House of Commons Hansard #187 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from November 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-399, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (volunteers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division at the second reading stage of Bill C-399 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #518

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from November 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-370, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act (St. Lawrence Islands National Park of Canada), be read the third time and passed.

Canada National Parks Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill C-370 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #519

Canada National Parks Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Canada National Parks Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

It being 6:50 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-428, An Act to amend the Indian Act (publication of by-laws) and to provide for its replacement, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
Private Members' Business

November 28th, 2012 / 6:50 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the privilege of talking about an issue as important as the one addressed in Bill C-428. I believe that this bill is important because it tackles the horrible Indian Act of 1876. There can be no doubt that this bill is one of Canada's most archaic colonial legacies. That is why I commend the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River on his initiative. However, it is not enough. It is too little, too late. The Conservative government should consider a much farther-reaching rewrite of the Indian Act and a much more open process.

As a New Democrat, I believe that a complete overhaul of this cursed bill should be led by aboriginals. If the changes are imposed unilaterally, then what, really, has changed? That is why Bill C-428 seems inappropriate.

I will explain why this bill is not likely to go down in history. I do not claim to have a plan to make up for 136 years of colonialism, but I can say that ideally, new legislation should be drafted in collaboration with aboriginals, be introduced by the government and honour the goals of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Because Bill C-428 does not satisfy any of these conditions, I cannot support it.

I want to begin by pointing out that the goal of the 1876 act was the assimilation of all aboriginals and their forced integration into what was then a fledgling Canadian society. When I visit Manawan, people there are still speaking Atikamekw in 2012. In that respect, the act failed. It also includes many provisions that make life difficult for aboriginals. The government will have to do better than a private member's bill to fix it.

In 1969, the Liberal Party tried to get rid of the act in order to integrate aboriginals into Canadian society. That was supposed to happen without compensation, without special status, and with no respect for treaties signed in the past. As one, aboriginals rejected the idea, but that does not mean they wanted to keep the Indian Act. Quite the contrary.

In their red paper, aboriginals stated that it was neither possible nor desirable to abolish the Indian Act. They said that a review of the act was critical, but that it should not happen until treaty issues were resolved. Some 45 years later, that issue is still outstanding.

Other attempts were explored in this House. In 1987, a list was made of discriminatory provisions in the Indian Act, and this led to a bill. Later, in 2003, the Liberals introduced Bill C-7, which, once again, was heavily criticized by first nations. The Conservatives are now bringing forward Bill C-428, a private member's bill, which seems just as irrelevant as other attempts.

In the words of Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In my opinion, this quote points to what is clearly lacking in Bill C-428: a different approach. Perhaps this flaw is the reason why there is very little support for the bill outside the Conservative caucus. The chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, said that this bill is along the same lines as the policy espoused in the 1969 white paper.

Had the Conservatives listened to Mr. Atleo, they would have understood that what to do with aboriginals is no longer the question. In the 21st century, the question is: what do aboriginals want to do with us?

Bill C-428, which the Assembly of First Nations has said came out of nowhere, does not reflect the current reality. During the Crown–First Nations Gathering, the Conservative Prime Minister spoke at length about how his government would work with the first nations.

Aboriginal peoples were not consulted about Bill C-428, or about Bill C-27 or Bill S-8. When the government promises something—and especially something so important—it must follow through. It is shameful to see that this government is not keeping its own promises.

Speaking of broken promises, the government committed to removing the residential school provisions from the Indian Act. We can see that the government preferred to hide the clause in a private member's bill. The NDP thinks that something so important should come from the government, and with apologies, no less. The government must take responsibility and come up with a real, serious solution to replace the Indian Act.

Bill C-428 contains some clauses that seem to be chosen at random, when they are not downright negative. For example, the elimination of the provisions dealing with wills and estates could put aboriginal people in a very frustrating legal void. Does the bill's sponsor understand its implications?

Finally, we must recognize that the living conditions of aboriginal people are getting worse all the time. While the first nations communities are experiencing an ongoing demographic boom, their social services budgets are increasing by only 2% a year, thanks to the Liberals. The fact that the social services budgets for other Canadians are increasing by 6% a year does not seem to bother the government at all.

Malnutrition and education problems are hitting first nations communities hard. I am afraid that the Prime Minister will have to do more than give a medal to Justin Bieber to make young aboriginals forget about this sad reality. When the government decides to really tackle the problems resulting from the Indian Act, I will be there.

Furthermore, I expect that the proposed measure will be very much in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration, which Canada ignorantly refused to support, recognizes the specific needs of aboriginal people. It recognizes their right to be consulted about the use of resources on their land. Do we not owe at least that to those who played key roles in our history and the development of our economy?

If the government does not change its attitude toward the first nations, they will understand that the NDP is the only party that can offer them a truly open consultation process. We want to help them to govern themselves. Other Canadians need to know that the excellent social services they receive must also be provided to aboriginal people, in a spirit of sharing and recognition.

