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.


Chuck Strahl  Conservative


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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.


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.

December 6th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Lavallée, earlier we raised the issue of adopting and implementing Bill C-3, which has to do with matrimonial affairs. Larry told us a few things about it. Now, you startled me when you said that this would help the children be more secure.

Most of the community members who came to meet us expressed their concern regarding this almost crazy reflex that many people will have to require that their membership to first nations communities be recognized. They also discussed the growing population in the communities. This is a great and worrisome concern for the communities.

You are already short of funds with regard to help for children. How will the children be better protected? Could you explain this to us?

December 1st, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

I was here last week, and I was before the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights this week, so this is my third committee appearance since last week.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to appear before the committee today.

This is, as you know, my second appearance before this committee, and while I'm happy to discuss the supplementary estimates (B) of my department, I'll also take this opportunity to touch on some important other issues.

In the four short months since my appointment as minister, we've seen some significant developments that underline the government's commitment to making real progress on the issues that matter to aboriginal peoples and northerners.

I was particularly proud that one my first actions as minister was to apologize for the relocation of Inuit from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay in the High Arctic in the 1950s, and for the hardship, suffering, and loss they experienced as a result of that relocation. Our government is working to renew our relationship with the Inuit, and to support social and economic development in the north as part of the northern strategy.

Also as part of the northern strategy, I was honoured to be in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, with the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health and minister responsible for the north, to announce the location of the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station in that community.

The Northern Strategy is, of course, only one component of our government's plan to improve the quality of life for aboriginal peoples and northerners. The main estimates, for the first time, included $61 million in funding for an important part of the government's Northern Strategy.

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CanNor, was created in August 2009 and is the first ever regional development agency for the north and the only federal agency headquartered in the north.

In little more than a year, CanNor has made great strides. The agency has established regional offices in all three territorial capitals and is developing its headquarters in Iqaluit in a new office facility being built by a local, Inuit-owned enterprise.

In May of this year, CanNor launched the Northern Projects Management Office, based in Yellowknife. This service works with the proponents of major development projects, federal departments, and regulators in the north to help improve the timeliness, predictability, and transparency of regulatory processes. It is a key part of the government's work to improve northern regulatory systems.

As you know, CanNor is the lead federal agency for the delivery of Canada's Economic Action Plan in the territories and its investments in the northern economy and northern communities have doubled as a consequence. To date, CanNor has supported 307 economic development projects in the north and has allocated over $66 million to strengthening the economies of the three territories. In this way, CanNor is not only fulfilling the vision of the government's Northern Strategy, but also is helping northerners and northern communities to manage the impacts of the global economic downturn.

The investments included in supplementary estimates (B) support this commitment and enable us to address our priorities. Take child and family services for example.

Earlier this year, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Canada, and Manitoba negotiated a framework to improve on-reserve child and family services. Included in the estimates is $17.6 million, which is part of a five-year commitment of $177 million to implement the framework in Manitoba. As I explained when I appeared before this committee last week, a similar framework was completed three years ago in Alberta, and the preliminary results are very promising.

The key to success, I believe, has been working in partnership with first nations groups and provincial governments. Manitoba is the sixth jurisdiction to start implementing the new preventive approach. This government hopes to complete frameworks in the four remaining provinces by 2013.

Also included in the supplementary estimates is $295 million for the funding of awards to claimants resulting from the independent assessment process and alternative dispute resolution related to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The process is designed for former students who suffered serious physical or sexual abuse while attending an Indian residential school. The additional funds are needed because the number of claims filed and the average settlement per individual are higher than originally forecast.

Mr. Chairman, we are also working with first nations and provinces in the area of education.

As we all know, access to quality education is essential to long-term, sustainable improvement for communities, as well as personal success. Together, we've been working to ensure first nations children receive the education they require to prepare them for the future.

Since I've been minister, we've signed two more tripartite agreements with the provinces and first nations. There was a sub-regional agreement in Saskatchewan and another in Prince Edward Island. So there are now seven agreements in place across the country that give first nations communities greater control over education and, most importantly, first nations students a greater chance for success.

Settling claims is also important to ensuring that first nations have the resources they need to prosper. Through claim settlements, the relationship between Canada and first nations is strengthened, and first nations can access the lands and resources they need to allow their communities to prosper. For instance, in October, I was pleased to join community members to celebrate the final settlement of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation's Brant Tract and Toronto Purchase specific claims.

