Mr. Speaker, first, I acknowledge four women with the AMUN March . They are marching 500 kilometres from Wendake to Ottawa. These brave women are opposed to Bill C-3. They are demonstrating by their actions just how opposed they are and how they continue to fight for equality for aboriginal women in our country, a fight that has been taken up by people like Mary Two-Axe Early, Ms. Lavell, Ms. Lovelace and Ms. McIvor. The struggle of Ms. McIvor is why we are in the House this morning debating Bill C-3 and, specifically, amendments to it.
However, let us take a very brief moment to find out how we got here. This is a 25 year struggle by aboriginal women for equality. They have gone through the court system. The courts have ruled in their favour, not once but twice, at the B.C. Supreme Court and at the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The government says that it only wants to respond to the B.C. Court of Appeal in the narrowest possible terms. The government had it in its craw, it had the will, to introduce a bill that would speak to the broader issues of discrimination. If it were sincere about discrimination under the Indian Act, it could have taken the measures to broaden the scope of the bill and to once and for all end all gender inequality and sex discrimination under the Indian Act. The Conservative government chose to make it very narrow.
The member opposite said as much. He said that we were one step closer. By his own admission, we are not there yet to end gender discrimination under the Indian Act. Therefore, the government could have taken the steps to do it but it did not.
The member went on to say, and I want to respond to some of what he said, that this was a situation of such urgency. The parliamentary secretary said in committee on April 27, when we put in a provision about reporting to Parliament, that the concern was after two years we just would really be getting going in terms of some of the registration numbers.
The parliamentary secretary by his own admission seems to feel, speaking on behalf of the government, that even if the bill passed, there would only be a negligible impact upon the new numbers that would come forward.
Therefore, the government, by its own admission, has said to each and every one of us that on the one hand it is so urgent, yet on the other hand it does not really know if it will have much of an impact at all. Where is the government when it comes to this bill.
To be quite honest, I think the government likes to play a charade on people. It loves to stand up for individual rights or gender equality, but it is not willing to put the heart or soul in to this to ensure it is done once and for all.
When it comes to Bill C-3, contrary to what the member opposite has said, every witness said that Bill C-3 was not adequate. It did not respond to all the issues of gender discrimination under the Indian Act. When asked, all the witnesses said that if they had the opportunity, they would definitely want the bill amended to ensure that once and for all there was no gender discrimination under the Indian Act.
We tried everything in the House. We put a motion before the House to try to expand the scope of the bill. The government shot it down. We tried to bring amendments forward and they were ruled out of order. Now we are debating amendments at report stage.
I will give an example of what some of the witnesses said, in particular the Quebec Native Women. They said:
—while Quebec Native Women recognizes the need to amend the archaic nature of the Indian Act, Quebec Native Women, as stated earlier, deplores the restrictive vision of the federal government based solely on a patchwork remedy to the specific problem of discrimination brought to light in the McIvor case...
Another quote is:
LEAF supports this demand to remove all vestiges of sex discrimination from the status provisions, and submits that the elimination of residual sex discrimination under the Indian Act best meets the federal government’s constitutional obligations to achieve substantive equality for Aboriginal women and Canada’s obligations under international law.
Sharon McIvor, Pam Palmater, an individual who came before us, CAP and the Assembly of First Nations all said the same thing. They were in unanimity when it came to this point.
I will speak to clause 9, which is one of the proposed amendments by the government. Interestingly, the government never spoke to the specific amendments it proposed. The member went on in some rhetorical terms about how the government stood up for the individual rights of women, and all that sort of thing.
However, when it comes to clause 9, we again hear two stories. The government officials came before us and said that clause 9 was a bit innocuous, that it really did not do much, that it was for greater certainty. Yet when the parliamentary secretary spoke at committee, he said that Bill C-3 could not pass if we clause 9 was not in it. When the vote comes, if clause 9 fails, we will see what the government will do.
Chief David Walkem of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says that we should strike clause 9. On April 20, at committee, he said:
—we're recommending is to strike clause 9 to allow Indian women and their descendants who lost status due to the discriminatory operation of the Indian Act to pursue, through the courts or other negotiation, restitution or compensation for the losses their families suffered as a result of the historical discrimination imposed on them by this legislation, similar to the process followed for people who went to residential schools.
On Tuesday, April 13, CAP, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said this about clause 9:
This section is an insult to Indian women and their descendants all over this country. Not only was Canada forced to make amendments to address gender inequality after fighting against the McIvor case for over 20 years; and not only has Canada proposed a very minimalist amendment; now Canada wants to ensure that it does not have to compensate the victims of gender discrimination?
It goes on to say that it cannot now be said that Canada did not knowingly discriminate against Indian women and their descendants.
This is what Dr. Pam Palmater had to say on April 20:
Clause 9 is an offence to Indian women and their descendants who have already waited more than 25 years for justice. It is also counter to both the spirit and the intent of the Charter of Rights.
The Canadian Bar Association said:
Section 9 is a concern, as it would remove the right of anyone to sue the federal government for not providing them with status as a result of the gender discrimination addressed by the Bill. If the federal government can be presumed to have been aware that Bill C-31 was not consistent with the Charter as far back as 1985, and did not act for over twenty years until the McIvor decision reached the BC Court of Appeal, the CBA Section is concerned with the justice of such a “no liability” provision. Further, we caution that including such a provision could make the Bill vulnerable to further Charter challenges.
Again, almost every witness who came before us was opposed to clause 9.
Then the government brings up the wonderful example of the repeal of section 67 of Bill C-21 passed in 2008. It said that this was a wonderful thing, that now complaints could be brought against the government and against Indian Act bands.
Guess what? It has said that there is a remedy for first nations women use the Canadian Human Rights Act as a vehicle. Over 30 complaints have been launched against the federal government by aboriginal people, first nations people, and the Government of Canada has gone before the Canadian Human Rights Commission and said that it has no jurisdiction and that it cannot provide a remedy because it does not provide a service.
Therefore, it tells us that we have a remedy on one hand and tries to deny us that remedy on the other hand. It is hypocritical.
Clause 9 is a no go. We will not support it and we hope all our colleagues in the House will join us. Certainly I know that in committee all of the opposition parties voted to not include clause 9 in the bill.