Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act

An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Chuck Strahl  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of May 15, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the adoption of First Nation laws and the establishment of provisional rules and procedures that apply during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse or common-law partner, respecting the use, occupation and possession of family homes on First Nation reserves and the division of the value of any interests or rights held by spouses or common-law partners in or to structures and lands on those reserves.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Bill C-56—Time Allocation MotionCombatting Counterfeit Products ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2013 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. President, we want to clarify something on this side of the House, as we have done for several other bills in recent weeks. What we want to tell this government is that some bills introduced many years ago have been delayed for reasons that are quite clear.

For example, in September 2008, the Prime Minister decided to call an election. At that time, no one was expecting an election. Obviously when this happened, everything slowed down and we were forced to start from scratch.

I will use the example of Bill S-2, which was first introduced as Bill C-47. The Conservatives were forced to reintroduce it as Bill C-8. What happened to Bill C-8? In December 2009, Parliament was prorogued, so we had to start again.

These are the kinds of delays caused by this government. This bill was then replaced by Bill S-4, and the Conservatives sat on their hands for seven months. In May 2011 it was reintroduced as Bill S-2. Two years went by while the Conservatives did nothing. Suddenly, in June 2013 it became absolutely urgent to pass this bill because it had been on the order paper for so long.

The fact is that this situation is a direct result of their delays—

Sitting ResumedFamily Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is one thing to debate a bill and we are to debate a bill on its own merits, but the sanctimony and hypocrisy coming from that side of the House is mind-boggling.

The member said let us look at ourselves in the mirror. Let me remind her, this bill started off as Bill C-47. What happened to it? It died on the order paper because the Prime Minister called a sudden election in 2008. It came back as Bill C-8. It died again on the order paper. Why? Because the government prorogued in December 2009. It came back again, this time as Bill S-4. They had seven months and the Conservatives did not do a thing with it. It came back as Bill S-2 in May 2011. It has been there almost two years. What did they do?

But now we are in a big rush. What does the government have to say about the priority of the bill?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-8, 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.

The summary of the bill reads:

This enactment provides for the adoption of First Nation laws and the establishment of provisional rules and procedures that apply during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse or common-law partner, respecting the use, occupation and possession of family homes on First Nation reserves and the division of the value of any interests or rights held by spouses or common-law partners in or to structures and lands on those reserves.

Members are probably aware that I do not have any reserves in my riding so I will take a moment to explain why I am speaking to this and how I came to take an interest in the bill. It really started in the last Parliament with a former colleague, Tina Keeper, who is from the north and who had done a lot of work on this issue. There was a bill, Bill C-47, before the House that she expressed a lot of concern about. I met with her not too long ago and she was very adamant that she wanted to continue to be involved and that she would help in any way she could to ensure that any legislation that comes forward on matrimonial real property will be appropriate legislation that is fairly reflective of the aboriginal rights to self-determination and self-government.

About four weeks ago, when we had the last parliamentary break, the Ontario caucus of my party extended an invitation to groups to speak to us about the issues that were important to them. It was an outreach event. One of the groups that came before us was led by Mr. Richard C. Powless who is a consultant for first nations. Mr. Powless and his colleagues from the Six Nations came to talk about Bill C-8. After they were finished their brief presentation, there was some silence. I was not sure why because, to me, their presentation was very serious. The presentation basically said that there was no support whatsoever for this bill in the first nations across Canada but it is going forward, which is a travesty. Some of their reasons were laid out.

I decided to speak up and ask a couple of questions. The next thing I knew, Mr. Powless had agreed to send me many more details about the bill than he could possibly talk about in the brief time that he had to deal with us. He did send the material and it was terrific. It went virtually clause-by-clause down the bill and laid out some of the problems. I could, with the unanimous consent of the House, spend about two hours going through each of those but I do not think it is necessary. I will circulate it to members. It is important if they have not seen it already.

Subsequent to that, Mr. Powless, as we were corresponding, asked me whether or not he could meet with additional representatives and we did that a week or so ago. At this meeting, in addition to Mr. Powless, were: Lawané:Wan Clinton M. Cornelius, Oneida Nation of the Thames Council; Julie Phillips-Jacobs, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne; Mr. Carl Hill, Six Nations Council; and Ava Hill, Six Nations Council.

We spent some time reviewing the representations that Mr. Powless had made to our caucus and I was presented with some additional materials that laid out the concerns that they had with the bill.

Then we talked about strategy. It was pretty clear that Bill C-8 was identical to Bill C-47 in the last Parliament. There really has not been any evolution with regard to the policy or the proposed legislation.

Because Bill C-8 had been delayed down the order paper and did not come forward as expeditiously as it should, that was an indication the government did not really have its heart behind it, that it knew there were problems and it did not want to have to face this.

Strategically, some things could be done. The AFN and the National Women's Aboriginal Council, representing all aboriginals across the country, could write the minister to let him know there was no support among aboriginal communities for this bill, for substantive reasons. They could ask the government to withdraw the bill and have the appropriate consultations and discussions on all the points identified as being flawed, flawed to the point that the bill could not even be repaired at committee. That was their view.

Yesterday, the member for Toronto Centre gave an eloquent speech about how important it was for legislation not fly in the face of the stakeholders affected by it. The stakeholders have to be consulted. They have to understand why it is necessary. The Government of Canada was basically imposing legislation on stakeholders, in this case the first nations of Canada, which would have an enormous impact on them and also seriously contradict a lot of the things it had earlier. There were big problems with the bill. This was two irreconcilable forces. It was not going to happen. The whole idea is we cannot force the bill through. It will not work because it is not reparable.

Some members have suggested we could send it to committee and fix it there. We have to listen to what the AFN had to say. We do not have to go to committee, have witnesses and try to identify what the problems are. It has already provided a paper, which I will give it to any member who wants it. Page by page, issue by issue, it is an extraordinary work. We cannot ignore that work. That should have been known and reviewed by the government prior to Bill C-8 being called at second reading. If the government would recognize that it is a fundamentally flawed bill and that it does not have a hope of passing, it would be in the best interests of the AFN, of Canada's aboriginal communities, to withdraw the bill, or defeat it, or hoist the bill, do anything to stop this flawed processed because it will not work. That is what should happen, but it has not. The government is insistent.

Let me quote from the minister's speech from Monday. Members will recall that we had a concurrence motion after question period, which took up most of the afternoon, so we did not get around to this until about 6:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the House was to adjourn for the day. The minister got up to speak to Bill C-8. I was astounded at what he said. The minister described a process in a bill, which is not the process I know. One of his statements was:

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

Bill C-8 was not developed after exhaustive study because it bill is the same bill that we had in the last Parliament, Bill C-47. There may have been consultations on Bill C-47, but not on this bill.

As for authoritative research, there was no additional research. There was no additional work done on this. As for comprehensive consultation, there were consultations. I know the parliamentary secretary has boasted about having hundreds of meetings. There is a difference between having consultations and listening to the consultations.

In fact, members will know that the government's own consultant on the bill had many recommendations and 85% of them were rejected by the government. It has to tell us something. If 85% of the recommendations of its consultant are rejected by the government, if no first nations groups in the country support the bill and if all three opposition parties are telling the government that the bill must be defeated somehow at some stage, why is the government being so closed-minded to the realities?

I want to thank Mr. Richard Powless who raised this issue with the Ontario Liberal caucus in the hopes that we would be able to do something. I am not sure if we will be able to do enough to make the right things happen. We know we need a bill, but we need the right bill that is based on proper consultations and due respect for the laws of Canada. It is very important.

I have the resolution for Bill C-47, signed by Phil Fontaine, National Chief. It is quite long. It states:

The Ministerial Representative on Matrimonial Real Property submitted a report on March 9, 2007 and included important considerations and recommendations regarding consultation and First Nation jurisdiction;

In spite of the views of First Nations and many of the recommendations of its own Ministerial Representative, the Government drafted and introduced Bill C-47 on March 4, 2008;

I referred to this in the House. The consultant of the government made recommendations and they were ignored.

It also goes on to state:

Bill C-47 contains clauses that provide the Federal Government with control over the First Nation law making process through a “verification officer” and is therefore fundamentally inconsistent with the First Nation inherent right to self government.

I cannot think of anything more fundamental in legislation.

Let me refer to a couple of the resolutions:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that:

Chiefs-in-Assembly reject Bill C-47 and the approach taken by the Federal government as it did not fulfill the duty of the Crown to consult and to accommodate the views and interests of First Nations.