Included in the supplementary estimates is the department's request to re-profile $308 million from the previous fiscal year to fund specific claims settlements. This amount was originally set aside for specific claims during the last two fiscal years but was never spent. Re-profiling this money makes it available to fund specific claims settlements in the current fiscal year.

These initiatives are but a few examples of the concrete actions that support the department's goal of improving the quality of life of aboriginal peoples and northerners.

Canada's economic action plan invested a total of $1.4 billion over two years in programs for aboriginal peoples. This includes programs and initiatives led by many government departments. Significant amounts are going to skills development and training programs for aboriginal peoples. Most of this investment, however, is going to infrastructure projects in first nations communities: water and waste-water treatment facilities, schools, and housing.

The provision of safe drinking water, the effective treatment of waste water, and the protection of sources of drinking water in first nations communities are critical to ensuring the health and safety of first nations people. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that significant progress is made in improving water conditions on reserves across Canada.

These investments are very much in keeping with our ongoing priorities. Furthermore, INAC currently has four bills before the House and Senate which seek to address these same priorities.

Bill S-11, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, will enable the Government of Canada to continue making tangible progress on its commitment to improving water conditions on reserve. This bill is currently being considered before the Senate.

Bill C-25, the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, will ensure clarity, consistency, and legal certainty with respect to land use planning and environmental assessment processes in Nunavut.

Bill S-4, the matrimonial real property act, proposes legislation to resolve the long-standing issue of on-reserve matrimonial real property.

Finally, Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, is an important piece of legislation that provides for movement toward the elimination of discrimination in the Indian Act.

Mr. Chairman, this government recognizes that money alone cannot address the issues facing northerners and aboriginal peoples. This is why we continue to seek and expand partnerships with groups that share our larger goal of ensuring that all Canadians, regardless of where they live, can participate in and contribute to this country's prosperity.

Every specific claim settlement, every tripartite agreement on education and on child and family services, and every aboriginal employment training partnership program brings us one step closer to this goal. I'm confident that the investments included in the supplementary estimates will lead to further progress.

Thank you. I'll do my best to answer any questions that members of the committee might have.

Aboriginal AffairsOral Questions

December 1st, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.
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Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the exploratory process we will launch once Bill C-3 becomes law, assuming it does, it is an exercise that will be led by the national aboriginal organizations. They will set the terms of reference for the most part.

I do not understand where the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan is coming from on that.

November 24th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I don't want to make you disclose any secrets. However, we know that the implementation of Bill C-3 is imminent. It will soon be passed by the Senate; that's clear. In our view, it's a matter of weeks.

The next budget is coming. Perhaps I should have put the question to the minister, but here it is. In preparation for that next budget, is the implementation of these tripartite agreements being taken into account in order to make requests? Have you prepared any items for the next budget taking into account the requests for implementation of these tripartite agreements?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, my colleague, the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, since coming to the House 10 years ago, has been a champion and an advocate on a great number of issues, certainly none more so than the rights of first nations women. It is an issue she continues to drive within caucus and in the chamber as well.

I was not in the House for the first part of the member's speech. Out of the ruling, I understood fully that this had been tied up for a great number of years. What has the response been on Bill C-3? Has Ms. McIvor had an opportunity to testify before the committee? What was her impression of the legislation being presented by the government?

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the bill. I am supporting Bill C-3, but I am supporting it with considerable reluctance and certainly not with much enthusiasm.

There should be no doubt that Bill C-3 moves the agenda forward on addressing gender discrimination in the status provisions of the Indian Act, but it is only one very small partial step toward full equality for aboriginal women and their descendants.

The government has brought forward these amendments as a response to and because of the efforts of Sharon McIvor of British Columbia. In my previous remarks on Bill C-3, I paid homage to the other brave aboriginal women who have fought the battle for full equality and have pushed the courts to recognize discrimination under the law and subsequently pushed Parliament to remedy the injustice. I would like to do so again today.

These women are Mary Two Axe Early, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bédard, Sandra Lovelace and, as I mentioned earlier, Sharon McIvor. Yet in acknowledging these individuals, I feel great sadness for them that the battle for full equality is falling to yet another generation of aboriginal women. We can be sure it will be the battle for aboriginal women. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination and at some point we must take it upon ourselves as parliamentarians the responsibility to fully eradicate all gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

When Bill C-31 was passed in 1985, Parliament and the government of the day knew that the residual discrimination would remain. I want to read into the record some of the comments made. It is important that we know this because 25 years later we are poised to pass a bill that also leaves residual discrimination.

