Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act

An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Chuck Strahl  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment provides a new entitlement to Indian registration in response to the decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs) that was issued by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia on April 6, 2009.

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.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver Kingsway raises a very important issue.

As the member is well aware, there have been numerous Supreme Court decisions in Canada that talk about the duty to consult. There have been various efforts to define what that would look like, including an interim paper the government issued on consultation. However, even in the process of developing that interim consultation process, first nations have not been included adequately in it. What we have, again, is a process that is imposed somewhere else without adequate input from first nations.

Some first nations have done a tremendous amount of work themselves regarding the definition of what a duty to consult would look like. Because this is not the only piece of legislation that is going to come before us, I suggest that we need to look at the Supreme Court decisions regarding duty to consult and at the very good work that first nations have done regarding duty to consult, and come up with a process so that we do not have to continuously raise this in the House.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to echo the comments by the member for Vancouver Kingsway that the member has presented a very well thought out presentation on Bill C-3.

It seems to me that Sharon McIvor has gone through a lot to bring things to where they are right now, when she should not have had to do any of it. These problems should have been rectified years ago. It was not until the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker that native people even had the right to vote in this country in the 1960s. Where have the governments been all these years?

The member certainly understands the issue better than almost anyone in the House. She has indicated that there is still going to be a problem with illegitimate daughters. The question I have for her is this. Does she feel that we are going to be able to deal with that issue of this particular bill at the committee stage?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, at this stage we will certainly be looking at the outstanding issues, those raised by the New Democrats anyway, around gender inequality that currently exist in the legislation. The question becomes whether or not we could introduce an amendment that would be considered to be within the scope of the bill.

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona mentioned the fact that Sharon McIvor has been at this for 20 years. She and her family have been struggling with this very important issue for so long that it would seem that we need to move expeditiously to ensure Sharon and her family are no longer disenfranchised. Having said that, we need to look at all the other people who are impacted by the inequalities in the legislation.

It is incumbent upon us as members of the standing committee to make sure we do our due diligence when the bill comes before committee, so that we are looking at other aspects where people are being shut out. We need to look at the resource implications for bands. We also need to look at whether there would be unintended consequences, as there were in Bill C-31 in 1985. Are there going to be unintended consequences that would shut somebody else out, which we did not catch when we were considering the legislation?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, Chief Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations has highlighted the fact that the government has provided little information thus far to either this House or to first nations leaders. He is concerned about the possibility of a huge influx, perhaps tens of thousands, of people obtaining new status registrations. He has asked how the government could claim to be acting in the interests of first nations without allocating the resources that would obviously be needed to accompany a bill that may affect thousands of families and communities across this country.

I would be very interested in the member's comments about the resources she feels may or may not be necessary for first nations to deal with the issues raised by this bill.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the resource issue is extremely important. Not only does it impact on the ability of bands to deliver things like housing and other social services, but the people who regain status will be entitled to education and health benefits, even if they live off-reserve. To date the government has been absolutely silent on what kind of resources it will put toward members who regain status.

In addition, the government's own numbers are shaky. The government is estimating 45,000 up to 100,000. That will have a significant impact on any band council's resources. We already know bands are underfunded with a 2% funding cap, and if another level of people regaining status is added in, bands will simply not be able to deal with the influx.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to Bill C-3. It brings back memories. Already when you were the chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, we started discussing this bill or at least the imminent emergence of a bill to amend section 6 of the Indian Act, an act that is probably by far the most discriminatory legislation that Canada passed all last century.

I would like to acknowledge the outstanding job done on this bill by our researcher in the social affairs division, Ms. Hurley, who works for the Library of Parliament. She submitted a superb document, which we received today, on the history and the reasons why we are talking today about the McIver decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal and why we want to amend the Indian Act.

We started trying to deal with the Indians in 1850, of course in a Canadian way. There was the American way. Everyone remembers the American way and Wounded Knee, where virtually all the Sioux and several other aboriginal communities were exterminated. They were driven off their lands through war.