Therefore, it also rejects Bill C-8 because it is the same bill:

It goes on to say that:

Chiefs-in-Assembly demand that the Federal Government withdraw Bill C-47 and provide First Nations with resources to properly develop and implement a meaningful process that respects First Nation jurisdiction and existing First Nation processes addressing MRP.

This resolution, passed by the AFN and signed by Chief Phil Fontaine, was dated July 17, 2008. This is not new to the government.

Notwithstanding the clear statements by the AFN and the Native Women's Council, the government ignored them. In fact, the minister himself gave a 15-minute speech. The clock ran out and the minister did not come back to the House to finish his speech or to allow members to ask questions. That is significant.

I want to close the last part of my speech. Yesterday, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the AFN Women's Council, and the Assembly of First Nations published a joint release dated May 14, yesterday. This is a joint communiqué, and we have to take this into account very seriously.

It reads:

Today the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the AFN Women's Council united to express their opposition to the federal Bill C-8, 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.

It goes on to say:

[We] all agree that Bill C-8 will do nothing to resolve or to solve the problems associated with Matrimonial Real Property (MPR) on-reserve; that the federal government failed in its duty to consult and accommodate the views of First Nations; and, as a result, the Bill is fatally flawed and cannot be fixed. It should not proceed to committee.

This goes on substantively. I would be happy to provide this to any hon. members who would like to have it. I think it is important. It is clear, concise, and correct.

As the hon. member for Toronto Centre said yesterday, how can the federal government bring forward legislation that does not respect the views and the interests of the stakeholders that will be impacted?

We cannot have this butting of heads. It has to be a respectful process. It has to be a process that acknowledges and respects the laws of Canada as they relate to aboriginals. It has to be a process with an understanding that, yes, we need a bill and the sooner we get the bill, the better. However, it has to be a good bill. Time is being wasted.

If we send the bill to committee, all we will do is have weeks of witnesses, weeks of questions on items, when in fact the work has been done already. It shows time and time again that consultations have not taken place. Where there have been recommendations from the government's consultant, the vast majority, over 85%, of them were rejected.

It is an insult to first nations, Canadians and Parliament to suggest somehow that there has been significant consultation. First nations, and in particular the Native Women's Association of Canada, which speaks for women's groups, and the women's council, which also represents women's issues through the full council of the AFN, should be taken into account. The stakeholders, those affected by the legislation, need to believe and feel they have been consulted. They need to believe their concerns and views have been respected.

When there is a rejection of any of those suggestions, the right thing to do is explain it in true, full and plain fashion. That has not happened.

For all of those reasons, my recommendation to the House is to pass the current hoist motion before us, which suggests the bill has to stop now. We need to start the process to get the right bill so we can work here and pass legislation in the best interests of first nations in Canada.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 14th, 2009 / 12:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, we are discussing an extremely important bill. I, too, am somewhat surprised by my Liberal colleague's position. I do not think that his is the right approach just now, particularly when it comes to the matrimonial rights of aboriginal peoples. This bill has gone by several numbers, of which I will list just two. Bill C-47 died on the order paper last year when the election was called, and now we have Bill C-8.

The Bloc Québécois believes, and I hope the NDP will agree, that this bill should be studied in committee. It is of utmost importance that this bill be debated, analyzed and closely examined with witnesses by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Allow me to explain.

I am aware of the rules of Parliament. By presenting an amendment to delay study of the bill for six months, the Liberal Party knows full well that the bill will die on the order paper. I am absolutely certain that that is not what aboriginal women want. They want respect, and the Bloc Québécois believes that aboriginal women will get respect if we study the matter of matrimonial rights respectfully once and for all.

I hope that my Conservative Party colleagues will not take it for granted that our support for Bill C-8 is firm and unconditional. I want to say right now that we really do not like Bill C-8, not one bit. It does have some good points and measures, but some things in the bill are just not well thought out. If the government is serious about this, and I hope that it is, it will understand that we want to take as much time as we need in committee to properly study this bill, pick it apart and amend it as necessary. This bill must meet the needs of aboriginal women, first nations and aboriginal peoples across the country.

The government will have to explain why it set aside the main recommendations made by Ms. Grant-John, who did an exceptional job of examining this issue. The issue of matrimonial rights has been around for a number of years. With all due respect, the Liberals do not have a leg to stand on when criticizing the Conservatives at this stage regarding Bill C-8. It was the Liberals who introduced the famous Bill C-31 on women's matrimonial rights, the 1985 bill that erased women's rights in their entirety in one fell swoop. They should remember that the bill languished. Although the Conservatives adopted the bill, it originated with the Liberals some time before that.

It is odd because the Liberals know this. An extremely interesting ruling was just handed down by the Court of Appeal. It concerns the rights of aboriginal peoples, especially women's rights. This ruling was handed down on April 6, 2009.

The government will have to take it into account because the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling overturns several decisions and forces the government to recognize that it imposed a law that discriminated against aboriginal peoples.

In the matter at hand—and we will come to an agreement rather quickly—it is clear that 90% to 95% of the matrimonial rights cases concern women and children in native communities. It is equally clear that the rights of women have been violated. In my opinion, moving forward and adopting the amendment would kill the bill. With all due respect for my colleague from Labrador, and based on my extensive experience, I know that unless the government is forced to act it will not do so. In this case, it is not true that there will be further consultations if we give the government six more months. That is not true. I do not buy it.

We in the Bloc Québécois prefer to move forward, and I hope that my NDP colleagues will feel the same way. I hope that what I am about to say will be well translated and that our friends opposite will understand me clearly. I have just one hope, and that is that they do not seriously believe we are going to pass this bill in a rush and study it quickly in committee. It will take months. I hope they realize that, because if they do not, then there will be trouble. But that is very clear.

I have a few questions. Why is it that Ms. Grant-John's entire report was set aside?

Why is it that none of the recommendations made by the rapporteur, Ms. Corbett, were acted on?

It is odd, because I was looking for support for this bill among aboriginal women in Canada and in Quebec, but both groups said no. I spoke this morning with Grand Chief Picard, who also has problems with this bill. But I will give it a chance.

In my opinion, the Bloc Québécois, probably with the support of the NDP, will be willing to refer this very, very important bill to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that it is studied properly in the interest of the rights of women living in aboriginal communities. This problem has existed in aboriginal communities for too long, and we must find solutions. For my part, I believe, with all due respect, that having a minority government is not a bad thing.

We have seen evidence of this. I will give my colleagues opposite the chance to respond. I will quickly give a brief history of Bill C-21, which was passed during the previous session. This bill repealed section 67 of the Indian Act. As a result, aboriginal communities will now be accountable, and complaints can be filed against them with the Human Rights Commission.

Our Conservative colleagues opposite were opposed to all the amendments we had made to the bill. The original bill consisted of just one clause. When it came out of committee, was reported in this House and was passed, it included 12 or 13 clauses. I was very closely involved in the study of the bill, and I can tell you that it was thanks to the aboriginal communities and all the members of the committee that we were able to seriously amend Bill C-21 so that it respected the rights of aboriginal peoples.

I have a problem with hoisting this bill. In my opinion, we need to study it and make amendments, and we need especially to heed the protests of the aboriginal women who were not consulted.

There is a Supreme Court decision about consultation with respect to Supreme Court rulings. If this is the case, I do not believe, with all due respect for my colleagues across the way, that such consultation has taken place. They could have taken a few more months. We will set the process in motion during those months and it will take the time it needs to take. The Bloc Québécois wants to see this bill amended to take the rights of aboriginal women on reserves into consideration.

The situation can be easily summarized. An aboriginal couple marries, has children and accumulates assets on reserve. They might, for instance, own a convenience store, a service station or some other business. The couple separates. The woman leaves the marital home, as usually happens, unfortunately, and leaves the reserve. She settles in town or somewhere else. Then comes the issue of who owns the convenience store, the garage or the business. They are located on the reserve and thus on federal territory. The situation is not clear.

The Bloc Québécois wants to examine this bill. A lot of work has been done on it by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and they have sent recommendations to us. I have read them and I believe that they need to be taken into consideration because a number of Mohawk communities, and probably some others as well, have what is called a matrimonial property rights tribunal. These are in place in the communities and we must respect what is being done in the communities. We need to take steps to ensure that we respect what is already in place, but the bill as it stands is not clear about this. What is more, the government seems to want to have a degree of control over the settlement of matrimonial property rights on the reserves, but I must admit this is not clear. If the regulations do not work, the federal government could change them. I believe I read that. If the government wants to go ahead with this, there is going to be a serious problem.

