House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting scenario.

The previous representatives of my region were part and parcel of that filibuster. They were part and parcel of trying to scuttle the entire deal. That was the effort. It was not simply to cause three days of delay. It was to attempt to ruin the first nations treaty, which was the Nisga'a treaty. That was declared and said by a member, and there is some irony, because that member returned to run as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the last election and held the position again, saying that treaties were a mistake. Before that, he was a Reform member.

However, he ran again as a Conservative. In debate after debate in communities of which 50% or more are first nations, while the non-first nations have grown accustomed to the idea and have seen the advantages of it, that gentleman unfortunately was joined by too many within that political movement in saying that this was bad for Canada, that this was bad for our region.

The Nisga'a, to their credit and under the great leadership of Dr. Gosnell and many others, a leadership that handed a torch to the generation that has now adopted this Nisga'a treaty, saw this for what it was. They knew that right intentions would win in the end.

Here is an interesting example. Out of the Nisga'a treaty, the Nisga'a were able to develop what now is called the Nisga'a Fisheries. In a sense, they take care of the Nass River, its tributaries and the outflow into the ocean and manage the fisheries from their perspective and from their cultural perspective. It is one of the few rivers in British Columbia this year that will have any kind of fishery at all. It has been lauded by DFO, environmental groups and industry groups as a well managed fishery, perhaps the best on the entire west coast.

When the Nisga'a treaty was being debated, an important comment was made by the head of the Credit Unions of British Columbia. When he was asked whether the Nisga'a treaty was good or bad in the short term or the long term, he said it was good in both, because finally it allowed for certainty on the land base. It allowed for certainty for forestry, for mining companies and for fishing. It allowed people to make the types of investments and decisions they needed to make, because there was no question about where fee simple was or was not, where the interdiction of the Crown existed and did not. This is what the Nisga'a had been basing their economic revival on: that land question.

As for questions of filibuster and questions of delaying and denying and hoping to resist the inevitable, it was, I would suggest to my Conservative colleagues, an unfortunate period in Canadian history, it really was. However, the Nisga'a persevered and right-thinking members of Parliament persevered.

Now we now have rules in this place, thankfully, which omit that type of tactics from happening in that manner and do not allow the introduction of some 100 or 200 amendments just to talk out the clock and try to destroy a bill, and this was a bill that was supported by a majority of Canadians.

It is incredible to me that the Conservative members would somehow equate trying to destroy a treaty with a representative commenting on a piece of legislation that affects him or her greatly. Thirty per cent of my constituents are first nations. I am amazed that in their sudden desperation to deal with this bill the Conservatives somehow are seeing a filibuster under every rock and tree. It is remarkable to me. The Minister of Indian Affairs has stood up in this House and asked questions, so I guess the Minister of Indian Affairs is therefore presenting some sort of filibuster to the House.

Of course, we are not making that accusation. It is bizarre and beyond the pale coming as it does from a government that spent six weeks at the environment committee delaying a climate change bill. To suggest that a 20 minute speech is some grand conspiracy is amazing and disgraceful.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to a couple of comments made by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

First, he asked rhetorical questions. He asked if we are sincere with this effort in Bill C-30. First Nations have been asking for this for generations, as Chief Joseph from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has said. In 30 years of government and 10 years as chief, he said, he has never seen a more cooperative effort to draft a bill than this one.

Were there consultations? Yes, there were consultations to the point that the Assembly of First Nations helped us co-author this bill. Shawn Atleo and others from British Columbia, as the member knows, were part of that process.

This effort is very sincere. There were consultations. There were communications materials developed by the Assembly of First Nations subsequent to that.

Therefore, of course, we believe, as Chief Joseph has said, that it is not only a sincere effort but is perhaps really groundbreaking in its effort, in my opinion. I would hope that the member would know that.

I did appreciate his comment about the annual meeting. I know the Nisga'a have their annual meeting. I was not able to attend this year because the House was in session at the time. Just prior to the meeting I phoned the president and had a discussion with him. I hope to be up there this summer. We had that discussion as well. I will take advantage of the invitation to get up there, not just the member's invitation but the invitation of others. That will be a great opportunity as well.