The Indian Act needs to be revised, but not without real consultation, clear objectives and a detailed plan of steps to follow. Unfortunately, Bill C-428 does not meet any of these criteria.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to speak to the private member's bill from the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. I count him not just as a colleague but as one of my personal friends. I could not be more pleased for the hard work he does, not just on the standing committee but as a first nations person in this place, starting a process that is long overdue and is a great opportunity for us as parliamentarians to debate.

Tonight I will address a couple of elements in the private member's bill. First is the issue of first nation bylaw publication; second, outdated sections in the act; and finally, the repeal of the residential school references in the act.

Currently, first nation band councils do not have the same opportunities that municipalities and rural municipalities have to independently develop bylaws. There is also no requirement for first nations to make their bylaws publicly available to their members. As a result, for years confusion has reigned as first nation residents and law enforcement officials have often found themselves in the dark as to the specific nature of the bylaws of each individual first nation.

In addition, first nation band councils have had to go to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to request approval for each and every bylaw. This cumbersome process has caused many bands to wait for extended lengths of time for approval or even to have their bylaws declined. Others have chosen to completely bypass the minister and as a result do not openly inform their membership of the changes to band bylaws.

Bill C-428 would create a more transparent and accountable process for first nation band members wherein first nation councils would be required to publish their bylaws on their website or via some easily accessible communication channel, such as a band newsletter or widely read local newspapers, television, et cetera. The bill would also eliminate the need to request approval from the minister. The requirement to make each first nation bylaw publicly accessible would provide clarity for first nation residents, visitors and law enforcement officials seeking to understand their role in either abiding by or enforcing these rules. It would also place the responsibility for these bylaw-making powers squarely back in the hands of the first nation, where it belongs, and provide grassroots members of the bands with greater accountability from their band councils.

This change would benefit not only law enforcement officers who would more fully understand the expectations of the chief and council of each first nation for a given bylaw, but also those members of the council and band members eager to see the bylaws that they have enacted enforced in an efficient, effective and timely manner. Importantly, this change would also streamline the decision-making process by eliminating the unnecessary step of having to submit any and every new bylaw to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for approval. Currently, following the submission of new bylaws to the minister, there follows a 40-day period during which the law may be disallowed by the minister.

Bill C-428 would also repeal sections of the Indian Act that, while they remain in the law, are no longer enforced. This is equivalent to what we would call “legal underbrush”, which confuses the real issues facing the Crown and the first nations. We must clear this underbrush away, so that we can see the parts of the Indian Act that are substantively affecting the daily life of first nations. One of these is the removal of restrictions on the sale of produce from reserves. There are several other similar examples of sections of the Indian Act that are no longer enforced and that simply have no place in modern legislation.

Though there have been numerous amendments to the Indian Act over the years, the substance of the statute remains very much in the 19th century and that fact is reflected in the language of the document. The bill would seek to do bring the language and content of the statute into the modern era. Incremental changes such as these would pave the way for future legislation to be developed in collaboration with first nation members that would benefit all Canadians.

Some of the detractors of Bill C-428 have chosen to ridicule this set of changes. That is misguided. As a lawyer, I feel very strongly that it is important to take those steps to remove from the law things that are no longer relevant, or in the case of residential schools, institutions we no longer support. It is a dark chapter in Canada's history and we must move on from that.

By taking concrete steps to amend the language and remove outdated and irrelevant sections of the Indian Act, this bill addresses some of the challenges facing first nations communities in regard to their political, social and economic development.

Bill C-428 would also remove the provisions allowing for the establishment of residential schools.

On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada made an impassioned and heartfelt apology to the first nations people of Canada for the treatment of children in residential schools, a sad and shameful chapter in our nation's history. The Prime Minister deservedly received praise, not only for the sentiment of the statement but also for the eloquence with which it was expressed and the sincerity of his remarks. Following this momentous apology, the government also announced its intent to repeal those sections of the Indian Act that allowed for the establishment of Indian residential schools and the removal of children from their homes and communities.

Bill C-428 would do exactly that. It would remove from the Indian Act, once and for all, any mention of residential schools as well as the outdated language dealing with the religion of first nations residents in relation to their schooling. This would ensure that no future government could open a residential school for first nations.

The pain arising from the legacy of residential schools continues to affect constituents in the great Kenora riding and across the country. By removing this antiquated language and all references to residential schools, we can take another collective step on the path toward healing as a nation.

While the horrors of the residential school situation cannot be erased or forgotten, removing the segments of the Indian Act, which still to this day refer to residential schools, can provide a path to better understanding and can reassure our first nations' communities of our commitment to never see this happen again.

The Indian Act has had the effect of robbing children of their goals and ambitions. By nourishing and encouraging the dreams of first nations youth, we help not only these children but our entire community. For generations the Indian Act has allowed the potential of first nations youth to wither. We cannot afford to allow this waste to continue.