However, I want to point out that matrimonial rights have a huge impact on communities. Often, the women and children wind up with nothing and are expelled from the reserve, while the men keep everything. I do not want to generalize, but I would say that this is what happens in 80% or 90% of cases. I know, because I live in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and I have a good idea of what is happening in my communities. We must not be blind or ignore what is happening. We need to pay attention and take into account individual and collective rights.

There will be a serious debate about collective versus individual rights. This bill is not clear. It deserves to be debated and examined in greater detail. I will say to my Liberal colleagues, as I said at the start, that the worst that could happen would be that, if the committee is not happy with the responses and if the amendments we propose are not incorporated, we kill the bill. The three opposition parties can kill the bill, obviously. The government will have to understand that it is in its interest to respect what aboriginal communities want, which is not to be pushed around. They want to be heard. The main groups want to be heard and want to have a chance to speak.

I have asked that they propose amendments. We will have to look at the clauses. I know that aboriginal communities and groups, the Native Women's Association and the Assembly of First Nations of Canada may be opposed to the bill as it currently stands.

In life, it is not enough just to be opposed to something. You have to come up with solutions to the problem. When a party is opposed to the bill, I respect its position. But what solutions does it have? What amendments does it propose? This bill also raises the whole debate about incorporating provincial and territorial laws. The problem of respecting women's rights has never been easy to solve, and it will not be easy to solve with Bill C-8.

But if we do not make the effort to sit down all together at the same table to discuss, amend and adapt this bill so that it respects women's rights, we will miss the boat and pay the price. I especially do not want to be pushed around on this issue. I want us to take our time and study this bill carefully, and I want us to listen to the groups that propose amendments that we will study and analyze. I hope that the government does not think that this bill will be passed before the end of the current session. If it does, then we will have a serious problem.

This is a very important bill. Bill C-21 repealed section 67 of the Indian Act. We took the time we needed, and we did things properly. We also passed a bill about specific claims. We took the time to talk to aboriginal communities and aboriginal association representatives. This is a good bill that should satisfy aboriginal communities.

This morning, the committee—and I am in a position to know—passed Bill C-28 without amendment, or rather, with a small amendment concerning syntax. The bill should be back before the House when we return from the Victoria Day recess or, in our case, the fête des Patriotes. We passed the bill, and the Cree people are satisfied. It took 10 years, but now it is done. I am not suggesting that it will take 10 years to pass Bill C-8, but I think that it will take a few months. We have to take the time to listen to aboriginal community representatives. Important things, such as federal legislation on matrimonial property and recognition of the jurisdiction of first nations, must be taken into account. How will we do that?

I will end with a discussion of a principle that I believe in: if one wants what one has never had, one must be prepared to do what one has never done.

We are about to do something that we have never done: respect aboriginal women. That is what we will do as we study the bill in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development over the next few months.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2009 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

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

moved that Bill C-8, 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 rise today to express my support for Bill C-8, Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act.

We have before us in Canada, an inexcusable and intolerable situation that has gone on far too long. Before I discuss this bill, it is important to have a sound understanding of matrimonial rights and interests.

An inexcusable and intolerable situation has gone on for far too long in Canada. Before I discuss the main planks of the bill, it is important to have a basic understanding of matrimonial rights and interests.

Matrimonial real property, or MRP, typically refers to the family home where both spouses in a marriage or common law relationship live on reserve. For almost all Canadians, provincial and territorial laws protect the MRP rights and interests of both spouses in the event of separation, divorce or death. These laws address a wide range of circumstances. If the family home is sold, for instance, both spouses must share in the proceeds. These laws also authorize a judge to order a spouse to temporarily leave the family home, particularly in cases of domestic violence and physical abuse.

Shamefully, these same laws that all Canadians take for granted do not apply on reserve. Spouses who live in communities governed by the Indian Act are afforded no such protection. This is because the Indian Act does not address the issue, and past governments have failed to remedy this glaring omission through legislation. As a result, relationship breakdowns in first nations communities often lead to homelessness and poverty, particularly for women and children.

Although each victim's situation is unique, we can all envision the following type of unfortunate and sad scenario: A husband and wife and their family live together in a house on first nations land. The marriage breaks down, who knows why, and the husband forces his wife and children to leave the family home. The woman has no legal recourse. She must find another place for her and her children to live. Often she has no choice but to leave the community. She is homeless. She is impoverished. Meanwhile, no court in the land can prevent the husband from selling the home and pocketing the cash.

It is unacceptable that this scenario continues to play out in Canada in the 21st century. Parliament must act. This bill would quickly remedy this legal void.

In highlighting the importance of this Parliament passing Bill C-8, I want to stress four important aspects of this legislation.

First, our Conservative government fully recognizes that first nations are best placed to make choices about the balance between the rights of first nations and the collective property rights. They are in the best position to develop those laws. That is why Bill C-8 describes a process for first nations communities to develop and enact their own laws in this area. That is the first thing. Let us allow first nations to develop the laws that apply in their situation on reserve. I think all sides of the House recognize that.

Second, while first nations develop their own laws, a remedy for vulnerable citizens living on reserve is urgently required. Bill C-8 proposes the immediate application of interim federal protection on reserves similar to those enjoyed by all other Canadians.

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

Finally, Bill C-8 complements this government's larger initiatives to protect the rights and interests of first nations people. Again, I would point out that Bill C-21, which we passed in the last Parliament, was supported by all sides of the House. For the first time it brought the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act to bear on people living on reserve.

The first element of Bill C-8 provides an enabling process for first nations to establish MRP regimes of their own, regimes based on the cultural and social norms of their communities. To create such a law, a first nation most hold a fair and democratic vote on its proposed MRP legislation that must be approved by the entire community.

Laws that meet these conditions are not subject to review, consideration or rejection by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development or by the department. In other words, as first nations develop those laws based on their community customs, they bring them forward and have them endorsed at the community level. I cannot intervene, nor should I, in making sure that those would be the laws of application for that particular community.

The next element of the proposed legislation goes hand in hand with my first reason for supporting Bill C-8. It sets out a federal regime that will immediately protect the MRP rights and interests of first nations spouses and common law partners. The regime would provide residents of first nations communities with access to legal recourse similar to that available to all other Canadians. This would close the unacceptable legislative gap that currently exists. It will protect some of the most vulnerable Canadians who right now have no protection in case of that marital breakdown.

Our outright support for Bill C-8 is also based on the fact that the proposed legislation is founded on a sizable body of sound research and an exhaustive consultation. There are multiple standing committee reports with all parties voicing support, having recommended a swift and enduring legislative solution. International groups, including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, reached similar conclusions.

A comprehensive consultation process also informs the legislation now before us. In 2006 a collaborative process facilitated by the esteemed Wendy Grant-John and involving the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations saw 103 consultative sessions held at 76 different sites across the country. In fact, over $8 million was provided to the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations to carry out a consultative process. We wanted input and we got it.

This government also went to great lengths to create a legislative solution that would satisfy all stakeholders. Our proposal was largely based on the results of the consultations and many of Wendy Grant-John's thoughtful recommendations. A draft legislative proposal was then shared with key stakeholders, including the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the First Nations Lands Advisory Board and the provinces and territories. Their input resulted in significant improvements to the legislation before us today.

I would also point out that Bill C-47, this bill's predecessor, has been in the public domain for all to see and review for a full year now. It passed at second reading in the 39th Parliament. I think members on all sides of the House wanted to get this into committee for further evaluation and study, knowing that we need to address this legislative gap. That is why it passed in the last Parliament with all-party support.

The proposed legislation incorporates the ideas put forward and addresses concerns expressed during many years of study, analysis and discussion.

Virtually every first nation group in Canada that spoke to this issue during the consultation strongly opposed the application of provincial laws, so that option was discarded. To respond to those who demanded that any solution address the cultural values and traditions of first nation communities, Bill C-8 provides a process for first nations to develop their own culturally specific laws on the issue.

At the same time, the national approach taken in this bill will ensure that the immediate protection provided will be consistent for first nations across the country. In other words, it will apply immediately, but first nations are encouraged to bring in their own laws, and I am sure many of them will do so quickly, developed in their own communities that under this legislation will supersede the national standards in this act. It will have the stand-alone, community based, community endorsed, community ratified solution for that particular first nation. That is as it should be, in our opinion, and that is why this deserves broad support.