In Canada, we took a gentler approach, although it was just as assimilatory in intent as the American way, which was to exterminate. We decided on a somewhat gentler approach and all the ensuing governments to the present day should look themselves in the mirror and say they are responsible for the fact that we are today debating BillC-3 to hopefully put an end—even if only partially—to unparalleled discrimination against women in Canada and against aboriginal women.

I have rarely seen a bill trying to end such discrimination in an existing piece of legislation. The act was called an Act for the gradual enfranchisement of Indians, the better management of Indian affairs, and to extend the provisions of the Act thirty-first Victoria, chapter forty-two. The bill was passed in 1869. Nothing could be more paternalistic than that.

In 1850, the first statutory definition of “Sauvages” in Canada was brought in. I am going to offer a history lesson on assimilation, for those who are listening to us. A better job of causing a people to disappear could not be done than the job Canada did with the Indians, with the first peoples. That much is clear. The reason some of them survive today is certainly not down to the governments that came one after another; it is because the aboriginal people had great resilience.

In 1850, the first statutory definition of “Sauvages” was inclusive, that is not me saying it, we have to go back to the Act for the Better Protection of the Lands and Property of Indians in Lower Canada, Statutes of Canada 1850, chapter 42. The Indians’ land was taken, and it was the federal government that flatly declared itself the trustee. But there were quite a lot of Indians. A way had to be found for there to be fewer of them.

A law passed in 1869 brought in the first provision under which the marriage of an Indian woman to a non-Indian resulted in the woman and her children losing status. A man retained all his rights and powers, while a woman who married a white man lost all her rights. And that has been the case since 1850.

The Bloc wants to speak out against that situation in the House. Over the next few months, we will try to find solutions. They will not be easy solutions, because the aboriginal peoples of Canada have been the victims of discrimination and assimilation in recent years.

It was in 1951 that an attempt was finally made to incorporate the double mother rule, under which a person who was registered at birth lost their status and their band membership at the age of 21 if their parents had married after the Indian Act came into force, in September 1951, and if their mother and father’s mother had gained status solely by marriage.

In other words, there was no problem if a man married a white woman, if an Indian man married an Indian woman and if an Indian man married a white woman. But if an Indian woman married a white man, she lost all her rights. That is what happened.

As far as I know, it is still women who bear children. Unless and until that changes, very clearly it is women who will be victims of discrimination under the Indian Act. That is still the case today and it will still be the case in the future, even if Bill C-3 is passed.

We are going to solve the problem in committee. We agree that the bill should be studied in committee.

Sometime last year, the House passed Bill C-21 to repeal section 67 of the Indian Act, which states that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not apply on reserve. That was impressive. Under Bill C-21, as of June 2011, the Canadian Human Rights Act will apply to aboriginal communities. Bill C-3 will add to the rights of women in these communities.

I hope that the government will see the light and adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope this will happen in my lifetime and during Mr. Speaker's tenure. Sadly, for the time being, we are nowhere near seeing this happen.

What is the McIvor decision? It is not very complicated. I have mentioned the milestones of the Indian Act. There was 1869, and then 1951. Another very important date after 1951 was 1985. That year, the Liberals, who thought they were so clever, introduced Bill C-31. The government at the time had a strong majority, and thus it was able to pass this legislation, which took effect in 1985. The problem is that Bill C-31, as it was passed, did not solve the problems.

Bill C-31 was supposed to remove discrimination, restore Indian status and ties to the band, that is membership rights, and enable bands to take charge of the status of their members on their own. Then the dispute started because, as they say, “The devil is in the details”, “Le diable est dans les détails” or, as you might sometimes hear in Quebec, “Le yâble est dans les détails”. I cannot wait to hear what the translators will do with that. So the “yâble” is in the details.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I said “le yâble” not “le diable”. That would be too easy to translate. So this was a very exceptional situation and the problem was still not fixed. Not only was the problem not fixed, but others were created. Basically, bands were given control over the status of their members. Bill C-31 gave bands some powers, but you had to belong to one.

