage the division following the breakdown of a marriage, which, in their view, resolves the problem. According to clause 6, a community process is one of the requirements associated with the adoption of the land code, which is to be defined collectively by each of the 14 first nations.

However, a closer examination of the matter reveals that, despite this clause, native women have no protection whatsoever.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member.

You have some 11 minutes left, but I had promised the House I would give my ruling on the point of order as soon as possible. With your permission, I will give my ruling now and you can continue afterward.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

November 5th, 1998 / 4 p.m.

The Speaker

After question period this afternoon the hon. member for Surrey Central raised a point of order concerning the events of yesterday evening when, by unanimous consent, a motion for concurrence in the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was presented and adopted in the House.

As hon. members know, the report comprises eight recommendations on the way the House handles Private Members' Business.

I thank the hon. member for Surrey Central, the hon. government House leader, the hon. whip of the New Democratic Party and the member for Elk Island for their contributions. I am now prepared to explain how the Chair will proceed on this matter.

Recommendation No. 5 concerning how recorded divisions on Private Members' Business are taken will be implemented immediately since it is a matter of practice.

Recommendation 8 on the priority for drafting private members' bills will be implemented immediately, because this is an administrative matter.

Recommendation No. 7 lies within the purview of the Board of Internal Economy. That will be taken up there.

With regard to the other recommendations, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, these in the opinion of the Chair call for substantive amendments to the standing orders and require various technical interpretations. I have therefore asked the Clerk to draft proposed amendments to the standing orders which would implement recommendations Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 and to submit that draft to the House leaders.

As soon as the House has pronounced itself on the specific text of new standing orders to give effect to the recommendations it adopted last night, the Chair will be governed accordingly. In the meantime, however, because the Chair has no mandate to unilaterally change the text of the standing orders, the Chair will continue to be guided by the existent standing orders.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act providing for the ratification and bringing into effect of the Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Fournier Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had reached the point of discussing the rights of aboriginal women. I was saying that these were treated as secondary.

The main problem, of course, is not with the bill per se, but with the 1986 Indian Act.

Canadian courts have decided that provincial legislation would have no precedence where property on reserves was concerned, and that the Indian Act would govern everything. Unfortunately, that legislation has nothing to say about matrimonial property when a marriage breaks down. There is a serious problem, therefore, a legal vacuum, which places women's status in a precarious position.

Family legislation in the various provinces does not apply on reserves. In other words, aboriginal women find themselves in a precarious situation, one which does not allow them to aspire to the same protection as all other women in Canada, because provincial legislation governing property division does not apply on reserves, as the Indian Act takes precedence. This is a source of considerable concern, in my opinion.

While there is a will to look at the issue and to try to find ways to fill the legal vacuum, nothing has been done yet.

We should look at the possibility of including a clause providing minimal protection to women under this agreement on first nation land management.

It is clearly indicated that the standards and penalties relating to the environment that will be set or amended by the 14 first nations must be at least as effective and as tough as those of the province in which the first nation lives.

We should consider providing similar minimal protection to women, in case of marriage breakdown. Issues relating to marriage and marriage breakdown are always sensitive, since they directly relate to the cultural values and the structure of the societies concerned.

It is the same for basic environmental issues. The environment and natural resources are integral parts of native culture. Still, this should not prevent us from legislating to make sure that minimum standards are recognized, with the approval of all the parties concerned.

We must find a way to ensure that the protection afforded native women in case of marriage breakdown is at least equivalent to that enjoyed by other Canadian women.

I am not in favour of interfering and I believe that the community consultation process will give very positive results. However, should major disagreements occur, we must make sure that native women enjoy a minimum of protection, like other Canadian women. Along with the first nations, it would certainly be possible to find a way to legislate and provide some form of legal recourse for these women in case of injustice.

In fact, knowing how long it often takes to amend legislation such as the Indian Act, I am concerned about passing a bill that regulates land management without a more direct reference to the problem.

I think it is important that we look at whether the legislation provides us with means of legally protecting aboriginal women, as required by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And if it does not, a remedy should be introduced now, while we are at this stage of the proceedings.