Some groups also raised concerns about the implementation of a federal MRP regime. There are two answers to this.

First, as I have mentioned, this legislation takes the minister and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs out of the picture regarding first nations MRP laws on reserves. Instead, this bill recognizes that first nations, not the federal government, are best placed to make these decisions related to MRP.

We have taken many measures to ensure that even during the time when the interim federal protection applies, collective interests are well balanced with individual needs. That is important for first nations. They need to know that the reserve property that is owned collectively is not going to be sold out from underneath them. This cannot happen under this legislation. No one ever intended that and we were careful to make sure that the protection and balance is in this legislation. Again all of it was done with the intent that first nations will develop their own MRP laws that will be community specific and ratified in the local community.

Given that implementation concerns cannot be readily addressed in the legislation itself--we cannot answer all these questions that way--the Government of Canada plans to establish a centre of excellence to support first nations and to deliver training and information sessions to law enforcement and court officials. It will be a place where best practices are maintained. A repository of information and research material will be there for first nations that are in the midst of developing their own laws for their own communities.

These actions touch upon my final point.

Bill C-8 is part of a much larger strategy to improve the quality of life experienced by residents of first nations communities. This strategy involves working in collaboration with first nations organizations and other willing partners to identify and attack the root causes of injustice and inequity.

This strategy has already produced tangible results on a variety of issues and a comprehensive plan developed in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations. A good example is the specific claims legislation that this government brought in. It addresses the unacceptable backlog of hundreds and hundreds of claims. First nations have been looking for some 40 years for laws to give some assurance that these will be settled in a timely fashion.

We worked with first nations. We brought in that legislation. That plan was endorsed by Parliament to establish an independent tribunal to adjudicate these claims. I mentioned earlier Bill C-21 and the issue of the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is another good example of how that kind of application on reserve, specific claims on reserve and a record number of treaty land entitlement resolutions that we have had especially on the Prairies, all point to addressing those long-standing issues in order to address other inequities and inequalities in the system, and certainly that is what we are eager to do.

As I mentioned, this will be, in my opinion, the flagship human rights legislation introduced in this Parliament, certainly by me. It deals with something that has been a legislative gap for far too long. It is something that other Canadians take for granted. It is time we addressed that gap. Some people and some communities talk about human rights. Some other countries talk about the importance of human rights; Canada certainly does, but we are acting on this basic human right.

I believe Bill C-8 offers another historic opportunity to better protect the basic rights of first nations people.

The legislation asks the members of this House two fundamental questions. First, should this country extend the legal rights, recourses and protections enjoyed by all other Canadians, and should we extend that, with this legislation, to first nations communities?

Second, should first nations have the power to develop MRP laws that reflect the cultural and social traditions of their communities? That is the flip side of the same coin.

In my opinion, the answer is yes, we must move to protect the most vulnerable in society, to fill that legislative gap as quickly as possible, to ensure that first nation communities, and especially the vulnerable in first nation communities, have the access to rights that all other Canadians enjoy.

Equally as important, the flip side of that same coin is that we on this side of the House support first nations developing their own MRP laws to address that gap. When they address that gap, it will be approved in their local communities. They will address it in a way that is sensitive to their local situation and their social norms and their cultural traditions.

Once that is done, passed and ratified, then the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs cannot interfere in first nations' proper exercise of their authority to develop that MRP law of their own. That is essential to the flip side of this important coin.

It is my hope that hon. colleagues here today and in the days to come at committee will do the right thing and will do the honourable thing, which I think is to stand up for the most vulnerable in society and support Bill C-8 through all stages in this House and in committee so that first nations can enjoy the same rights as every other Canadian.

When we went through the debate on Bill C-21 in the last Parliament, there was concern about trying to achieve perfection. We talked about whether it was the right time to do this, whether we could have done something more, and whether we could have consulted more. In this case, we have consulted at over 100 different community meetings.

I suppose we could always say we could more. We could spend more money on consultations. We could extend it indefinitely into the future. But at some point we have to come down solidly and say, enough is enough, it is time to extend this right that every other Canadian knows in their heart and has experienced, sometimes unfortunately has experienced it in the courts, but at least they have a way to address this longstanding issue in their community.

I would just ask people to wrap their head around this. What would one say to that first nation lady who is looking for some access to the matrimonial real property that she and her husband have built over the years? She might say, “Unfortunately the marriage has broken down, but I could get off to the next step by getting half of the assets of the matrimonial property and move forward, maybe into another home or into another situation, looking after my children”.

We need to say to that lady or that man, “We are there for you. We will do the right thing in this Parliament of Canada. We will extend to you the same rights as every other Canadian.” We are going to do it starting today, and we are going to do it as quickly as we can.

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 15th, 2008 / 3 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with our theme for this week, which is strengthening democracy and human rights, today we will continue to debate Bill C-47, which is a bill to provide basic rights to on reserve individuals to protect them and their children in the event of a relationship breakdown, which are rights that Canadians off reserve enjoy every day.

We will debate our bill to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement, Bill C-34, and Bill C-21, which would extend the protection of the Canadian Human Rights Act to aboriginals living on reserve.

We will also debate Bill C-29, which is our bill to close the loophole that was used most recently by Liberal leadership candidates to bypass the personal contribution limit provisions of the election financing laws with large personal loans from wealthy, powerful individuals, and Bill C-19, which is our bill to limit the terms of senators to eight years from the current maximum of 45.

Next week will be honouring our monarch week. Members of Parliament will return to their ridings to join constituents in celebrating Queen Victoria, our sovereign with whom Sir John A. Macdonald worked in establishing Confederation, and honouring our contemporary head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The week the House returns will be sound economic management without a carbon tax week. The highlight of the week will be the return of the budget bill to this House on May 28.

This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much needed changes to the immigration system. These measures will help us ensure the competitiveness of our economy. I would like to assure this House that we are determined to see this bill pass before the House rises for the summer.

We will start the week by debating, at third reading, Bill C-33, our biofuels bill to require that by 2010 5% of gasoline and by 2012 2% of diesel and home heating oil will be comprised of renewable fuels, with our hope that there will be no carbon tax on them.

We will debate Bill C-55, our bill to implement the free trade agreement with the states of the European Free Trade Association.

This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.

We will also debate Bill C-5 dealing with nuclear liability issues for our energy sector; Bill C-7 to modernize our aeronautics sector; Bill C-43 to modernize our customs rules; Bill C-39 to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers; Bill C-46 to give farmers more choice in marketing grain; Bill C-14, which allows enterprises choice for communicating with their customers through the mail; and Bill C-32 to modernize our fisheries sector.

The opposition House leader raises the question of two evenings being set aside for committee of the whole. He is quite right. Those two evenings will have to be set aside sometime between now and May 31.

With regard to the notes that were quoted from by the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, they were their notes and referred of course to announcements that clearly have been made about the need and the imperative of restoring our military's equipment and needs in the way in which the Canadian government is doing so.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2008 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to perhaps pursue the same line and themes that we heard from the member for Mississauga South and some of the questions and comments from my colleague from Winnipeg.

Although Bill C-47 has, as its essence, an idealistic approach, by the same token it is probably fairly naive, but, more important, it does not, as much as my colleague from Kitchener—Waterloo would like me to think. He is missing the point and the bill misses the point in that regard that the alleged consultation process really never occurred.

It does not matter whether I say that the consultation process occurred or whether the member from Mississauga or any other member in the House says that the consultation process occurred. It is whether the first nations, the aboriginal communities in Canada, feel that it was a meaningful consultation process.

As we talked to representatives of the first nations, it was obvious that they did not accept that the process leading up to the drafting and filing of the bill in the House met any kind of meaningful consultation process. They have repeatedly raised specific concerns both with regard to their comments falling on deaf ears, which was stated, I believe, by the president of the AFN, and that they were not involved. They raised a number of other concerns that they believed needed to be addressed before this type of legislation was introduced.

I want to go back to the motivation behind this, which, I would suggest, everyone in the chamber from all parties agrees to. We recognize that the present process for dealing with marital relationship breakdown on the reserves ends with women, in particular, being treated unfairly. We can look at statements from the AFN and from the women's groups within the aboriginal and Métis community that would say the same thing.

However, that is not good enough to then justify this legislation. The legislation has some fundamental flaws, which were pointed out to us by the first nations on the reserves. They told us that the legislation did not address a number of other problems that are attendant in that overall relationship between people living together on the reserve and then the relationship breaking down. They know that much more work needs to be done with regard to interspousal violence and interfamily violence. The bill does nothing to effectively address that.