We have made other efforts as well. Record numbers of claims were negotiated. This tribunal act is for when negotiations do not work, but we have actually settled a record number of claims through negotiations, which again I think shows our sincerity to get claims that really are “justice at last” for many people, as has been described by Phil Fontaine and the Prime Minister. They have been waiting way too long, so let us get at this and get it done.

Finally, there are other examples. Specifically when it comes to claims, we have made promises, have followed through and have met our commitments on adding lands to TLE lands on the Prairies. For example, in Manitoba we promised that 150,000 acres a year would be added over a period of four or five years. We have met our targets for two years now and we will meet our targets going forward.

This is a big effort to make sure that longstanding claims, many of them generational in nature, are put behind us, not only because it is the right thing to do and because it is justice at last, but because it does help to heal that relationship with people who say they have waited a long time and the proof is in the pudding. This bill, I would argue, shows first nations that it is worthwhile to work with the government and that the government is sincere in moving forward.

There will be many other issues, I know, and the member has talked to me about some of them. I know they will be raised in the House on other occasions. However, my hope is that we can say on this occasion, with this bill, and with the amendments that the committee has put forward, that on this day we should celebrate success. I hope this will go through.

I will not accuse anyone of filibustering, but I do say to members, let us get it through. There are other issues to deal with. On this one, could we for one day say that this is a good day for aboriginal people and for us as parliamentarians? Could we say about this, which I think and hope will go through tonight unanimously on the next vote, that this was a good bill done in a good way? It probably never will be perfect, but could we say that it is a very good bill done in a good way? I would like to celebrate that.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

We will have a brief response from the member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to give a brief response. I appreciate the minister's tone. The tendency in this place to accept victories or near perfect situations is rare.

As I think about my comments, I will note that I have just come from my riding. This past weekend, I was again faced with first nations bands under third party management and again faced with another string of suicides and loss of life.

Mistrust is going to have to be overcome by actual proof. The presentation of this bill may be merits of that proof. It will be my job, and I think the job of others, to hold the government's feet to the fire on this continually, day after day in the House of Commons. I think that is appropriate. I imagine that the minister would be doing the same in my role. For so many years, with so much injustice, the bar will be set pretty high. I think that is only appropriate.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is the House ready for the question?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

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

May 13th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

moved that Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I thank members of the House for passing Bill C-30. It is one of those moments in a minority Parliament where we see a bill go through. I think Canadians will be pleased as well as first nations that have worked hard on the bill. It is the right thing to do at the right time, for the right reasons, and it is a delight to see it pass through the House. We hope the Senate will deal with it speedily.

I am also pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-47, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act, which is a long title. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation as well, as it offers a practical, balanced and effective solution to a complex issue that we believe needs to be corrected.

I am pleased to be here today to speak to Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights. I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this bill as it offers a practical, balanced and effective solution to a complex issue.

In recent years on reserve matrimonial real property has been the focus of much study, consultation and discussion. Members of first nations and national aboriginal organizations, along with experts in law, women's issues, human rights, governance and other fields, have offered a variety of insights into relevant issues and commented on potential solutions. While nearly all expert opinion concludes that legislation is needed to rectify the problems associated with matrimonial real property, different viewpoints have been expressed on how the legislation should be structured.

There is no question, however, that the legislative vacuum represented by on reserve matrimonial real property, continues to affect many lives. Clearly, the time has come to put a stop to some of the injustices that are occurring day by day.

To appreciate the proposed legislation and the value of the solution it stands to bring requires a thorough understanding of the issues related to matrimonial real property, or MRP, on reserves.

While some members of the House possess such an understanding, particularly my colleague, the Minister of Industry, as well as members of the Standing Committees on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Status of Women who contributed to committee reports on the issue, I will to take this opportunity to provide some additional context.

Matrimonial real property is a term for a relatively simple legal concept. It refers to the fixed assets owned by one or both spouses and used for family purposes. For most Canadians, MRP includes a house and the property on which it sits.