A minimal guarantee of protection is required, in my view, so that aboriginal women, like all other Canadian women, can enjoy certain fundamental rights ensuring their well-being and the well-being of their children.

It is important that the position of first nations on this issue be examined in committee and that possible ways of ensuring a minimum guarantee be studied further. It is not a question of interfering in first nations' efforts to achieve self-government. On the contrary, we are merely trying to raise the issue of the legal vacuum when it comes to the division of property and to give thought to the best way of protecting all citizens.

If aboriginal women, represented by credible organizations like the British Columbia native women's association, are of the opinion that such an agreement is a threat to their well-being, we must at least take this into account and give the matter serious consideration.

Of course, the different provisions in each province complicate the already very complex issue of division of property in cases of marriage breakdown, but precautions can nonetheless be taken.

The community process within the first nations that signed the agreement will certainly suffice, like their various decisions on the whole of the land code. However, once again, in order to ensure minimum protection, solutions must be provided.

In closing, I say once again that the Bloc Quebecois will support Bill C-49. I would however point out that we have questions on the possibility of making amendments to respond more directly to the problem of the division of marriage property, with priority given to the community process and to the decisions of the first nations.

There are avenues to be explored and we will explore them, my colleagues and I, in order to prepare for the meetings of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for York North for letting me speak for five minutes on this important bill.

The bill goes to the heart of a very important issue that I know members from across party lines are very interested in, the fate of aboriginal people in the country today.

What is happening today is a travesty. It is a tragedy beyond proportions that most Canadians understand. This past summer I was at a medical clinic in northern British Columbia. I saw once again in the flesh, in the trenches, what is taking place. There are children with infectious diseases that I have not seen since I worked in Africa. People are suffering from enormously. There are high rates of substance abuse and suicide attempts. There are communities with rates of tuberculosis and diabetes three times higher than the non-aboriginal population. The soles of communities are being torn out. Why is this so? Why has this not changed despite billions of dollars being put in by successive governments?

The answer is that we non-aboriginal people have to engage in a paradigm shift in the way we treat aboriginal people. The Indian Act has created an institutionalized welfare state. We have segregated aboriginal people, have made them separate from the mainstream.

The result has been a marred system. In some areas the money is not getting to the people. Grassroots aboriginal people are dislocated from their political masters. Is is between the political and intellectual elites and between aboriginals and non-aboriginals on how we deal with aboriginal people. We leave out the grassroots aboriginal people. They are suffering in horrendous ways that can only be compared to third world conditions.

I implore the government, and my colleagues will agree, to stop the segregation. Stop the separate development. The rights of aboriginal people to engage in their traditional activities is enshrined in the constitution, thankfully. Let us invest in aboriginal people to help them help themselves. Only if they have the tools to help themselves, to gain employment, provide for themselves, their families and their communities will they get back that sense of self, that sense of pride they so desperately need.

It does not entail separate development. It does not entail a lands claim process. The essence of bill says “You are aboriginal people. You are different from non-aboriginal people. Therefore you are going to be treated differently”. Grassroots aboriginal people do not want political emancipation that is different from anybody else. They merely want equality. They merely want to be treated as equals and have the opportunities, benefits and responsibilities of non-aboriginals.

This bill is flawed. The history of dealing with aboriginal people is flawed. It is flawed in saying that aboriginal people are somehow different. They are removed and segregated away from mainstream Canada. They have sustained and suffered under the yoke of non-aboriginal people putting their feet on them and segregating them.

I thank the hon. member for allowing me to speak now because I have to catch a plane.

Again, I implore the government not to treat aboriginal people differently. Give them the tools so they can help themselves. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people can work together to develop a united forward looking country. We can mutually respect each other and develop together for a more positive and beneficial future for all.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Liberal

David Iftody Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's intervention and I appreciate his role as a medical doctor and his good work in aboriginal communities. Having worked in these communities, both he and I know of the tragic and difficult circumstances.

