Thanks so much, Gladys. I feel like I don't need to speak after that. It was very thorough and says it all.
Wela'lin. [Witness speaks in Mi'kmaq]
My name is Teresa Edwards and I am a Mi'kmaq of the Listuguj band. I am here today in the capacity as the legal counsel and director of human rights for the Native Women's Association of Canada.
I want to acknowledge the territory of the Algonquin people, where we are gathered today.
The Native Women's Association of Canada, otherwise known as NWAC, has worked for the last 40 years to advance the well-being of aboriginal women and girls, as well as their families and communities through activism, policy, trying to change legislation, making presentations such as these, and all forms of advocacy.
NWAC was incorporated in 1974 and is one of the five nationally recognized aboriginal organizations whose purpose is to represent and speak at the national level, on behalf of aboriginal women, primarily first nations and Métis. We do have some Inuit members, but defer to Pauktuutit to speak for them.
NWAC has identified a number of very specific concerns with Bill C-23 and the changes it makes to the Canada Elections Act. As you may or may not know, prior to 1960, registered Indians were not able to vote in Canadian elections or they would no longer be considered Indians under the law and would not be able to live within their territory, community, the reserves. The fact that some aboriginal peoples only fairly recently acquired the right to vote explains, in part, the low number of aboriginal women and men elected to the House of Commons. Since 1867, approximately only 18 people who have self-identified as aboriginal have been members of the House.
The relationship between first nations and the government has not always been positive, particularly as it relates to voting and elections. This has had an impact on first nations participating in elections for all levels of government, federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal, outside of their own communities. It's quite the reverse when you talk about participation in their communities. It's not a question of apathy or being ill-informed. It's a choice they are making, generally speaking, from what we've learned at NWAC, from what the women have shared with us and what our research has shown.
These first nations are extremely active in running as chief and/or council within their own communities and in voter participation. It's not a question of their not knowing about the process. They are very well-informed and do partake in the process within their own communities.
In the work that we've done on elections, aboriginal women have listed numerous reasons why they don't participate in federal elections. A few are: they don't see themselves as being represented by the government, particularly with this government; they don't recognize the federal government as their form of governance and leadership; and/or they don't believe the federal system will positively impact their lives. That's some of the reasons.
I would never want to speak for Six Nations, but for example they have their own passports. They have their own position on why they would never participate, from what we've heard from our women, in elections. It would be seen as complying or going out of their sovereignty, if you will.
Although there may be many reasons to explain why aboriginal women do not participate in federal elections, such as the ones I've listed, there should not be barriers put in place, as Gladys so eloquently listed, by this government to further limit their ability to vote, if they so choose.
Aboriginal young women are often single mothers. They live in poverty and have high rates of mobility, and are often forced to move several times a year, possibly. They could be moving on and off reserve or from different provinces to be with other family members. Sometimes it's due to housing crises, poverty or they're going after jobs, going away to school, or perhaps they are fleeing violence.
NWAC has been working this last year on a project for Elections Canada, and we hope to continue to do similar work in the future, to increase voter turnout among Aboriginal women and youth. We are targeting this group because statistics show that if you vote when you are young, you will continue to vote when you are older.
In 2007, in advance of the general election, a number of changes were made to the Canada Elections Act with respect to ID requirements. These changes required voters to have two pieces of ID, one photo ID and the other had to show a home residence.
Many aboriginal women do not use home addresses and are serviced by post office boxes. In fact today I was just filling out a form to be submitted to Canada Revenue, and two of our board members have post office boxes. There was a criteria that said “not allowed: post office boxes”. Well, that is their address, that is where they live. I'll have to go reconcile that problem when I get home, before I can file those papers for our board.
There's another form that is commonly used, as there are also many aboriginal women who live in urban areas, including students, or who have moved multiple times throughout the year, who may not have ID that corresponds with their current address at the time of voting. So that was mentioned by Gladys, and I mentioned that earlier.