When spouses separate or divorce, the division of MRP is often contentious, but legally straightforward. Under our Constitution, property rights fall under provincial jurisdiction. Laws exist in each province and territory to protect the matrimonial real property interests of married and, in some cases, common law spouses. This means that should a marriage break down one spouse cannot sell the family home without the consent of the other spouse. The laws also empower judges to remedy spousal disputes involving MRP. For instance, a judge can order an abusive spouse to move out of the family home.

Individuals who live in first nations communities, however, do not enjoy access to these legal remedies. The Indian Act limits the scope of provincial laws on reserve lands. The Supreme Court of Canada has determined that provincial laws cannot alter any interest in MRP located on reserve lands. The Supreme Court ruled that since reserve lands fell outside provincial jurisdiction, only federal law could resolve this issue. However, the fact is there is no federal law on MRP on reserves. This gap means that spouses living on reserves have no legal protection for their MRP interests.

As a result, judges cannot deal with the real property of spouses on reserves. Even in the most extreme cases, those involving spousal abuse or physical violence, no court can order a change in possession of an on reserve family home. Furthermore, the courts cannot prevent a spouse from selling or mortgaging the family home without the consent of the other spouse, regardless of the severe repercussions these actions might have.

Closing the MRP legislative gap has proven to be a challenge. Not all off reserve MRP remedies can be replicated on reserves because of the collective nature of reserve lands, our Constitution, the varied land holding systems and housing allocations and the inability of non-members to possess reserve lands.

The House endorsed a partial solution nearly a decade ago when it passed the First Nations Land Management Act. The act provides first nations with a mechanism to opt out of the land management provisions of the Indian Act and develop laws governing, among other things, MRP. The House has also approved self-government legislation that addresses matrimonial interests or rights on reserves. However, despite these actions, a strong majority of residents of first nations communities remain without protection.

In an effort to identify an effective solution, several studies, research projects, information sessions and consultations were undertaken. I draw the attention of the House to three reports that have provided significant insight into this issue.

The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights investigated relevant legal aspects and tabled an interim report, “A Hard Bed to Lie In: Matrimonial Real Property on Reserve”, in 2003.

Two years later, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development published its report, “Walking Arm in Arm to Resolve the Issue of On Reserve MRP”.

In 2006 the Standing Committee on the Status of Women reviewed the issue and presented its report, recommending a process and timetable to move the resolution forward. In addition, officials with my department have held dozens of information and consultation sessions with first nation communities and national aboriginal organizations in recent years. Although a mutually acceptable solution has not emerged from these efforts, they have helped to generate the collective will needed to design and implement an effective legislative solution.

Shortly after taking office, our Conservative government launched a new initiative to identify a solution. To direct this effort, a ministerial representative was appointed, Ms. Wendy Grant-John, to facilitate and oversee the consultation process and to ensure that a viable legislative solution was proposed.

During her noteworthy career, Ms. Grant-John has served as chief of the Musqueam First Nation, regional vice-chief of the Assembly of First Nations and associate regional director-general of my department's British Columbia office. She is also a mother, a grandmother, an entrepreneur and former director of Four Corners Bank.

Ms. Grant-John spent many months facilitating consultations with aboriginal groups on the MRP issue. The consultation process included three phases: planning, consultation and consensus building. The government provided funds to the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to work collaboratively with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada in carrying out the consultation process.

From September 2006 to January 2007, consultations were held across Canada with aboriginal organizations and communities and provincial and territorial governments. There were 109 consultative sessions with aboriginal groups, providing a total of 135 consultation days at 64 different locations across Canada. In addition, 12 consultation sessions were held with provincial and territorial governments.

An intensive consensus building phase was held in February 2007 among Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and the ministerial representative.

In March 2007 Ms. Grant-John released her final report, which was tabled in the House in April of last year. Her final report offered a number of recommendations for a legislative solution.

