House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. whip of the Bloc Québécois on a point of order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, again with respect to unparliamentary language, I would call to your attention the very last question asked by my colleague, the hon. member for Shefford concerning research funding to the University of Sherbrooke. Just a few minutes ago, the Minister of State for Science and Technology used the term “dishonest” in his answer.

I would like you to indicate whether the term “dishonest” is acceptable in this House. If not, then I would like you to ask the Minister of State for Science and Technology to withdraw it.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Again, I will review what was said in the House and if there is a problem I will get back to the House concerning the issue raised by the hon. whip of the Bloc Québécois.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

May 14, 2009

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the schedule to this letter on the 14th day of May, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Sheila-Marie Cook

The schedule indicates the bills assented to were Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act--Chapter 7; Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Energy Efficiency Act--Chapter 8; and Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992--Chapter 9.

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

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before the question period, the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou had the floor. He has 17 minutes to continue his remarks.

The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou now has the floor.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:20 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, on December 13, 2006, Commissioner David Langtry stated, even before Bill C-11 was adopted, that full human rights protection was now being extended to all first nations people and that the commission would act quickly to open discussions with those communities on how best to implement this much-needed change.

To my knowledge, “discussions“ are not “consultations“. The government does not seem to have grasped the intent of this bill. I would like to quote a passage from a report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women:

The committee heard and acknowledged that “the lack of a legal regime to govern the disposition of matrimonial real property on reserves is… the tip of a much greater iceberg“ and that “the legislative gap in respect of the matrimonial real property rights on reserve lands is exacerbated by chronic housing shortages that exist on most reserves and difficulties in securing financing to purchase or construct alternative housing on reserve…“

Because of this, women will continue to be forced to leave their communities while waiting for an effective solution to the housing shortage and the full implementation of the right to self-determination. The government fails to recognize this and remains apart from other countries by refusing to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This situation has existed for two decades and has never been corrected.

In June 2005, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development tabled a report in the House. Its first finding recognized the importance of the matter of matrimonial real property to the residents of reserves, and, specifically, first nations women and children.

The committee recognized the great complexity of the issues. It also realized that, while immediate action was required, it was imperative that all recommendations be consistent with the government’s recognition of the inherent right of self-government by recognizing first nations’ authority over on-reserve matrimonial real property. The committee felt that any action needed to be taken in consultation and collaboration with first nations.

That was in 2005. Today, because the bill was neither developed in consultation with first nations as they wished, nor referred to the committee before second reading, the Assembly of First Nations considers that it has been so botched that it is practically impossible to put it right after this second reading. In addition, the impact studies conducted on the communities affected by BillC-8and the measures they contain to encourage the development of the communities' own laws on matrimonial homes have not been submitted to either the Assembly of First Nations or the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada want the bill to be defeated.

Like the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations, the Bloc Québécois agrees with the idea of this bill, but not with its content or the way in which it has been put together. We feel that it is critically important for the communities and, for that reason, it should have been studied.

What difference is there between Bill C-44, which became Bill C-21, and Bill C-289, which is now Bill C-8? For me, there is no difference except that Bills C-44 and C-289 died on the order paper, and in all cases there were no prior consultations. They also have in common the almost unanimous protest against the method in which they were drawn up and the non-aboriginal view of aboriginal real property. I say “almost unanimous“ because the only person not in agreement at the time is now a senator.

This bill, like the ones that went before and the ones that will come after, should have been the result of consultations with first nations, as agreed by the Martin government and the first nations in May 2005. For this bill in particular, the provinces, the territories, the committees of Parliament and the report of Wendy Grant-John, the ministerial representative for matrimonial real property issues on reserve, all should have been consulted.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. The few consultations that were held left participants bitter. They saw them as charades at which they wasted their time. None of their recommendations were accepted, yet the implementation has to be done within their culture and under their administration.

This government should perhaps mention that this bill resulted from discussions with some first nations organizations, the ministerial representative, the provinces and the territories in the summer and fall of 2007. The government should not use the term “consultation“ at all.

Once more, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador oppose this bill because it is fundamentally flawed and practically impossible to correct after second reading. In June 2006, in its report to the House, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women wished to see concrete progress on the issues relating to matrimonial real property rights of first nations women, issues linked to violence against women. It quoted Beverly Jacobs from the Native Women's Association of Canada:

It's not just in first nations communities. We know it's happening all across the country. It's in Canadian homes where women are being abused. We are taking the brunt of it, and I'm tired of it. As a first nations woman, as a Mohawk woman, I'm tired of hearing this. I feel it's my responsibility to make sure it doesn't occur any more. My daughter is 23, and she also had to live through that. I have grandchildren, and I don't want them to live through it. I don't want them to see violence.

The housing problem is still not solved today. In 2001, the government introduced Bill C-289 despite recommendations to the contrary. Here we are again today with Bill C-8, once more with no consultation or collaboration with aboriginal groups.