It is sometimes said that we are speaking on behalf of the male component of the first nations community. I want to be very clear that that is not the case. I am looking at a press release that summarizes the position of the Native Women's Association of Canada. It makes a number of points and I want to go over them, but I want to deal specifically with the problems that it sees and that it feels the bill does not address.

It talks about the problems, and one obviously being the issue of matrimonial real property and who has rights to it on breakup. It goes on to say that the bill does not address at all the intergenerational impacts of colonization, which is a major problem, violence against women and a limited access to justice.

One of the further points the association makes in that regard is that there is nothing in the proposed legislation dealing with the assistance needed to build capacity on the reserves and to deal with those issues. However, I recognize that it is not the nature of this proposed legislation to do that.

This is work that has to be done before we move to legislation. Programming has to be put into place and financial capacity has to be put into place to deal with these.

Let me raise one issue. On the larger reserves in particular, should we be establishing a separate judicial infrastructure, not to deal just with criminal matters as we have done on some of the reserves, but to deal with matrimonial matters? Is that one of the things we should be building? This legislation does not address it at all. It is perhaps necessary that we have that, especially in the larger reserves.

With regard to other social programming infrastructure that is necessary to deal with some of these issues in the situation of marital breakdown, again, there is no addressing of that. When we speak to the representatives of the first nations, we hear that that type of negotiation is not even going on to build that capacity to deal with this kind of a structure.

I want to be very clear that with respect to the women's groups and the national association, there are parts of this legislation that they could see as being usable even though, as my colleague from Winnipeg mentioned, it is very much Eurocentric in terms of its historical background. There are parts of it that they think may very well be usable within their structure, their tradition and their culture, but not all of it will. They know that. When they are given this holus-bolus and are told, “This is the regime we expect you to follow because that is what we follow in the rest of Canadian society”, they immediately say, “We cannot do that. It is not possible to do that”. Again, we need to analyze this legislation in much more detail from their perspective. That is what they said.

Even before we get to that, they expect that we will as a society be in a position to ask what they require in the way of building an infrastructure to support their existing culture but to deal with these problems as they have identified them; what can we do to help in that regard? I have to say it was the same problem with another piece of legislation around governance of first nations that we had in late 2003-04 under the previous Liberal administration. The government did not have the necessary consultation and coupled with that, the government came up with solutions that were clearly not acceptable within their culture, within their tradition. We are repeating that same error. Fortunately the filibuster, and I again acknowledge my colleague from Winnipeg, that he helped lead, along with a member from the Bloc, eventually got that legislation withdrawn and we are still working on a proper governance model.

Going at it as we are here with the matrimonial property legislation is so piecemeal to almost amount to being ridiculous.

Again, we understand the motivation. I am not in any way demeaning the reasoning behind this, but the methodology is just totally unacceptable. It should be unacceptable to us if we are going to have any meaningful, respectful relationship with our first nations people. However, it clearly is unacceptable to that sector of our community who come out of the first nations.

Our position as a party is that we have to have this consultation; we have to have programming put into place to build that capacity before we move to this stage.

Let me make one final point. That is with regard to the regime itself. The regime itself accepts the concept of private ownership. Again, in the press release I mentioned earlier from the Native Women's Association of Canada, it specifically addressed that point. That concept of private ownership of band property is alien to them. Their concept is based on collective ownership, which again is alien to the European experience. It is not alien to most of Asia or to most of Africa. It is very much a European concept, if we go back in the history of it. It takes time to adjust.

The first nations have to ask themselves if they are going to move more into the private ownership concept, or do they stay within the collective concept but still deal with the issues of who has possession of the matrimonial home in the situation of a marital break.

Those are the kinds of issues that need to be addressed. They are not addressed in this legislation. They have not been addressed clearly in the consultation, limited as it was, in the run-up to the legislation being brought before the House. For that and a number of other reasons, we have serious reservations that this legislation should proceed. The work that is going to go on in committee, because obviously the bill is going to go to committee, is very much going to have to take that into account if we have any chance of dealing in a respectful, meaningful way with the first nations.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2008 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. According to Chief Fontaine, if the consultations had taken place, matters would have been dealt with, such as land management, dispute resolution capacity, housing, child welfare, shelters, policing, membership, residency, family violence, et cetera.

Those are not things that came up during the consultations on Bill C-47. Those are matters that have been before Canadians and before the government for many years.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2008 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the member for Nunavut said that real partnerships were not token, that they involved respect, collaboration, courtesy, compromise, diplomacy and the list goes on. This is not legislative. This is being sincere and open.

I must repeat what Chief Fontaine said in his letter. He said:

Unfortunately, the advice and direction of AFN and First Nations has not been heeded... .

He went on to list them. He said:

Based on the Report of the Ministerial Representative on Matrimonial Real Property Issues on Reserves, and through the AFN's own report, "Matrimonial Real Property on Reserves: Our Land, Our Families, Our Solutions", the issues and remedies required clearly demonstrated the need for a broad and comprehensive approach.

That is not being taken fully in Bill C-47.

I must repeat that the message that has been given by so many people who have addressed this place on Bill C-47 is that, yes, we do need some legislative tools to work with to help bridge the problems but they cannot be totally effective unless we also address the non-legislative matters that are the root causes of many of the problems. This needs to be, as the member for Nunavut referred to, a holistic approach, and that is how we should approach these issues that have been raised by the stakeholders.

This is important legislation in a series of initiatives that must be taken by Parliament, but when we do it we had better do it right and that needs to start before the legislation gets on the table. If the signal goes out that notwithstanding the 109 consultations, they were not heeded and it is reflected in the legislation that they were not heeded, where is the good faith consultation? I do not think it is there.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2008 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-47. In the debate on this bill yesterday, there were a number of very good points raised by the member for Nunavut.

This bill is 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.

The debate has brought a lot of very important dimensions to the crisis that exists on first nations reserves. This legislation is necessary because there is no legislation now to which people can turn. These are the representations of the member for Nunavut, who has been one of the most stellar champions of aboriginal affairs, of first nations peoples, Métis and the Inuit. During her speech, she referred to a couple of stakeholder representations, which I want to review simply to provide a context as to why I have risen to speak.

The Native Women's Association of Canada expressed its views in a press release criticizing this legislation. It expressed its frustration with what it refers to as the government's unilateral action on the bill. The discussion has to do with legislative initiatives and unlegislated initiatives. It is the unlegislated initiatives part that is the source of some of the concern expressed by the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Bev Jacobs, the president of the NWAC, stated in her press release of March 4, 2008:

There is nothing in the legislation that addresses the systemic issues of violence many women face that lead to the dissolution of marriages nor is there any money available for implementation. In the end, we end up with a more worthless piece of paper.

That is a very strong statement.

We just dealt with a report from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women relating to some of the issues, particularly with regard to the violence against many women and also some of the other areas, such as housing, poverty, governance, access to justice and general violence. It is very important to ensure that Canadians understand and our first nations also understand that we are sensitive to this. I have not seen that in regard to the representations of the government. As I listen to the questions asked by government members on Bill C-47, the government seems to be fairly dismissive. The attitude of the government is that we should just pass the bill, that it is a good bill and the government does not have to do anything else.

The government must listen to the stakeholders, those who are seeking some relief in dealing with a serious crisis within the first nations communities.

Also, there is a very significant letter dated April 8, 2008 from the office of the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine. When I read it, I was somewhat concerned about the allegations that were made in the letter. The position generally is that this bill is flawed in both process and substance and that while its assessment of the bill is not finalized, the Assembly of First Nations will want to make further representations. This letter is extremely important. It was very helpful to me in understanding the view of the stakeholders, and it does include the preliminary analysis of the Assembly of First Nations.

Even in the text of the letter, with regard to Bill C-47, Mr. Fontaine said:

While it was a positive and practical step forward to engage in dialogue with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the Native Women's Association of Canada in the development of this legislation, the approach falls far short of First Nations' direction that the Crown should fully engage with First Nations in developing policy and legislation that affects First Nations.

The substantive foundation of the concerns that they have has to do with the consultation process. I recall that in her speech to the House, the member for Nunavut commented on that aspect. She said:

--if we want to see real solutions in our aboriginal communities, there has to be real partnership and collaboration, and that they not be token gestures.

The concern is if there is a perception of tokenism, of consultations which are going through the motions but which are not really sincere, it is a recipe for disagreement and maybe discontent. Parliament has a serious responsibility to consult with stakeholders regardless of which piece of legislation with which we are dealing. When we make laws, we are affecting people in one way or another and those people need to be heard.