A major problem is the form of ID that is used as the Indian status card. Right now there is no standard for service with the Indian status card within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. NWAC deals with cases of women who have been waiting three years, five years, twelve years, for their status card. Or in a case like mine, I'm an expired Indian. Just out of sheer rebelliousness, I refuse to go and get my card renewed, because what other race would expire at a certain date. Sorry, I just had to add that.
That would be an acceptable ID. I've tried to use that. I expired last year in July, at my birthday, and I've tried to use it on numerous occasions. Although it's supposed to never be refused for services, if you can show other ID such as a passport, driver's licence, which I have, I'm constantly refused service because I'm expired.
As Gladys mentioned, that's the case for many aboriginal women. In the case of Bill C-3, the law that just came into effect a couple of years ago, where aboriginal women want to register their children they have to have birth certificates for each of their children. Perhaps she is a single mother with five children and she needs birth certificates for each child. The cost of that birth certificate could be up to $90, depending on the province or territory that you have to pay, for each child. Then you have to have pictures taken, and that could be $25 at your Shoppers Drug Mart to get passport-size pictures. Then you send the forms into the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
I know, for example, my daughter sent hers in three years ago. They have sent it back three times. The process took so long. They said everything she sent was accurate; however, the picture had expired. After a year, it was no longer any good. They hadn't finished processing it and it was sent to a new department, so she had to pay for the pictures to be done again. They also needed a new copy of the original birth certificate, and the first one hadn't been returned to her. So there she had two charges of $90 for birth certificates and two charges for.... This is all just to get an Indian status card, which is a primary card that is used in this process.
Bands were aware of the ID requirements and options available to resident voters, including the option to have authorized band officials using an attestation of residence; the use of voter information cards to establish current residency; or the option of vouching, as Gladys mentioned, where someone who is already a registered voter at the same polling division is able to confirm a person's residence and identity.
AFN's efforts in 2012—and they did this with Elections Canada—included phoning bands and using a series of scripts developed jointly with Elections Canada, basically, to inform eligible voters of what they needed for ID. What we found at NWAC, in the work that we've been doing with Elections Canada, is that there's a clear role for independent organizations such as NWAC or AFN to work with our populations, in collaboration with Elections Canada, to give information or workshops or help inform our people regarding election processes, and so on and so forth.
There are so many other things that can be done to enhance first nations participation in federal elections, such as the ones that we're doing and AFN's done in the past, in relation to Elections Canada, to build on past campaigns. Or we could even learn from the U.S. in this one instance with the Indian vote campaign.
It's in this context that we have specific concerns with the changes proposed under Bill C-23: the restrictive ID requirements and disallowance of vouching. So the provision of Bill C-23 that disallows the use of voter information cards as proof of residency will create a whole new barrier for us, and for women, in particular, especially for those residing in first nation communities that don't use their home address or have PO boxes.
Further, with the removal of vouching as an option, it's possible that some of these aboriginal women and elders, in particular, will have no other options available to them to enable them to vote in the next election. For example, you have students who are living away from home, a single mom, as I mentioned, who moves multiple times throughout the year, or an elder who is living with the family.
I know I'm running out of time. I also want to talk quickly about NWAC's working with Elections Canada. Basically, the changes we see happening to the current section 18 of the Canada Elections Act, which provides a broad mandate for Elections Canada with respect to public information and engaging with electors, would limit the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with electors to provide information through unsolicited calls. We had hoped in the future to deliver the guidebook we're developing for aboriginal women and girls about voting and to work with our provincial and territorial member associations in a way that could be described as similar to this. This would prevent us from doing that work.
The role of Elections Canada has included providing impartial support for fair and accessible elections that enable all eligible voters to exercise their right to vote if they so choose. The changes noted above will limit or prevent this role from being fulfilled.
Therefore, NWAC recommends removing from Bill C-23 any amendment to section 18, so as to retain the current mandate for the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public.
Additionally and finally, NWAC recommends that provisions that remove the ability to use the voter information card as proof of residency and that disallow vouching be struck from this bill.
Thanks very much. I'm sorry for going over.