Aboriginal peoples, particularly women, would be in favour of this legislation which will put an end to centuries of discrimination and inequities enshrined in the Indian Act and visited upon aboriginal women. They do not want to see these errors corrected by another that would be just as serious, if not more so, than the existing one. This error must be corrected on their terms and in a way that is consistent with their lifestyle and their culture. Above all this legislation must not be the outcome of a unilateral decision by the federal government, which has increasingly demonstrated its ignorance of aboriginal values and of the non-legislative measures inherent in the enforcement of any act or regulation.

There are many irritants. I will mention some of them. First, no non-legislative measure is mentioned. Second, there is a lack of information with regard to the implementation of an action plan. Third, there is also information missing as to resources available to the first nations to develop their laws or the regulations of Bill C-8. Fourth, as mentioned previously, there is a crying need for housing. This situation is in itself sufficient to make this bill's provisions unworkable. Indeed, how, in the case of marital breakdown, can one guarantee decent housing to each of the parties in question? Fifth, this legislation refers to legal proceedings that will lead to trials to clarify the bill's ambiguities. Most of the members of these communities cannot undertake such legal proceedings, because they cannot afford them.

Deputy Grand Chief RoseAnne Archibald, Ontario representative to the Assembly of First Nations Women's Council, stated in June 2006:

We are not convinced that the bill as it stands is going to help First Nations women access justice. Let’s be clear, First Nations women and families have waited too long already for equitable and workable solutions and this bill is at best a half-way measure.

After all the consultations, and presentations and drafting of reports: the government didn’t listen to our women. In fact, I was one of those women they consulted. Yes they asked for our opinion, but the bill does not reflect what we told them. What they’ve drafted is very much a made-in-Ottawa Bill.” .

The Assembly of First Nations Women's Council sees four problems in the bill as it is drafted. It will in the final analysis force first nations women to seek recourse before provincial courts. For many women who live in remote communities, this solution will not be financially viable, among other things because of the time that this would take.

During the consultations, the first nations women asked that matrimonial real property rights be framed from the perspective of their own cultural values and traditions, and not from within the framework of federal or provincial regulations which they did not have a hand in preparing.

Rather than recognizing the authority of first nations, the bill sets out how first nations regulations should be developed, according to a complicated process that makes no provision for supporting first nations participation. In the final analysis, the bill will impose a complex bureaucratic system which will offer no support whatsoever for its implementation.

For matrimonial real property rights to be meaningful, the women told us that the government should see to it that accessible and safe housing be made available.

With regard to the situation in Quebec and Canada, Ms. Wendy Cornet, Special Advisor to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, stated, when she appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on March 24, 2005, that:

The common functions of provincial and territorial matrimonial property law are, firstly, defining what personal and real property of spouses is considered matrimonial property within a given jurisdiction; providing a system of rights and protections in relation to matrimonial property on a mandatory basis to married couples; and thirdly, establishing—as all jurisdictions do—a legal presumption of equal division of matrimonial property on marriage breakdown, regardless of which spouse owns the matrimonial property. This last function usually means that a compensation order can be issued by the court, requiring one spouse to pay the other an amount of money to achieve an equal division of matrimonial property—and the couple's assets and liabilities that constitute matrimonial property are taken into account in determining this.

However, in some important policy areas, provincial and territorial laws vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, in particular regarding the treatment of the following subjects: common-law relationships; same-sex relationships; matters relating to rights upon death of a spouse; and family violence. Some jurisdictions have passed family violence legislation that provides a package of remedies, including interim orders respecting matrimonial real property. Other jurisdictions do not have specific legislation addressing family violence. And finally, another matter in which you find some variance is the treatment of matters relating to support and the matrimonial home.

The Indian act provides for a land management regime that includes a system for making individual allotments of reserve lands to members of the band for whom the reserve has been set aside. However, the Indian Act is silent on the question of matrimonial property interests during marriage and on marriage breakdown. The Indian Act does not provide for, or recognize, a law-making power on the part of first nations in regard to matrimonial property, real or personal.

There are other issues that must be taken into account on reserves. For instance, many first nations do not use the Indian Act system of individual allotments of reserve lands, for example, by issuing certificates of possession, and instead use systems of custom allotment. An individual's status as an Indian as defined under the Indian Act makes them a band member and can affect property interest in and on reserve lands. For example, individuals who are not band members cannot hold certificates of possession.

It is clearly inconsistent on the part of the Canadian government to go forward with this bill, since it committed itself on May 31, 2005 to strengthening cooperation on policy development between the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government. Here is an excerpt from that agreement:

Whereas the Prime Minister, at the April 19, 2004 Canada - Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable, stated, “It is now time for us to renew and strengthen the covenant between us”, and committed that “No longer will we in Ottawa develop policies first and discuss them with you later. The principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new partnership.”

Clearly the government is not keeping its promise.

It is not rocket science: there must first of all be discussions on the process whereby participation of the Assembly of First Nations in the development of federal policies that have specific repercussions on AFN members can be increased, in particular in the areas of health, skills development, housing, political or economic negotiations and results-based accountability.

Second, they have to address the human and financial resources, as well as the accountability mechanisms needed to encourage the Assembly of First Nations to become more involved in policy making.