So why would you want to register as an Indian? This is an extremely important concept. Indian registration is indeed the first step in gaining not only Indian status, but also peer recognition in the community. Membership is a very important concept, as it entitles individuals to live on reserve, participate in political processes such as the election of band chiefs, own property on reserve and share band resources. It permits recognition of one's origins and the practice of one's culture. And that is the problem.

Bill C-31 was passed in 1985 and that is when the problems began. Ms. McIvor is one of its victims. It is the reason we are discussing this in Parliament. She went to the courts. She found, she still finds and I hope that she will always find the double standard to be discriminatory. I do not want to go into technical details, but the double standard is found in subsections 6(1), 6(2) and 6(3) of the Indian Act. To sum up, nothing changed. If an Indian woman marries a white, she loses all her rights. Bill C-31 did not fix this problem. It upheld it. However, a limit was set. If the woman was born before 1951, she had the right to Indian status. If she was born after 1951, she did not have that right.

So what happened? Ms. McIvor took it to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. As we speak, a dozen or so of these complaints are before the courts in various jurisdictions across Canada, including one or two similar cases currently before Quebec courts. The fundamental argument is that we must put an end to the discrimination that exists when an Indian woman marries a non-Indian man. The operative word is “marriage”. Indeed, in the Indian Act, there is no mention of couples. So under that piece of legislation, if a couple lives together without being married, any children born to the couple are illegitimate. Bill C-3, which we are debating here today, does not address that issue. It always talks about marriage.

As soon as an Indian woman marries a non-Indian man, she loses all her rights. She will not get them back under Bill C-3.

So Ms. McIvor took her case to the British Columbia Supreme Court, which ruled in her favour. The federal government appealed the decision before the Federal Court, and the case was then heard by the Federal Court of Appeal.

On April 6, 2009, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that section 6 of the Indian Act is discriminatory and that the government had to take steps to correct the situation. That is why we are currently examining the Sharon McIvor bill, that is, Bill C-3, to amend the Indian Act.

The problem is that it does not correct the situation. In 1985, regarding the changes proposed by Bill C-31, the government was asked how many new aboriginal people would be registered. It estimated that approximately 56,800 people would become new members of aboriginal communities.

Unfortunately for the government, on December 31, 2000, 114,000 people obtained Indian status, which helped stop assimilation. In the event this bill is passed, how many new aboriginal people will be registered? The government is unable to answer that question.

The worst answer came from departmental officials. For now, INAC estimates there will be roughly 40,000 or 45,000 new people, but the majority probably live off reserve. It is the “but” that is important here. Even if Indian status is given to new people who live off reserve, they will probably be assimilated, like many aboriginals living off reserve and in big cities.

Today, the question is whether there is enough money to include these new people. We do not know and that is worrisome. The federal government has frozen the annual budget increase for aboriginal people at 2%. There will be a serious problem when Bill C-3 comes into force.

We will see the reaction of aboriginals appearing before committee. The Bloc Québécois will ask that it be mostly women because they are the ones being discriminated against. With all due respect, the men have not lost anything. Initially, large band councils were headed by women. The Indian Act put an end to the passing on of tradition by women.

I will stop here, but if the House gave me permission to continue for another 10 minutes, I would be very happy.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue a question that will give him an opportunity to speak some more, because I know he has not had a full opportunity.

I will mention a couple of things and ask a question.

First, there was not a lot talked about in either of the previous two speeches by the members for Nanaimo—Cowichan and Abitibi—Témiscamingue, but there is an exploratory process that goes beyond this legislation that has been announced. That has sent the right message on the other issues that keep creeping in, which is registration, membership and citizenship issues, a broad range of issues that the bill brings to the floor.

I would also like to make a comment. The member for Nanaimo—Cowichan talked about how we were dealing piecemeal with the Indian Act. In full recognition of that, the legislation is addressing a narrow court decision, but what we have also discovered is that one size does not fit all.

Finally, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue made reference to Mary Hurley, our committee researcher. I would like to think the other members of the committee would join with us in congratulating her on her work. She is in her last week. I understand she is retiring this week, so special significance and special recognition to her. We wish her a long, prosperous and healthy retirement.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, am I to understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development agrees with my colleagues that I should keep talking for 10 more minutes? No? Oh well, it was worth a try.