In April we heard in committee from Martin Reiher of the Department of Justice. He said Bill C-31:

—is a very focused answer to the McIvor decision, given the limited time we had to develop legislation in response to the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision of April 9, 2009. There are other issues that have been raised in litigation that are not dealt with by this bill at this time. Depending on subsequent court decisions, obviously, the government might have to consider how to respond to these other decisions.

I also want to read from Sharon McIvor, an increasing hero of mine, when she said to the committee in April:

—But when the act was changed in 1985, parliamentarians knew there was residual discrimination. [Former Minister] Crombie's records show that they understood that some of us would still suffer from the residual discrimination....yet they forced someone like me to take it through the courts and have the courts decide that it was discriminatory....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.

A final quote from April that I will cite is from Gwen Brodsky, who is counsel to Ms. McIvor. She said:

—the 1985 act was--failed remedial legislation. Bill C-3 is a set-up for yet another instance of failed remedial legislation, for disappointment to aboriginal women and their descendants, who have been waiting for a long, long time for Parliament to do the right thing. That must be dealt with immediately.

Earlier this year the Liberal Party tried to end the cycle and address all the remaining residual discrimination in the Indian Act's provisions concerning entitlement to status. When Bill C-3 came before the aboriginal affairs committee, we introduced amendments that would have granted descendants of status Indian women born prior to April 17, 1985, full status under the Indian Act, exactly what had also been given to the descendants of status Indian men.

These amendments, although passed by committee through the unanimous support of the opposition parties, were ruled inadmissible by the Speaker after Bill C-3 was returned to the House.

We need a comprehensive legislative remedy. The amendments were ruled out of order as being beyond the scope of Bill C-3, which reads “provides a new entitlement to Indian registration in response to the decision in McIvor v. Canada”.

Again, I want to emphasize what others have said about the need for a comprehensive remedy.

Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said in April at committee:

With respect to discrimination in any form, I do not agree with it whatsoever. I believe that it would be the position of any reasonable person, as you say, to eradicate discrimination wherever and whenever possible in today's age.

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said again this year that if all discrimination was eliminated:

—then I would think that as aboriginal women, as an aboriginal women's organization, maybe part of our work would be done. We could move on to other things. But that would be really good to see if it took place in the very near while.

One last quote, although I have many comments, is by Betty Ann Lavellée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In April of this year she said:

—I want to see any and all forms of discrimination end once and for all, so that our children are not having this same discussion 25 or 35 years from now.

It is unfortunate that the government chose to write Bill C-3 in a way that responds solely to the narrow reading of the B.C. Court of Appeal in the McIvor case without providing the option to Parliament to address further residual discrimination through the legislation.

This regrettable choice has forced all stakeholders and opposition parties to make an extremely difficult choice regarding Bill C-3. How can we say no to equality for some when saying no means equality for none? What we can do, and we have tried, is to improve the bill, but as I will try and explain, the government has made this impossible.

I would like to remind the House that the B.C. Court of Appeal was only able to rule on the gender discrimination in the Indian Act experienced by Sharon McIvor and her son. That was the case before the court, not the full gamut of gender discrimination under the act.

While the court acknowledged that other types of discrimination most likely existed, its decision in the McIvor case could not apply a remedy to those issues as well. Therefore, the court ruled narrowly in favour of McIvor and left it to those of us in Parliament to craft a more fulsome response. Let me repeat, it was the government that then decided what this response would look like.

The government could have chosen to provide a legislative remedy to the McIvor situation, while also leaving the door open for Parliament to expand the legislation through amendments in order to get rid of the residual discrimination. If it had conducted a fulsome consultation with aboriginal leadership, aboriginal women, women's groups and communities, it would have heard a resounding desire to end the discrimination once and for all. That is certainly what we heard at committee. Instead, Bill C-3 was introduced without any real consultation and in a matter that meant all amendments would be out of order.

This is how Bill C-3 came to be, a bill that takes one more step in the long and arduous battle for full equality for aboriginal women, a bill that would extend status to approximately 45,000 aboriginal women and their descendants, but a bill that will leave the fight for full equality once again yet to another generation. Very soon we will be voting on Bill C-3, but at some point, as parliamentarians must decide when we are going to right this wrong.

