Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak at report stage of Bill C-3. I, too, want to acknowledge the efforts and the presence in the House of the AMUN walkers and the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association. The fact that they took the time to come to the House today to hear the debate on this bill at report stage underlines the importance of the outcome of this legislation to them.
Many of my colleagues know that for generation after generation individual aboriginal women, like Sandra Lovelace, Jeanette Corbiere Lavell and Sharon McIvor, have had to take the government to court to gain entitlement to their status, status that was denied them only because they descended from a status woman rather than a status man. We know that gender discrimination has existed in the Indian Act since its enactment.
The Conservative government introduced the legislation that we are looking at here today, Bill C-3, that would continue to leave residual gender discrimination in the Indian Act, forcing another generation of aboriginal women to fight for their rights and, as my colleague from the Bloc said, to fight for their rights without having the opportunities of the court challenges program.
We have heard a near unanimous call from aboriginal women's organizations, individual aboriginal women, including Sharon McIvor, aboriginal governments and chiefs, academics and national organizations, such as the Canadian Bar Association and LEAF, to amend or otherwise rewrite Bill C-3 to comprehensively and meaningfully end sex discrimination under the Indian Act.
We have heard a lot of conversation about the deadline but we have also heard that the courts allowed for the deadline to be extended further than the date that we are currently dealing with. For whatever reason, the government has chosen not to go back to them to extend that deadline. The government has chosen instead to deny repeated attempts to introduce comprehensive legislation that would, once and for all, end gender discrimination by the Indian Act. It has appealed the 2007 decision of the B.C. Supreme Court in the case of McIvor v. Canada. It voted against a debate on a motion that would broaden the scope of Bill C-3. It voted against amendments in committee that would guarantee full gender equality. It challenged these amendments in the House, despite the testimony of witnesses and the unanimous support of the opposition parties. It also attempted, as we are discussing here today, to reintroduce clause 9 of Bill C-3, which we were asked to eliminate in committee by all witnesses.
What does denial of status mean? I will quote from a LEAF submission. It states:
Denial of status perpetuates stereotypes against Indian women that have been entrenched in law since 1867; that they are less worthy, less Aboriginal and less able to transmit their Aboriginality to their children simply because they are women.
We actually heard poignant testimony at committee from women who talked about the personal impact it had on them, their children and their families.
Bill C-3 leaves intact significant areas of sex discrimination. It continues to perpetuate sex-based hierarchy for the transmission of status. Grandchildren who trace their aboriginal descent through the maternal line would continue to be denied status if they were born prior to September 1951. It would also continue to perpetuate inequalities between siblings within the same family, again based on their date of birth. The proposed amendment is restricted to the grandchildren of women who lost their status due to marrying non-Indian men but it does not deal with situations where marriage is not involved in cases of unconfirmed paternity or where Indian women co-parented with non-status men. It continues to perpetuate the discrimination.
We have no difficulty supporting report stage Motion No. 1. It reminds me and it brings back the nightmares of Nisga'a but, nonetheless, we have no problem supporting it.
Motion No. 2, unfortunately, gives us great difficulty. We have heard much argument about the challenges of clause 9. I understand the minister talked about it as being for greater certainty. However, I want to read into the record two submissions, one of which was referred to in part by the Canadian Bar Association. It states:
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.
I also want to quote from the Congress of Aboriginal People. It is unusual to hear criticism from the Congress of Aboriginal People. It states:
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? The court record provides more than enough evidence that Canada was well aware that it was discriminating against the descendants of Indian women.
I will not go on at length. We have heard members opposite say that this would provide equality and fairness. I want to end by saying that we heard from one of the members across the way that all citizens are equal before the law but not under this law. Under this legislation, some women would be more equal than others. Of particular concern to me is that some aboriginal children, their descendants, their grandchildren and their grandchildren's children would be more equal under the law.
I will conclude with a comment by Sharon McIvor who has been fighting this battle for many years, who has taken it to court after court and who has turned her life over to fighting on behalf of herself, her son and his children. She said in committee:
I am here today to ask you, to plead with you, to include all of those women and their descendants who are discriminated against, not just the narrow view that the B.C. Court of Appeal addressed. As parliamentarians you know that the court does not draft legislation. They just put it back into your lap so you can do what is right.
I submit that it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to do what is right and ensure that gender discrimination for women and their descendants is not perpetuated in this country.