That is pretty clear, and I encourage the members to read the remarks I have made in this House since 2006. It should be noted that I have to remind the government of that every time we discuss relations with the first nations. That is not normal.

To conclude, I will give the opinion of the Bloc Québécois, which is sensitive to what is happening in aboriginal communities. The Bloc, like aboriginals, believes that the government should take action. We also take into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

The Bloc Québécois expects the government to respect the political agreement. It wants to remind the government of its obligation to consult. The Bloc will ensure that implementation of this new bill does not undermine the recognition of the first nations' inherent right to self-government.

The Bloc Québécois is aware that the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations have not fully completed their own analysis of the impact of this bill on their communities. The Bloc also knows that the government has apparently not completed a new study.

We will support this bill at second reading for the sole purpose of trying to make the government understand that it has to undertake consultations and fix the bill so that it reflects the vision and culture of the first nations.

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

3:35 p.m.

Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I have enjoyed listening to the two speakers from the Bloc, who are both members of the committee on aboriginal affairs, talk about the legislation. I am also very pleased that they want to see the bill go to committee where we can have a full discussion and full discourse.

I think there is recognition on everyone's part that this will be a significant exercise and that it will take time. We are not naive on any of those fronts.

I heard the member speaking about Wendy Grant-John's role in this, as the ministerial representative. She made some very strong recommendations. She made 33 legislative recommendations, of which 30 are in the legislation

Would the member please give the government credit for doing a very difficult task where there is an absence of current leadership and direction in filling a vacuum that is leaving vulnerable people vulnerable?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. government member for asking that question. I also want to thank him for admitting that, if the government had gone to the trouble of conducting proper consultations and involving the first nations in the process of developing the bill at the community level, we might have had the same outcome as we did in committee this morning with the Cree and Naskapi. They were very happy to have been able to negotiate without debating the issue before committees or Parliament in order to be successful.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I have a press release that was released today. It comes from the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations, including the Assembly of First Nations Women's Council. They all agree that Bill C-8 will do nothing to solve the problems associated with matrimonial real property on reserve. They agree that the federal government failed in its duty to consult with and accommodate the views of first nations and that as a result the bill is fatally flawed and cannot be fixed. They recommend that it should not proceed to committee.

I ask my hon. colleague, with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the committee for a long time, why he thinks it will be useful to send it to committee when we know the major stakeholders strongly oppose the bill, they do not see it as having value for aboriginal women and they do not see it as respectful of aboriginal tradition and culture.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I am from Quebec. Quebeckers and aboriginals share very similar situations because they are both distinct nations. We believe that nothing is beyond repair as long as there is life.

We will discuss this bill very seriously in committee to try to find ways of fixing it. If we cannot fix it, at least we will have tried. These people have been deprived of autonomy and rights for decades. They are bound by the Indian Act, which is outdated. If we can succeed in helping them enjoy a more decent qualify of life as quickly as possible, all the better.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague from the Bloc when he says that the social conditions of Canada's first nations, Métis and Inuit people are possibly Canada's greatest shame. I also agree that the Eurocentric notions often undertaken by government administrations over the years in failing to acknowledge traditional culture and heritage are an oversight we should all be aware of.

I was one of the ordinary Canadians with the Charlottetown accord when we dealt with the aboriginal fifth round meeting. It was driven home to me when we met with women aboriginal elders on issues like this and one woman said that in her community the women are not allowed to run for council or chief. Everyone in the room looked down at their shoes and thought that was terrible. “But”, she told us, “the men are not allowed to vote”.

In her own way she was telling us they had evolved in their community in a way that would not fit any of our norms and expectations about rights, as it were. The women had found a way to achieve an element of power in the community that worked for them.

I tell this story to illustrate that our Eurocentric notion of what should be imposed on aboriginal communities may be far from showing any respect for the traditions and culture and heritage of those communities. A lot of us feel that this bill is along those same lines.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I get the sense that the hon. member's opinion reaffirms our position. True, Canada has a major challenge because of its size. That is practically restating the obvious. Canada is so large and so diverse that it is ungovernable.

Canada and the provinces are going to have to admit that Quebec has learned to recognize the first nations and their distinctive character, and to act accordingly. Just look at the Cree and Naskapi. They almost have self-government now and are very happy, as a result.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, on May 11, 2009, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development led off the debate in the House. One of the statements he made early in his speech was that:

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

It would appear that 85% of the recommendations from the government's consultant were rejected by the government. The bill now before this Parliament is the same bill that was before the last Parliament, at which time both the AFN and the National Aboriginal Women's Association totally rejected the bill as irreparable, that it should not only be defeated but withdrawn.

I wonder if the member would care to comment.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, we were also contacted by representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada.

As I said at the beginning, defeating this bill immediately would prevent these people from voicing their opinions and trying to change the current position set out in the bill.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out at the beginning, consultations were held, but the recommendations were not taken into account. The government did not work with the first nations. So long as that is the case, there will never be a viable agreement.