We are now faced with Sharon McIvor taking her case off to the UN. Sharon announced that she would file a complaint against Canada at the United Nations. She has contended that Canada continues to discriminate against aboriginal women and their descendants in the determination of eligibility for registration as an Indian.

As she said, in taking this case forward:

I contested this discrimination under the charter. It took 20 years in Canadian courts, and I achieved only partial success. Now I will seek full justice for Aboriginal women under international human rights law. Canada needs to be held to account for its intransigence in refusing to completely eliminate sex discrimination from the Indian Act and for decades of delay.

She went on to say:

Because neither Canadian courts nor Parliament have yet granted an adequate and effective remedy for the sex discrimination which has been a hallmark of the Indian Act for more than a hundred years, I will take my case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

I would contend that it is unfortunate and, perhaps some might describe, shameful that this case has yet to go to the UN human rights committee. It will undoubtedly result in a further rebuke to Canada in the international arena, something our country and the government does not need.

As I said at the beginning, I am supporting the bill. I am doing it with reluctance, not with much enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing it move through Parliament.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, in short, the answer is no. No, because there is a section in the Indian Act, section 6, that has unfortunately been there far too long. As long as section 6 is in place, there will always be some people who are not equal, and discrimination will persist.

Obviously, the easy solution would be to abolish section 6 right now. Then, anyone could declare that they are an aboriginal. We cannot go from one extreme to another, and I absolutely agree about that. However, we could work on getting there. Unfortunately, the governments have done nothing. I do not want to get too political here, but I have to mention, with all due respect to my Liberal colleague, that the aboriginals had to go to court. It seems as though it is always necessary to go to court to have a right recognized, or to prove that a situation is discriminatory even when it is very clear that it is. It is, and unfortunately it will continue to be, even after Bill C-3 is passed.

I agree that we should pass Bill C-3 and I agree with my colleague, but this government should find a way to abolish section 6 of the Indian Act as quickly as possible. To do so, it will have to find the means and, with all due respect, have the political will to put aboriginals on equal footing with the government for the implementation of the bill.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this very important bill to put an end to 25 years of injustice in the case of Ms. McIvor. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill, and I gather the NDP will as well, as will all members of the House, I imagine, given the urgency of the matter. We urgently need to rectify an illegality that has been committed against aboriginal women in Canada and Quebec for more than 30 years.

I am reluctantly voting in favour of the bill because there is a problem. We have met with Quebec Native Women and Ms. Audette who organized and participated in the Amun March. We have met with the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and its Chief, Mr. Picard. We have met with a number of aboriginal individuals, including Ellen Gabriel, who was the president of Quebec Native Women. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Michelle Audette, the newly elected president of Quebec Native Women. All these aboriginal women and men are quite preoccupied by the implementation of Bill C-3.

The purpose of this bill is to correct an injustice. I do not want to get into all the details, but some things need to be said. This bill is the result of a court challenge by an aboriginal woman, as usual. It is the women who were discriminated against, who still are today and who, unfortunately, will continue to be even after Bill C-3 is passed. I will come back to that in a few minutes.

Aboriginal women have decided to stand up and ensure that an injustice is corrected once and for all. The government waited and waited for a Supreme Court ruling requiring it to rectify the situation. The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case on appeal and it is therefore the ruling of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that applies. That ruling requires the Canadian government to rectify a situation that is unfair to aboriginal women in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, you chaired the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development—for too short a time, unfortunately. In reading the Indian Act, you realized that this legislation was fundamentally and completely discriminatory towards women. We must admit that when this act was implemented, the purpose was to assimilate aboriginals, period. I encourage anyone who doubts that to read a very well-written book that explains the three reports that led to the creation of the Indian Act. The book is called L'Impasse amérindienne, published by Septentrion in Quebec. Mr. Vaugeois, a renowned historian, studied the three reports, since 1878, that led to the creation of the Indian Act at the start of the 1900s. I do not want to go into too much history, but this is important. Before the implementation of the Indian Act, which aimed to warehouse—yes, I said “warehouse”—aboriginals on reserves, these aboriginals moved throughout the territory.