According to the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, it appears that has been a problem not only with regard to Bill C-47, but generally with regard to many of the issues that have come before Parliament.

Mr. Fontaine went on to say:

Furthermore, the fact that direction provided through this dialogue does not appear reflected in the tabled Bill, leaves us to conclude that the dialogue was of limited value in promoting and implementing a reconciliation approach regarding First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights and Crown sovereignty.

I take this as a very serious alert for parliamentarians and for the government with regard to Bill C-47. We have to step up and take this a lot more seriously and determine whether or not there are appropriate steps to address these legitimate concerns that have been raised by Chief Fontaine.

He went on to say:

In regards to the process of engagement, the AFN has clearly stated, on numerous occasions, and in formal correspondence, the position of First Nations in this regard. In addition, the AFN and First Nations through the dialogue process, detailed alternative approaches and measures to address the issues arising in relation to matrimonial real property on reserve. Indeed, the federal government had many, many opportunities to address these matters properly and effectively.

He went on to say:

Unfortunately, the advice and direction of AFN and First Nations has not been heeded and I must point out that the First Nations assessment of the proposed legislation will likely be that it is unconstitutional in law and of no value to First Nations individuals or governments in practice.

When I read that it made me want to know more. I want to hear more. Should the bill go to committee for review, the questions that were raised in the consultation process and which apparently were not heeded by the government in proposing the legislation, need to be considered. We need to remediate that situation. We need to make sure that the stakeholders, regardless of their basis, are heard and that the issues raised are frontally and effectively addressed so that all understand. Regardless of which side one is on on a particular issue, there is always room for due respect for the opinions of others, but that does not seem to have been the case in this regard.

The bill contemplates an approach that will not provide any effective remedies for individuals seeking redress. That was the intent of the bill and is the intent of the bill. It is why the member for Nunavut, when she spoke before the House yesterday, made this argument over and over again. Yet when the parliamentary secretary rose on questions, he was dismissive of her question and made the assertion that the bill should be passed, that we should move forward because there were other things to do.

We have things to do. We have to get Bill C-47 right. The objectives of this place are to have full debate and to properly identify those issues which should be addressed.

The first nations wanted to articulate, as laid out in Chief Fontaine's letter, the principles that should guide the search for solutions and the standard upon which proposed solutions should be evaluated. He went on the list about a dozen. He lists strengthening first nations, families and communities, fairness, respect for traditional values, protection of aboriginal and treaty rights, no abrogation or derogation of first nations' collective rights, protection and preservation of first nations' land for future generations, recognition and implementation of first nations' jurisdiction and community based solutions.

I had the opportunity to be a member of the Standing Committee on Health when we dealt with aboriginal health issues. The committee travelled to a number of reserves to consult with stakeholders and to determine some of the non-legislative areas of which we should also be cognizant.

It was clear to me that there were substantive differences between reserves. Some are in much better shape than others. One thing I noticed was some of the fundamentals, like clean water and a sewage system, were not present.

There were a number of health issues in program areas. I remember I went into a modest community centre on one reserve. In the basement was a large lineup of people and I wanted to know why. I found out that people were lining up to buy cases of cigarettes for resale. However, next to that was the jail. It is hard for Canadians to understand the realities of the lives of first nations and the challenges they face.

As a consequence of that review, we found that the problems which existed on first nations reserves, which exist throughout Canadian society, were multiple times more in terms of severity as well as the occurrence levels, whether it be substance abuse, or domestic violence, or problems with children or social problems, et cetera. These are areas which Canadians demand that Parliament address in an appropriate fashion.

I thank Chief Fontaine for his letter of April 8 and the preliminary analysis. I will not go through this, but it is available and if members do not have a copy, I would be happy to provide it for them.

I want to comment generally on the bill. The Liberal Party supports the bill to go to committee. Like many bills where second reading occurs, we are often approached by stakeholders and constituents who suggest the bill should simply be defeated at second reading. This happened with regard to animal cruelty legislation. It is happening with regard to Bill C-51, which has to do with natural health products.

Canadians and all interested parties should understand that when a bill comes before the House at second reading, we have representations in an informal way from those who are interested parties. We have our own knowledge, some of our own research and some historic research.

What we do not have at second reading is the present assessment and the current input of the experts. We do not have the formal position of the stakeholders on both sides or all sides of the argument. What we do at second reading is debate, in principle, the aspects of the bill and whether there are any major problems.

Members know that when we pass a bill at second reading, we pass it in principle and get it to committee where there can be, as necessary, full consultation and public hearings to allow the stakeholders to come before the committee to articulate very clearly the positions and concerns they have to proposed amendments, et cetera. Some of the best work in Parliament happens at committee, where it is not just a handful or 12 members of Parliament who make the decisions. They are there participating in a consultation process with the necessary expertise, not only from the government and the officials of the department, who will answer the questions of the members and explain the bill in great detail, but also with those stakeholders, which is extremely important.

I am quite sure the bill will pass at second reading. However, I am also quite sure throughout this place there will be a strong representation that we should have very comprehensive public hearings and hear from the stakeholders to identify how we can deal with those matters which may not have been reflected in the bill, even though they may have been raised under preliminary consultation with the principal stakeholders.

There are many stakeholders in regard to the bill. We can never forget that this is a matter of human rights for women and children living on reserves. The whole objective of the bill is so they can have safer and healthier lives and therefore happier lives. Those are fundamental objectives. Who is against that?

How we deliver that will be the issue. Legislating certain things will help for those matters which require a legislative solution because we need a law to guide it. We cannot achieve the full impact and the benefit of the law without having the non-legislative component and the initiatives, the support and the funding necessary to provide an environment in which those laws can operate in a fair manner.

While we support the intent of the bill, we do not support the unilateral process the government has taken in introducing the legislation. We were instrumental in making critical changes to Bill C-21 to ensure that aboriginal Canadians would have the time and the capacity they needed to deal with changes. We continue to push the government to address issues such as the human rights needs of aboriginal Canadians, education, jobs, poverty, water and health, which are much the same kinds of conclusions that we reached in the health committee I back in 1994, which was when the new Parliament started.

It was an education for me, as an urban Canadian with very little exposure prior to coming to Parliament, about the challenges faced by our first nations and their people, the Métis and the Inuit.

The bill itself establishes a federal matrimonial real property regime, combined with the mechanisms for first nations to develop their own matrimonial real property laws.

By way of background, in 1986 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that when a conjugal relationship broke down on reserve, courts could not apply provincial or territorial family law because reserve lands fell under federal jurisdiction. We can see the need to address that condition.

As a result, aboriginal women living on reserves have not enjoyed the same rights as women living off reserves. That is an important matter to be resolved. They are not entitled to an equal share of matrimonial property at the time of the marriage break down. Matrimonial real property refers to the house and the land that the couple lives on while they are married or in a common law relationship.

The government began preliminary consultations on this matter, but it focused on recommendations made by committees. The next step was to move to the legislation solution. As I had indicated, this is not simply a matter to be addressed by legislative proscriptions. It also requires a non-legislative approach.

The House resumed from May 14 consideration of the motion 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.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 15th, 2008 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the member was listening to my speech. Many programs cost a lot of money, but money is not everything. We know there have to be some other solutions to the challenges facing the aboriginal people. Today the debate has turned to women and the problems, issues and concerns they have. This is why I am surprised we are not debating Bill C-47, which talks about women and the rights they would have through this legislation.

We have invested in housing and continually invest in training and skills programs. I do not know if the member was not listening, but the investments have been increasing and most communities across Canada have benefited.

Most of all, I would like to see the debate go back to Bill C-47 to give rights to aboriginal women.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 15th, 2008 / 12:35 p.m.
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Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the committee for its recommendations. Committee members have identified an important contributing factor in improving the quality of life of aboriginal women and children.

As parliamentarians and as citizens, we have an obligation to protect the vulnerable. We want children to live in homes free of violence, and we believe that people should raise families and live their lives in dignity and in safety.

Women's shelters fulfill a vital role by helping to safeguard the security of women, children and families in our communities. By investing in shelters for first nations women, we are acting on values that we all share.

Our government is committed to working with the first nations, the aboriginal organizations and all members of the House to ensure adequate services are provided for those who need them.