I agree with my colleague. There have been pseudo-consultations. With respect, I would add that I am not sure that the Supreme Court Act required the government to hold broad consultations. Nevertheless, I hope that the government is not expecting this bill to pass quickly, certainly not before Easter. That will not happen. It may pass before Easter 2011, but certainly not before Easter 2010. We want to hear from women. I hope that many women's groups are listening today. I would invite aboriginal women who have been negatively affected by this unfair, arbitrary and discriminatory law to talk to committee members about what they would like to see happen.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue gave a very thorough speech. It is no surprise that I have a couple of questions for him in reference to the process that has been set out for some sort of consultation. As always, the devil is in the details.

At this point, it is whether it will be the kind of process that was done with matrimonial real property. A report tabled by Wendy Grant-John outlined some processes around consultation and they were promptly disregarded.

There are a couple of other thorny parts around what is being disregarded. Clatworthy, back in 2001, identified the fact that the contribution of unstated paternity was a factor in determining membership. The presumption is if the woman does not identify who the father is, that he is non-status, that has accelerated the non-status position. That problem is not dealt with in this legislation.

The second one is around resources. We know the resourcing issue is critical to allow bands to deal with people who could potential regain status. Could the member elaborate on the issues around resources.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague.

Quite humbly, I must say that I do not know who would be entitled. That will be a priority issue when the committee begins its study of Bill C-3 and its application.

Women's rights were compromised by Bill C-31 in 1986 and especially by the 1951 Indian Act. We must not let that happen again. The problem started in 1951. I know, that is an important year—it is the year I was born—but that year some problems made their way into the Indian Act, and governments have been trying to fix those problems ever since. I hope that this government will find the resources and give aboriginal peoples a chance to make progress. Many aboriginal people will go back to the reserves. These are people who have always wanted to go back but cannot because the reserves do not have adequate funding to accept them. Let us hope that Bill C-3 will make it possible for people to go back to the reserves.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague for making us aware of this issue. When I was the critic of the status of women in 2004-05, I was truly struck by the plight of aboriginal women. These women truly experienced extreme violence. It is disturbing that a bill such as this heaps more discrimination on them. We wonder how they will find a way to turn things around.

This is the first I have heard about the bill. My colleague spoke of the loss of privileges when an aboriginal woman marries a white man. Can he give concrete examples? What are these privileges?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Trois-Rivières. An Indian woman who marries a white man loses all her rights. This means that she is no longer a band member and she is thrown out of the band. She has to leave the area and generally, she and her children are literally—and I do mean literally—removed forcibly from the reserve. That has happened. Therefore, she is no longer an Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act. She cannot own property on the reserve. She and her husband cannot own a house. They are expelled from the reserve.

That has happened in Quebec. It has actually started happening again with the Mohawks. It has happened in a number of other communities. There is a shortage of land. If a woman is not an Indian under the law, she is turned out. She loses her rights, her children lose all their rights under the Indian Act, that is, the right to be recognized. What is worse, they lose their culture. When you are expelled you have no rights. You are on the outside.

You would not believe that this could happen in Canada. However, that is exactly what has happened to aboriginal women over the past century and it is unacceptable. Women had power because tradition was passed on by women, by mothers. Overnight, they had their rights trampled on. This was confirmed in 1951 and in 1985. Let us hope that this is not the case when we have finished studying Bill C-3.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
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Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-3, Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act and explain why I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting it.

Bill C-3 proposes to accomplish two objectives. First, this legislation would remove a cause of gender discrimination in the Indian Act. Second, it would meet the deadline imposed upon Parliament in a ruling of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

My remarks today will describe not only how Bill C-3 achieves these objectives, but also how it would serve the larger national interest.

In last year's decision by the Court of Appeal for B.C. in McIvor v. Canada, the court ruled that the two paragraphs in section 6 of the Indian Act discriminate between men and women with respect to registration as an Indian and therefore violate the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rather than have the decision take effect right away, the court suspended the effects of the decision until April 6, 2010, and explicitly called on Parliament to enact an effective legislative solution.