The hon. member wants to do a paradigm shift, if not to take it off the map. Under this proposal in bringing all aboriginal people from their communities in the north and moving them to Vancouver, to Edmonton, to Winnipeg, to Toronto, surely to goodness the hon. member knows and would consult with other medical practitioners that there are many aboriginal people living off reserve in these cities. They are still in poverty. Stripping away their constitutional and land rights I would suggest respectfully would be disastrous. It has been disastrous for 100 years. This is bad public policy, it is a bad idea and it is a bad paradigm shift.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. parliamentary secretary were interested in giving back land rights, he would enable aboriginal people to have the same land rights as non-aboriginal people have, which he knows full well they do not. Rights are given to a collective in aboriginal groups. They are not given to individuals. That is part of the problem. The individual aboriginal person does not have the same rights as a non-aboriginal person.

I know the hon. member is interested in this issue very deeply as we all are. I know he has experienced this himself. If he really wants to do a favour to aboriginal people, he will take a message to the minister. He will say to her that we must not segregate and separate aboriginal people. We must give aboriginal people the same rights and responsibilities as non-aboriginal people, which includes land rights and land ownership.

Aboriginal people off reserve are sustaining horrendous circumstances. They do not have the tools and abilities to fend for themselves. Part of that lies in the lack of accountability which occurs as to where moneys are going in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

If the parliamentary secretary wants to do another important job, he can take another message to the minister. Do forensic audits in those reserves where aboriginal people are looking for answers. Billions of dollars are put into those reserves. The money is not getting to where it is supposed to go. It is being siphoned off somewhere, be it in the department or in the aboriginal leadership. I suggest that he find out where that money is going. If he does that, he will be providing an enormous service so those people can get the resources to be fully functional and to stand on their own two feet.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Iftody Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, is the hon. member suggesting that by definition all band finances have to be the question of a forensic audit? Is the hon. member suggesting to the House and to the first nation people in Canada that because of the circumstances they suffer, for example that today raised in the House, the Shamattawa children sniffing gasoline and glue, that somehow this is traced back to a forensic audit? Is bringing in SWAT teams of police the answer to this? Basically we bring in the RCMP, investigate them, move them off reserve, strip away their rights under section 35 of the constitution, is this what the hon. Reform Party member is suggesting?

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Just so I understand the protocol here, I understood the first question in question and comments was from the member who is now asking the second question. There were others who stood.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

No, that is not the order. The decision on debate in question and comments is the prerogative of the Chair. As long as there are members standing who do not represent the same political party as the person in debate, across the aisle will be given precedence, whether it is from one side or the other side.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I understand what you just said. However, if it is the same individual, does it still apply in that case?

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The answer is yes it does. There is always preference, at least when I am in the chair, to go across the aisle in questions and comments so that we get real debate.

In response, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member brings up an important question. I am glad he asked it.

There are aboriginal reserves that are run wonderfully and there are those which are not. The reserves we are talking about today are the reserves that are not run well, reserves I might add where aboriginal people have asked for over 10 years as to where the money is going.

There are millions of dollars put into some reserves that have very few people on them. While the band leaders are living in opulence down in Vancouver, those people are living in squalor. Representatives of those people have asked the minister repeatedly, in fact they have begged the minister, for a hearing. They have begged her for answers. What have they got? All they have got is the cold shoulder.

While that is happening, those people are living in third world conditions. People are committing suicide. They are getting diseases at rates far higher than anybody else. They are suffering from unemployment at levels that are unparalleled in this country. Those are the reserves the member and the minister should be looking at, not for our benefit nor the leadership and the aboriginal group's benefit but for the aboriginal people who are suffering from diabetes, tuberculosis, high rates of suicide and unemployment. They have been suffering for so long.

The resources are there. The member knows full well that those resources are not getting to where they should be going. Find out where those resources are going and do these people a service.

First Nations Land Management Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

David Iftody Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is quite an interesting debate.

The hon. member as a medical physician raises the very real concern about the rate of diabetes in aboriginal communities because they do not have the proper food. Would the hon. member support the Minister of Health bringing forth measures through the Department of Health to help these people, to help these women and children, the families in these aboriginal communities deal with questions of diabetes? When these things come forward in the February budget, will he live up to his own words? If he truly believes what he is saying today in this House, will he stand at budget time and support these measures, support Nisga'a and support Nunavut?