The reserves were created out of nothing. The aboriginal communities did not ask for them. Today, people think that the aboriginal communities asked for the creation of reserves. That is entirely untrue. The federal government fabricated the reserves entirely. We need to look at what is said in the act, but I do not want to take up too much time. Ever since the Indian Act came into force, it has had the ultimate goal of assimilating aboriginals into the majority. It could not be clearer. That is exactly what they wanted to do. That is exactly what aboriginal women fought against. They did not want anything to do with this process, because when the reserves were established, they shifted from a matriarchal situation, in which women were the elders, to assimilation. Women were hugely respected within aboriginal communities. As soon as the Indian Act came into force and the Indian reserve system was developed—I cannot stand the word “reserve”, but that that seems to be the word to use—we started to see the objective of assimilating aboriginals take shape.

How was that accomplished? It is not complicated. If we put 100 people on one square mile of land, they may get along, but if we put 1,000 there, it soon becomes impossible. That is exactly what is happening. That is precisely the problem we will have to face over the coming years when Bill C-3 is passed.

Why? Because as soon as the bill is passed the numbers we have show that in Quebec alone between 15,000 and 20,000 new people will move onto reserves. We are being told that there are between 45,000 and 50,000 across Canada, but I highly doubt that. Why am I so doubtful? Because, back in 1985—I do not want to go too far back—when the government passed Bill C-31, the Minister of Indian affairs responded to a question in the House of Commons by saying specifically that there were about 56,800 additional aboriginals. That was in 1985, not 100 years ago.

On December 31, 2000—10 years ago, and we have the numbers from 2000—more than 114,000 aboriginals were granted Indian status. Imagine what will happen with Bill C-3. That is the problem the Bloc sees. I hope that when the Minister of Indian Affairs appears before the committee, he will have more to say than that they have invested in water and housing. What I want to know, and what my colleagues want to know, is how much has been set aside for implementation of Bill C-3, which, as we know, will lead to at least 50,000 more aboriginals moving into reserves.

Let me share a specific example of what this means. In my riding, there is Timiskaming First Nation in Notre-Dame-du-Nord and Long Point First Nation in Winneway. Long Point First Nation is a settlement. They do not even have reserve status yet, but they predict that 100 additional aboriginals will come to Long Point First Nation and swell the ranks of an already exploding community.

Worse still, information that I have received in the past month suggests that over 1,000 aboriginals will join the Timiskaming First Nation in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, and this will have a considerable impact. Today, November 22, 2010, the Timiskaming first nation is already unable to meet its needs because it is facing serious challenges regarding education. Classrooms are full and it has to send students to Ontario. More importantly, however, it is not properly equipped. The government has not prepared it for the arrival of these new registrants.

Some say the impact will not be all that significant. The department wanted to reassure people, and I cannot say I blame the department. When it comes to this issue, we must avoid playing petty politics and claiming to be the best, the most caring, the most intelligent. We are on the verge of a crisis. Several aboriginal communities will face a major crisis because of the addition of these new registrants. I am not saying there will be a flood of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of new status Indians. Even if it is only 10, 20 or 30 more families, that is more than many aboriginal communities can handle, because they are not properly equipped for it.

The government is being asked to implement Bill C-3. There is no doubt the Bloc Québécois will closely follow the implementation of this bill, because it is very important for the aboriginal communities that will have to deal with the arrival of these new status Indians over the coming months and years. I know of some people who have been waiting for years to return to their communities. They should not be considered newcomers; rather, they are people who have been waiting since 1985. Ms. McIvor, the B.C. woman who fought to assert her rights all the way to the Supreme Court, has been waiting since 1985. She is now a grandmother, almost a great-grandmother. She wants her grandchildren to be recognized as status Indians.

We are trying to tell the government that it absolutely must take action to deal with the arrival of these new status aboriginals, if that is indeed the right term, because personally, I think they have always been aboriginal people, even though many lived off-reserve in big cities. Now they want to return to their communities. It is extremely important that the government be prepared to deal with this problem.

We must not, in an attempt to delay applications, establish a system as complicated as the one used to implement Bill C-31 in 1985. We must simplify this process as much as possible. I agree wholeheartedly that Indian status should not be given to those who do not have a right to it. A minimum of control must be applied. I repeat, “a minimum of control”.

We must ensure that the aboriginal people who are given status are those who have the right to it. If we think that Bill C-3 will put an end to all discrimination, we are sadly mistaken. We have just barely scratched the surface of this issue. This bill will likely mean that a minimum of 50,000 new aboriginal people will be registered, but there will be just as many remaining who are still unable to register, and other cases have already been brought before the courts. According to the most recent statistics, 19 cases related to discrimination that go further than McIvor are still pending . These cases will likely be won because they are based on the same legal argument, namely, discrimination against women.