What this means is we have until April 6 to implement a solution and if we fail to meet this deadline a key section of the Indian Act, one that spells out rules related to entitlement to registration also known as Indian status, will cease to have legal effect in the province of British Columbia.

This will have some significant consequences. As the members of the House will recognize, Indian status is a legal concept that confers a particular set of rights and entitlements. Should the two paragraphs of section 6 cease to have legal effect, it would lead to uncertainty and confusion about entitlements to registration in British Columbia.

The legislation now before us proposes to avert these consequences by amending certain registration provisions of the Indian Act. The bill addresses the root of the problem by removing the language that the court ruled unconstitutional.

I have no doubt that every member of the House stands opposed to discrimination based on gender. Despite this conviction, I expect that all members appreciate that equality between men and women is difficult to achieve at times.

Bill C-3 would take Canada one significant step closer to this important goal and this is what this debate is all about, the ongoing effort to eliminate gender discrimination.

Parliament, of course, has played an important role in taking corrective actions to address this issue. For example, the House endorsed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is recognized internationally as a milestone in the fight against discrimination. To understand the origins of the McIvor decision we must go back to the 1980s when the charter was first enacted.

The charter required the Government of Canada to amend or rescind federal legislation that caused, aided or abetted discrimination based on gender. A significant effort was undertaken to amend the Indian Act, which clearly discriminated against women.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this discrimination was the Indian Act's treatment of a status Indian who married someone without status. If the status Indian were a woman, she would immediately lose her status. If the status Indian were a man, he would retain his status and furthermore his wife would become entitled to registration.

So these effects were dramatically different of course on their children. Children of a woman who lost status and her non-Indian husband were not entitled to registration, while children of a status man and his non-Indian wife were entitled to registration.

A provision in the former Indian Act, which was commonly referred to as the “double mother clause”, discriminated against children whose mother and paternal grandmother gained status upon marriage. These children, born after September 4, 1951, would lose their Indian status at age 21.

In an effort to eliminate these types of discrimination, Parliament endorsed a series of amendments to the Indian Act in 1985. These amendments are still known, colloquially, as Bill C-31 changes, and they remain controversial and lie at the heart of the McIvor ruling at the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

The problem lies with the mechanisms that Bill C-31 used to rectify gender discrimination related to status entitlement and registration. I will do my best to simplify two of the key amendments from 1985.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Yes. “Good luck”, somebody just said.

Subsection 6.(1) provided a way for Indian women who had lost status through marriage to regain it and subsection 6.(2) made it possible for the children of these women to be registered.

Although this approach earned the approval of Parliament, and many other groups, subsequent generations were still subject to residual gender discrimination, and that is what was ruled on by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

Now, let me provide members with a little history to the court's decision.

Sharon McIvor is an Indian woman who married a non-Indian man before 1985. They had children together. According to the Indian Act, at that time, Ms. McIvor would have lost her status and her children would not be eligible for registration.

Through the amendments to the Indian Act, in 1985, Ms. McIvor was registered in accordance with subsection 6.(1) and her son was registered under subsection 6.(2). When this son had a child with a non-Indian woman, their children were not eligible for registration. This fact formed the basis for Sharon McIvor's arguments in McIvor v. Canada: that her descendants were not in the same position to transmit registration to their children as they would be if she were male.

To determine if this constituted bona fide discrimination, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia reviewed the Indian Act's provisions for registration following the Bill C-31 amendments to the Indian Act in 1985. The court specifically examined Ms. McIvor's situation in comparison to that of a brother. It found that the consequences of two successive generations of parenting with non-Indians actually significantly differed in the male and female lines.

While the 1985 amendments in Bill C-31 succeeded in eliminating gender discrimination in the first generation, it failed to eliminate it in subsequent generations. This is the core, essentially, of the court's ruling.

It is important to note that Bill C-3 responds directly to the court's decision by amending certain provisions of section 6 of the Indian Act. By any measure, this is a progressive and desirable step because it removes an identified cause of gender discrimination.