Bill C-47 responds to the majority of these recommendations, including: first, providing basic protections for individual residents on reserve during and after the breakdown of a conjugal relationship; second, balancing individual rights and the collective rights of first nations communities; and third, establishing a mechanism for first nations to develop their own MRP laws.

The legislation now before us was informed by the solid foundation built through these consultations and the reports I mentioned earlier. There were the consensus building phase, the report from the ministerial representative and the sharing of the draft legislative proposal with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada and others.

Bill C-47 strives to achieve two goals: first, to establish an immediate federal regime to protect matrimonial interests that would apply to first nations without laws in this area; and second, to provide first nations with a mechanism to opt out of this regime by developing and adopting MRP laws of their own. These goals would satisfy two of the requirements identified most frequently during consultations.

I encourage my hon. colleagues to keep these goals in mind as they study the legislation and to recognize what Bill C-47 would accomplish and the balanced solution it would represent.

Under Bill C-47, spouses and common law partners living on reserves would be able to access a range of MRP rights and remedies similar to those available off reserve. At the same time, Bill C-47 would also provide protection concerning the collective interest of first nations. For example, non-members would be unable to use the provisions of the legislation to ever gain ownership of reserve lands. That is very important. Furthermore, first nations may make representations to the courts about the cultural, social and legal context relevant to many orders available under the legislation.

The bill also responds to an important concern commonly expressed during consultations, and that is ensuring that members of first nations have direct input into MRP law-making decisions taken by chiefs and councils. Bill C-47 would provide for a ratification process. In essence, for a first nations MRP regime to pass into law, it must first earn the support of a majority of eligible voters. This provision would promote accountability and encourage community members to play an active role in the development of laws, which are two crucial components of a strong democracy.

To support the proposed legislation, the government plans to provide first nation individuals, organizations and governments, as well as law enforcement officials, access to information about rights and remedies available on reserves to address matrimonial interests or rights and services and tools for responding to individual or community needs.

As my hon. colleagues know well, laws are much more likely to succeed when drafted with the input of the people who would be affected by them. Engaging first nation members in law-making discussions would also achieve another key goal, aligning MRP laws with community values and traditions. This was another concern expressed repeatedly during consultations.

Two other ideas often heard during the consultative process are also reflected in Bill C-47.

Many of the people consulted wanted legislation that would provide an immediate and effective solution. The majority said that they would reject a law that enabled the application of provincial laws related to MRP. This was echoed by both the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Bill C-47 will satisfy these concerns by instituting an effective federal regime, one informed by but distinct from legislation in place in the provinces and territories. At the same time, this federal regime will be an interim solution until such time as a first nation develops its own MRP law.

Drafts of the legislation were the focus of further discussions with aboriginal groups and officials from the provinces and territories. The results are now before this House in the form of Bill C-47.

I have no doubt that a further analysis of the issues surrounding on-reserve matrimonial real property will lead to one inescapable conclusion: the time has come to enact the practical, balanced and effective solution articulated in Bill C-47. I urge my hon. colleagues to lend their support to this legislation.

I have no doubt that a thorough analysis of the issues surrounding on reserve MRP will lead to an inescapable conclusion. The time has come to enact the worthy balance and effective solution articulated in Bill C-47. I urge my hon. colleagues to lend their support to this legislation.

If I could also take a moment to thank Ms. Wendy Grant-John and the many other people who, in the 109 consultative meetings, contributed their expertise to make this bill as good as it could be.

There will be accusations that the bill is not perfect; any bill that comes before the House will get that accusation. I do believe it is another one of those bills that deals with something that has been a gap in legislation for far too long. This is something that affects primarily women on reserve that may lose the matrimonial home in the case of an unfortunate marital breakup. Right now there is no solution for them. This legislation reflects the desire to help those people. It is time to do that. It also allows first nations to develop their own distinct MRP laws as they apply to the reserve. That is important because it reflects the constitutional reality in which we also live.

It is a balancing act, as I mentioned. It is a unique situation. Most Canadians would not realize that this gap in legislation means that many people, primarily women, do not have the protection that people take for granted every day off reserve.