An October 2007 report by Statistics Canada describes serious issues related to family violence. Spousal, emotional or financial abuse among aboriginal women and men is twice the national rate.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, together with other partners, develops programs and services that address family violence in first nation communities and create a more secure environment for children on reserve. This includes both family violence prevention and protection services.

As part of this effort, the family violence prevention program supports a network of 35 shelters and community based prevention projects. These shelters serve about 265 first nations communities. About 1,900 women and 2,300 children turn to these services each year.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada provided $18.5 million to these shelters in fiscal year 2007-08, with $11.5 million for shelter services for first nation women and children on reserve. These funds are used to support an existing network of 35 first nation shelters and to reimburse provinces for related shelter services where they are not available to the community.

Our government recognizes that more work needs to be done, and we support the intent of the motion before the House today.

In fact, we are already taking action. Our government is helping first nations communities address the critical need for family violence prevention programs and services on reserve through a five year investment of almost $56 million. These funds are above and over the $6 million that was announced in 2006 as a one time allocation in the family violence prevention program to meet the immediate operational needs of the shelters.

We are increasing the funding available to existing shelters and we are providing funding to build five new shelters in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has been collaborating with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which helps build shelters through its shelter enhancement program, on the selection process for these five new shelters.

We need to invest in our future, a future where we see first nations women and their families enjoy a safe and secure home environment.

Today's debate is a welcome opportunity to discuss another important initiative that would help provide first nations people with the legal protection they require to live full and meaningful lives.

Our government has introduced legislation to ensure that people living on reserve have clear matrimonial real property rights. Bill C-47, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act, proposes to fill the legislative gap concerning on reserve matrimonial real property, or MRP. It would correct an intolerable situation that has existed far too long. Off reserve, if a relationship dissolves, spouses have access to laws that will guide them as they determine how they will divide their matrimonial real property, but this is not so for people living on reserves.

Even in the most difficult cases, such as those involving custody disputes, no court can order a change in possession of an on reserve family home. The courts cannot order the sale of a home, for instance, or prevent a spouse from selling or mortgaging a family home without the consent of the other spouse, regardless of the severe repercussions these actions might have.

The proposed legislation strikes a balance between individual and collective rights on reserves and respects the integrity of reserve lands. It also recognizes the importance of developing community-specific MRP laws. Providing spouses with clear matrimonial real property rights is a vital component of improved quality of life.

This is a prime example of the approach our government is taking to improving the quality of life for aboriginal people. The proposed legislation is advancing a real practical solution. It is an approach that we are successfully implementing in other areas as well, focusing on innovative, progressive measures that address the priorities of the first nations people and truly that make a real difference in their lives.

We are backing up our plans with real resources provided by budget 2008. For example, two years ago we implemented a plan of action for drinking water in first nations communities. At that time, 93 drinking water systems serving first nations communities were deemed high risk. Today, that number stands at 85 and continues to fall.

The progress we see is because of our government's commitment to work with first nations communities and deliver real results. We are supporting that commitment with a budget 2008 commitment of $330 million over two years to improve access to safe drinking water in first nation communities.

We are taking the same approach to improving child welfare services on reserve.

Several years ago the first nations government and the first nation child welfare agencies in Alberta came together. They wanted to find innovative ways for improving services for children who came into contact with the child welfare system. The starting point for all their actions was to focus on a long term stability for the child. They developed new methods for intervening early with families before they reached a crisis, so children did not have to be removed from their home. In 2007 we concluded a framework on child and family services with the province of Alberta and treaty first nations in Alberta.

We are working with several provinces to develop similar prevention based child and family services models in other parts of the country. Budget 2008 dedicates $43 million over two years towards the transition of child and family services on reserve.

Today's debate and motion put forward by the committee are all about ensuring the stability of aboriginal families so children can get a good start and succeed later in life.

Quality housing is a fundamental goal. An adequate home can provide the stability for children to help them succeed in school and set high goals for themselves. It is one of the foundations of prosperity.

Therefore, we have moved to address the lack of adequate housing in first nations communities. Budget 2007 committed $300 million to the first nations market housing fund. The program is expected to spur the construction of 25,000 new units over the next decade, giving first nations families and individuals a greater range of housing options, particularly home ownership and market rental units.

A home ownership approach to housing will increase access to financing for first nations, enabling more individuals to own or rent their own home on reserve. When young families plan for their future, they dream of a good home where they can invest savings, build equity and enjoy pride in their ownership and to get ahead. We look forward to working with first nation organizations to make it a success.

This is the kind of initiative, the kind of approach to first nations issues that gets tangible results and makes a difference in the lives of people. That is because we are putting the tools for progress into the hands of the first nations people themselves so they can address the priorities that matter to them in a way that fits their unique circumstances.

Economic development plays a strong role in building safe and stable communities. There will be no escape from poverty without an active economy, one that generates not just wealth, but generates purpose and a sense of progress toward a better future.

The government will continue to foster partnerships that help aboriginal people get the skills and training they need to take advantage of the job prospects in the north and across Canada.

The recent budget dedicates $70 million over the next two years to develop new measures to assist first nations, Inuit and Métis individuals and communities participate more fully in the economy and in all parts of Canada.

We also continue to explore new agreements under the aboriginal workforce participation initiative. The initiative helps employers recruit, retrain and promote aboriginal employees. It is a very successful, progressive initiative that makes enormous progress.

We will continue working with employers to identify and overcome barriers in the workplace that limit aboriginal employment opportunities. We will support career and business development projects for aboriginal youth.

The government is committed to making real progress in improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities. In fiscal year 2007-08 the government will spend $10.2 billion on aboriginal programs and services, a billion dollar increase over any previous federal budget.

However, just as important, we are committed to taking practical measures that make a difference. We will continue to work in partnership with aboriginal organizations to realize concrete results in a range of areas, including land claims, education, housing, child and family services, safe drinking water, economic opportunity and the extension of human rights protection to first nations on reserve.

I want to once again thank the committee for raising this very important issue. We will continue to work with our partners to strengthen women's shelters on reserve. We will continue to make steady progress in building strong communities where aboriginal people and families can succeed and prosper.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 15th, 2008 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I most certainly appreciate this opportunity to participate in this debate. While listening to what has gone on so far, I must say I am a little breathless and shocked that a member of the governing party would not understand that women do not want to leave their homes. Sometimes they are driven out. Statistically, we know that on average women leave an abusive situation 17 times before they finally feel that they have the support and the security to make that a permanent situation.

There are many things to consider. One of those things is the economic security of the woman's children. What on earth is she going to do without a home and a livelihood? What on earth is she going to do without the support of even that abusive man? For many women their children come first and they tolerate the beatings, the physical abuse, the rape, and the psychological and emotional torment. It is not until he turns on her children, when now it is not only her enduring all of this, but it is her children, that for most women it becomes time to leave.

To say that women should not be driven out of their homes or we should be supporting them staying in their homes, of course we support them staying in their homes, but not in a situation where they and their children are subject to not only beatings and mistreatment but to the possibility of murder and death. We have seen that over and over again. Women and children have been found dead because they have lived in a situation of violence that they have not been able to escape.

Now the government is telling us that we should tolerate that and that somehow or other women and first nations women, in particular, should be subject to this because, my goodness, the government has given enough and done enough. If the government has done enough, why does this situation continue? Why does it continue day after day, week after week, year after year? Have we learned anything?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states in article 21:

Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing,--

I underscore the word “housing”. It goes on:

--sanitation, health and social security.

It is a disgrace, that goes beyond comprehension, that Canada, a nation that was so long a leader at the United Nations in support of the rights of first nations and indigenous peoples, was among those four nations that voted against this declaration. Canada even went further and actively lobbied the other countries to vote against this historic declaration. Fortunately, Australia, after the election of a progressive labour government, changed its vote and voted with the other 44 countries that believed in the importance of this UN declaration.

Here we are alone. There are three countries out there, with Canada apparently leading the pack, denying the rights of indigenous peoples. We have seen those rights denied over and over again, in the past, in the present, and apparently this is going to continue into the future.

I would like to cite what happened in this Parliament in budget 2006. The government cancelled the court challenges program. In addition, the government slashed funding to Status of Women Canada. My colleague from the Bloc has alluded to the fact that Status of Women Canada was a victim of the government's spending cuts, of its austerity program.

We know where that largesse went. We know where all of that saved money went. It went directly to the oil patch. It went to the corporations that needed it the least. It undermined the work of Status of Women Canada and the work of women's organizations across this country.

We would not want them to be doing the work that they had always done in terms of research, advocacy and lobbying. We would not want women to have a voice for all the women across this country, including first nations women.