As a modern nation, Canada champions justice and equality for all. Canadians recognize that discrimination does weaken the fabric of our society and erodes public faith in our justice system. That is why I am pleased to bring forward this legislation identified in the court's decision.

Members of this House have demonstrated over and over again that willingness to address issues related to individual rights. It is something they wish to do. In 2008 Parliament supported the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, for example. Section 67 of this act had created an exception so that complaints for people subject to the provisions of the Indian Act could not seek redress under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which was the only exception for Canadians in the act. To rectify this situation, members of the House supported legislation to repeal this section.

Bill C-3 has much in common with the legislation that repealed this section of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Both strive to protect individual rights and promote equality. Putting an end to discrimination against first nations women is advantageous for all Canadians, which is why I am asking members to support this bill.

When speaking about protecting human rights, I would also like to take this opportunity to remind members of the House that this government has been actively seeking to address a legislative gap that undermines our justice system. I am talking about matrimonial real property legislation. I am talking about eliminating the gap that leaves first nations people, most often women and children, vulnerable and without legal protection.

Addressing issues such as gender discrimination in certain registration provisions in the Indian Act, repealing section 67, and filling a legislative gap respecting matrimonial real property will have positive and lasting impacts. For too long aboriginal people have struggled to participate fully in the prosperity of the nation due to a series of obstacles. By removing these obstacles, Canada enables aboriginal people to contribute socially, economically and culturally to this country. Parliament must play its key role in this process.

We should consider the Specific Claims Tribunal Act. The legislation was a crucial component in a larger action plan to resolve another major obstacle to good relations between first nations and the federal government, and that was a backlog of unresolved specific claims. Thanks in part to the House's endorsement of the Specific Claims Tribunal Act, every claim settled brings a first nation one step closer to realizing its full potential.

To help achieve similar progress, the government has taken action on a number of issues, from human rights to other basics, such as drinking water, education and housing. A multifaceted and collaborative action plan continues to increase the number of first nation communities with access to safe and reliable supplies of drinking water.

A series of tripartite partnerships with individual provinces and first nation groups continues to generate improvements in on-reserve educational outcomes and the quality of child and family services. The government is acting in collaboration with the people directly affected by the issues at play and Bill C-3 is no exception.

Last year, following a thorough review and analysis of the court's decision, department officials had technical briefings with representatives of five national aboriginal organizations to discuss the decision and Canada's proposed response. Following those briefings, 15 engagement sessions were held throughout the country to present Canada's proposed response to the McIvor decision and solicit feedback.

To help focus the sessions, the Government of Canada researched, published and distributed copies of a discussion paper. Hundreds of participants came to the engagement sessions and many written submissions were received.

We had several common themes emerge during the sessions and in the written submissions. Many people were expressing concerns about the broader issues of registration, membership and citizenship.

Based on the views expressed during this engagement process, we announced broader measures that extend beyond the scope of the bill before us and will be discussed in a separate forum. This will be done in partnership with national aboriginal organizations and will involve the participation of first nations and other aboriginal groups, organizations and individuals at all levels.

The findings of the exploratory process will form the federal government's next steps regarding further initiatives on these issues. As important as all of this work might be, it cannot take precedence over the importance of passing Bill C-3.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the legislation now before us responds to a specific court ruling and prescribed deadline. The ruling and deadline inform the design of Bill C-3. The proposed legislation is a precise, compact and focused response.

As Bill C-3 proceeds through the parliamentary process, the plan is to work in partnership with first nations and other aboriginal groups and organizations to identify and discuss the critical issues surrounding registration, membership and citizenship. This process will be separate from Bill C-3 in recognition of the court's deadline and the importance of acting quickly to address the situation of gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

Bill C-3 is progressive, responsive and measured. It is rooted in the principle that all citizens should be equal before the law.

Bill C-3 represents a timely and appropriate response to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia's ruling. It proposes to eliminate a cause of unjust discrimination and ensure that Canada's legal system continues to evolve alongside the needs of aboriginal peoples.

I urge all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-3.