I hope that we will have a good discussion and debate on this. I look forward to the support of hon. colleagues in this House.

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

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations sent a letter on this and attached an analysis which said, “It is very important to note that Bill C-47 does not contain a non-derogation clause”. That type of clause occurs quite often in bills these days.

I am just wondering if the minister could outline why this particular bill does not have that clause.

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

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a fair question.

The non-derogation clause is in several other pieces of legislation and in fact was added in committee to Bill C-21, as the member knows, on the extension of human rights of general application to first nations living on reserve. The committee added it as one of its amendments.

I am not a lawyer, but the legal advice is that because the Constitution covers all Canadians, the non-derogation clause does not change the essence of the bill. It will always be interpreted in light of the Canadian Constitution. The Canadian Constitution is clear about aboriginal rights and title. It is clear about what that means. The courts always will interpret legislation or interpret a court case based on constitutional reality. As the member knows, we have any number of cases that work their way through the legal system that might be challenged, and always the court will hold up the Constitution beside the document and make sure that it is consistent.

A non-derogation clause attempts to ensure that we pay attention to the Constitution when we look at the bill, but of course the courts do that anyway. In our opinion, it does not really strengthen the bill. There may be some discussion about that and I would be interested to hear what others may have to say, but the courts always must be cognizant of the Constitution, sections 35 and 92 and other sections that apply, and in our opinion, it does not strengthen the bill to add the non-derogation clause.

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

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's speech, and in a few minutes, I will have an opportunity to reply to him with the Bloc Québécois' position.

I would like the minister to comment on one thing. Aboriginal women are very concerned about this bill. I believe that my Liberal Party colleague will also talk about this in her speech in a moment. One thing women have been wondering about is how Bill C-47 differs from Bill C-31. Aboriginal women got the short end of the stick, as they put it, with Bill C-31, which was passed and gave back some rights and other things. How is Bill C-47, which the minister is asking the House to adopt, any different? How will it apply on reserves? Of course, I will have a chance to talk more about this later.

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

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the member is talking about two different issues. I realize they both may end up in the courts one way or another, but the effort in Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework because of the Supreme Court rulings on the application of provincial MRP laws. They just do not apply on reserve lands. What we are trying to do with Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework so that, and it is not just first nations women, but primarily first nations women will have the protection that others take for granted in a provincial court system.

Right now the unfortunate reality is if there is a marriage breakdown, or if there is violence against a spouse, frequently or mostly against women, someone needs to intervene to get a restriction, a court order or some sort of legal means to keep the house in the possession of the woman who is raising the kids and needs the protection of the matrimonial home to that. A restraining order or a way to restrict the individual from getting close to the woman is needed and we do not have the tools to do it.

This bill is for the protection of women, for the development of individual MRP laws on each reserve over time, but a law of general application in the meantime that would allow us to have a provision which says we have to look after those interests. Although some homes are owned by the band office, for example, they might be owned collectively, social housing perhaps, many other homes are built by and owned by individual first nations people. The trouble is if there is a marriage breakdown, no laws apply. The guy with the biggest, broadest shoulders wins the argument and that is not fair for first nations women.

This bill will not solve all problems and it does not address the Bill C-31 issues, but it does attempt to fill the gap that otherwise will continue until we do fill it. The system is quite hit and miss across the country. There are some good examples of good leadership on reserve under the First Nations Land Management Act, and there are examples of many first nations which have introduced their own MRP laws, but it is too hit and miss. It does not capture the rest of aboriginal women who deserve the same protection as others.

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

11:55 a.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Minister of Indian Affairs for introducing this important legislation into our House of Commons. I know it will make a big difference in the lives of first nations people across our country.

Earlier today Bill C-30 finally moved on to the other chamber. I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg South Centre, as well as the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue for finally getting control of their caucus and bringing forward a resolution to that debate.

My question for the minister is, why is there a sentiment among some members opposite that because a bill is not completely perfect, or because a bill has not received unanimous support from all communities, it should not be brought forward? Could he explain the philosophy we want to employ to bring some resolution to this issue?