I come back to the court challenges program and the fact that it was intended to support language rights and equality rights. We grew and developed as a nation after the introduction of the court challenges program to embrace equality rights.

One of our sisters, Sharon McIvor, was using the court challenges program in order to write a historic wrong. Because she had married a non-status Indian, her children no longer had status. Her children no longer had the protection and support of being part of the community of first nations. She went to court in British Columbia, fought against that and won, but now she needs to take that fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lo and behold, she cannot. The funding is gone. The court challenges program is gone. This is an absolutely essential and key part of re-asserting the rights of indigenous people, including women and their children, to status as first nations people. The government saw fit to end that and continues to refuse to listen to all of the groups across Canada who have been very clear about how integral the court challenges program was, not just to what goes on in this country but to our reputation around the world.

We were known as a leader in terms of language and equality rights. Now we are nowhere. In fact, in so many areas our reputation internationally is going right down the drain in terms of the environment, support for people, and the way we conduct business in this country.

The government has said very clearly to the people of this nation, “The jobs that you do don't matter because we don't care about manufacturing”. It has said very clearly, “We don't care about the kind of stress that families feel while trying to make ends meet”, as we watch the gap between those who have and those who have not increase and grow. The government has been very clear about what it will not do. Housing to first nations women is most certainly among the things the government is not prepared to do.

I want to come back to the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Canada's position in refusing to support the declaration is absolutely contrary to the wishes of aboriginal and human rights organizations and even some government officials. Even officials within the bureaucracy stated their opposition, but the government in power now refused to listen.

As the current debate on Bill C-47 has illustrated, first nations, Inuit and Métis women have no place to go when they become victims of violence in their own homes. There is a lack of shelters and transitional houses, especially in remote communities, leaving women to suffer in isolation, and putting them and their children at risk of further violence and even death, violence that escalates as time goes on and, as I said previously, violence that can lead to death.

In forcing women to abandon their communities because there is no housing, we are cutting them off from all that sustains them: from family, their culture, and the support systems that the community provides. Their children lose touch with their heritage and who they are. How is this different from what we did to children when we sent them off to residential schools? We know what happened to those children. We know how they were physically abused and became the subject of forced labour. We know they were often raped, prevented from using their own language, and when they returned to their homes and families, there was no connection.

They could not speak the language. They had been raised in an alien situation and they were not able to reconnect with community. That lack of reconnection has led to all kinds of social ills in first nations communities. The violence that women endure is just one of those ills. Drug abuse and alcoholism that is prevalent is just one of the outcomes of those residential school days.

The 2004 background document on aboriginal women and housing by the Native Women's Association of Canada states:

...Aboriginal women facing violence have limited to non-existent housing choices when they leave violent relationships or relationships break down for reasons not related to violence. Many women are forced to choose between staying in (or returning) to a violent home environment or leaving the reserve. Even where women’s shelter programs are available, ‘second stage housing’ which is vital in the transition from emergency shelter to secure, independent, self-sufficient living, may not be available due to program funding cuts or highly restrictive eligibility criteria.

I am reminded of what we endured in Ontario with a Conservative government, not unlike the present federal Conservative government. The Harris years were marked with the same kinds of cutbacks, the same kind of refusal to acknowledge what women face when they are in violent home situations. The Harris government cut second stage funding and programming in shelters and the end result was that women, in some cases, were being driven to the street.

I worked with some of those women because eight years after the end of the Harris government years, we still feel the repercussions. We still feel the dilemmas. We still feel the effects of those funding cuts and women and children still suffer. Families still suffer. It is a legacy that goes on and on. I suppose it will be the legacy that we will experience when the present Conservative government is gone.

The report from NWAC goes on to state:

At the same time, while other sectors address root causes and propose solutions to the high prevalence of violence against Aboriginal women in the home, women’s shelter programs need to be better funded to provide for more new shelters and capital upkeep and maintenance of existing shelters.

The current funding, as has been so clearly stated, simply does not stack up to what is needed. The report goes on to state:

Aboriginal women’s vulnerability to becoming a single parent and/or the victim of spousal violence needs to be anticipated, accounted for, addressed and accommodated to achieve positive, equitable outcomes in all existing and new housing policies and programs. Priority wait listing and placement of women who are victims of violence must be further fostered and followed in housing practice by all levels of government and authorities involved in housing

An older report from NWAC on second stage housing for native women states:

Counselling and second stage housing are required for battered women and children. However, there must be more services directed at the batterer such as residential treatment programs which both reform the batterer yet allow the victims to remain in the matrimonial home....

That comes into the discussion in regard to what the parliamentary secretary was talking about in terms of matrimonial real property. Yes, women should be allowed to stay in their homes and, yes, there should be programming. What on earth is wrong with taking the advice of the Native Women's Association of Canada and ensuring that the batterers have the support and counselling they need to perhaps change and perhaps continue to live in a more positive environment with their children?

The report goes on to state:

As it stands now, most non-aboriginal shelters are located in urban areas which means the woman must leave her community, frequently travelling a great distance, to find help. Moreover, the aboriginal victim of family violence may even experience racism and further victimization at the shelter....

As good as it is to have these shelters, there is a disconnect between what a woman experiences in a community as part of her understanding and reality and what is available in the city where first nations people are in a minority. Certainly in the outside community, if she cannot find shelter in a women's shelter, there are often experiences of racism and further victimization.

We are also finding that women and children are not leaving abusive situations because other than the shelter they have no place to go. The homes of relatives are already full.

In 1991-92, 88% of all women reporting to the shelter had been there at least once in the past year. We are seeing a return of women because there is nowhere for them to go. They must go back to shelters, even if the shelters are not an ideal situation. The government is repeating the sins of the past by refusing to acknowledge these realities.

However, few shelters are able to address the needs of special groups, such as natives, immigrant women or the physically challenged. When native women go to non-aboriginal shelters, often the other women and the service personnel cannot fully identify with the racism and social ills that they have experienced. Native women do not open up to social workers or employees because they feel perhaps a bit alienated. Their experiences are unique and different.

Without adequate outreach and critically necessary follow-up services that are culturally appropriate and a vital function of second stage shelters, emergency shelters can become a revolving door, a place where true safety and support is not felt. These offer little more than a temporary way station for battered women who use this service only during times of intense crisis and who, because of the lack of adequate follow-up services, return to the violent home with no other option but to endure what has previously existed.

In a 1999 report by the Saskatchewan Women's Health Secretariat, entitled, “Profile of Aboriginal Women in Saskatchewan”, it illustrates the important linkages between health and housing. We have not talked very much about health, but I would like to read from the report because it is important that we understand the connection between housing and health. The report states that housing conditions are a major contributing factor to physical well-being and mental health. It also states that crowded housing conditions can also result in increased incidences of abuse.

Last spring, the Status of Women committee heard the same thing from the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada who talked about conditions in the far north that were unacceptable by any standard.

What basically happens is that airtight little boxes are dropped into communities and families move in. Sometimes several families move in and as many as 20 to 22 people move into these tiny little boxes. They have no privacy, no proper ventilation and no sense of home. It is understandable that this kind of crowding can lead to violence and substance abuse and can compel children to give up.

The stats are there that children raised in these circumstances often do not thrive. They do not do well at school because they do not have the space they need nor the support systems they need.

Furthermore, a report by the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women states:

Because of chronic housing shortages, existing units are overcrowded, sometimes housing two or three families together.

In 1999, Saskatchewan reported that over 70% of aboriginal households on reserve were below housing standards, and we know that. We do not need to go to Saskatchewan. We know that in our own communities. I have, as a previous MPP, firsthand knowledge of that in the community that I used to serve.

I will finish by reminding the House about the hundreds of thousands of aboriginal women who have disappeared, never to be found or who have been found murdered. In a 30 year period, over 40 women alone have disappeared along the highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert. This highway has been renamed the Highway of Tears.

One has to wonder how many of those victims were the victims of Robert Pickton in Vancouver's eastside, who included first nations women who were fleeing a situation where they were the victims of violence, fleeing a situation where they had no hope of adequate housing or no hope for the future.

We know that the first nations population, women in particular, experience violence three and a half times more often than non-aboriginal women and that close to 35% of aboriginal women have been the targets of violence. We cannot tolerate this any more because it is intolerable. We know from our own communities that first nations women are in need of extra and special support. Unfortunately, the government has not provided it. There are solutions, we have heard them, but we need to listen to those solutions.