The colonial and discriminatory nature of the Indian Act has led to decades of discrimination and cultural division. The residential schools were a vehicle for the social, cultural and spiritual destruction that was embedded in the act. Removing offensive and irrelevant sections from the Indian Act is symbolic and will help residential school survivors on their personal path to healing.

Bill C-428 has as its primary goal the empowerment of first nations people and their governments. I am proud to stand here today in support of the work my colleague from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River is doing in this regard. I thank the residents of the great Kenora riding, particularly our first nations communities, more than 42 in our jurisdiction.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to this bill. It is very clear that the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River has the best of intentions. With great regret, I have to join those who are opposed to this bill. For the most part, it is not because of the substantive changes the member has brought forward, which a number of members in his party have spoken for. The main problem with this bill is that it is breaking the constitutional obligation for advanced consultation, consideration and accommodation.

I would go to the preamble of the member's bill. My concern with the preamble is the reference to the commitment of the Government of Canada to exploring creative options for the development of new legislation “in collaboration with the First Nations organizations that have demonstrated an interest in this work”. Right off the bat, the member is narrowing the constitutional obligation to consult with all first nations. Perhaps this was unintentional. The member might want to reconsider that, because I think he has the best of intentions for his fellow first nations. It fails to reference first nations governments, and that will derogate from the overriding constitutional obligation.

The bill proposes, as a number of members and the member who tabled the bill have pointed out, a number of measures to rescind or amend provisions in the Indian Act. For example, there are specific provisions to do with residential schools, wills and estates, the duty to attend school, the process for enacting band bylaws and the sale of produce. Few would oppose the right of Canadian first nations to make these kinds of decisions for their own peoples. The problem is not the intention of passing over those powers. The problem is the way in which the member has gone about it.

Another measure I find problematic, which would be a good provision if the rest of the bill could stand and if it had been consulted on in advance, is that the bill would require the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to report annually to the aboriginal affairs committee on actions taken to replace the Indian Act. What would have been preferable in such a bill, and I would think first nations would agree, is that the report should be to Parliament, which is normally what happens with a matter of interest to this place. Of course, there should be the duty of prior consultation.

The member suggested when he tabled the bill that clause 2 of the bill, on the minister reporting to the committee, also requires a collaborative consultation between first nations and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on the Indian Act. Regrettably, there is no such provision in the bill. It would have been a useful one and would certainly be supported by first nations.

The biggest problem with this bill is the duty to consult. As I mentioned, and as should be known to members in this place, there is an overriding constitutional duty to consult. That duty was upheld in the famous Mikisew Cree case, which originated in my province, with the Mikisew Cree First Nation. It has been repeated in numerous cases since. That duty is on the Government of Canada to advance consultation, consideration and accommodation of first nation peoples' interests before any decision is made by the Government of Canada.

That duty is reiterated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in both articles 18 and 19. Article 18 states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

Article 19 states:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

At the Crown-first nation gathering, as a number of members have pointed out, including the member who tabled the bill, the Prime Minister made certain commitments regarding the Indian Act. He stated:

To be sure, our government has no grand scheme to repeal or unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act.

Thus he undertook to work in collaboration with first nations should any changes be made to the Indian Act.

The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River has advised the House that he had consulted first nations in the development of the bill and had found support. I conferred with a number of first nations, particularly in the Prairies, to determine their views so that I could share them in the House and confirm if they had been expressed to the member. This is what I have been able to determine. In the first nations that I was able to reach in Alberta, I was advised that several presentations were made by the member to the Alberta first nations after the tabling of the bill. That is not a case of advance consultation. Moreover, both of the sessions that were brought to my attention were ticketed events at a cost of $575, including for students. The notice for the meetings clearly said that space was limited and that it was not a consultation.

Alberta Treaty 8 Chief, Rose Laboucan, the regional chief responsible for legislation, advised me today that neither she nor her first nation had been consulted in the drafting of the bill.

I also contacted Saskatchewan first nations. I was provided with the following information. The Assembly of Chiefs of Saskatchewan and the Federation of Chiefs of Indian Nations were so upset by the presentation made by the member that they issued a series of press releases, which I can share. They said:

First Nation leaders attending the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Legislative Assembly were outraged and insulted by Member of Parliament [for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill's] presentation on his proposed private members Bill C-428.

In particular, Vice Chief Morley Watson stated:

Mr. Clarke requested due to his ongoing work on this Bill that he wouldn't allow questions from the floor at our Legislative Assembly on his Bill C-428. Chiefs were not consulted nor do we view his attendance yesterday as a form of consultation on what Mr. Clarke is trying to undertake with his proposed amendments to the Indian Act. This is furthering the White Paper Policy of 1969.

The vice chief then stated:

If you read the bill as presented there is grave concerns. It is designed to bring into reality the steps to get rid of the Indian Act. [The member] is putting in place the steps needed to accomplish this task. There are many—

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

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

I believe the member was referring to a member of the House by name, other than the name of the constituency, so I would ask that you ensure that members are referred to by the name of their district rather than by their first or last names.