We are of the opinion that the government should have accepted our amendments. The Chair ruled that our amendments were out of order and that there would be no more discussion. We submitted our arguments and they were rejected. We respect democracy. We submitted Bill C-3, as it was presented to the House at third reading, to Quebec Native Women and the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

Last July, at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations held in Winnipeg, there was a presentation on this bill and we were asked to vote in favour of it. Therefore, we will vote for C-3 to at least close one door so that some of the discrimination against women is eliminated.

We are dreaming in colour if we believe that Bill C-3 will put an end, once and for all, to the problems of the acceptance of aboriginal peoples in communities. That is not the case. Michèle Audet, the new president of Quebec Native Women, gave us a number of examples, and we have received letters. I will not go into the details, but there are other cases pending and there will be other debates before the courts.

If I could recommend one thing, it would be to ask the government to let aboriginal men and women who wish to register do so. It is the infamous section 6 of the Indian Act that is clearly discriminatory. I believe that section 6 maintains a form of discrimination against a segment of the population—aboriginal women and their children—that is unacceptable in 2010. For those listening, it is not complicated: an aboriginal woman who marries a white man has fewer rights than an aboriginal man who marries a white woman. That is exactly what will be perpetuated even if we adopt bill C-3.

In closing, members must try to not play politics with this bill, as was done in committee. We all agree that it must be passed quickly. The bill will pass, of course, but the main problem will be implementing it.

I call upon the government to be extremely prudent and presume that those who apply for Indian status after this bill is passed—which I maintain will not put an end to discrimination—will be acting in good faith. Nevertheless, we hope that this bill is a step in the right direction.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the parliamentary secretary and to the hon. member. I believe that there is no room for playing politics nor for paying compliments in this matter. I believe that there is a considerable amount of work to be done. I will come back to that a little later when I speak to Bill C-3.

I know the name of my NDP colleague but I cannot pronounce the name of her riding. I think it is Vancouver and Cowichan, but I do not want to massacre it. I want to get to the question.

A minimum of 45,000 to 50,000 additional registrations are expected. I know the number is huge. The McIvor case came from British Columbia. I am wondering whether even British Columbia is prepared to deal with the tidal wave that will hit once this bill passes in the next few hours. I am concerned and I would like to know what my colleague thinks about that.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-3, the short title of which is gender equity in Indian registration act.

As others in the House have pointed out, it would have been wonderful if this had been a gender equity in Indian registration act, but instead it is a narrowly focused piece of legislation coming as a result of a court decision in my own province of British Columbia.

I will give the House a bit of history on this.

Sharon McIvor filed a complaint about gender discrimination. The initial court decision was appealed and in the appeal court the scope of the original decision was significantly narrowed. As a result of missing some deadlines, the government had to apply to the Court of Appeal for an extension. The court imposed a new timeline and said:

Parliament, of course, is the master of its own procedure, and we do not in any way wish to interfere with its processes. The Court recognizes that there are many issues that must be dealt with in Parliament. We would remind the Attorney General, however, that a final determination by the courts that provisions of the Indian Act violate constitutional rights is a serious matter that must be dealt with expeditiously. We would also observe that while efforts of Members of Parliament to improve provisions of the Indian Act not touched by our decision are laudable, those efforts should not be allowed to unduly delay the passage of legislation that deals with the specific issues that this Court has identified as violating the Charter.

That succinctly summarizes our dilemma here. What we have before us is legislation that does not deal with all of the gender inequities in the current Indian Act.

We heard from many witnesses at committee who talked about the ongoing discrimination that exists today. A number of suggestions were made to the government about how it might handle this and how it might broaden the scope of the legislation but it refused. It just focused narrowly on the court decision.

What we are left with are mostly women, on a case by case basis, having to take their gender discrimination issues to court for a ruling, which is a lengthy and expensive process, only to have the government subsequently amend another piece of the Indian Act.

All of us in the House are aware of the ongoing gender discrimination. However, in this particular situation, we are being forced to decide whether we disadvantage 45,000 people who could regain status under this narrow piece of legislation, or we tell them they need to wait for possibly a few more decades. Faced with this tough decision, a number of us will hold our noses and support the legislation knowing that it does not deal with all of the discrimination that still exists.

I want to read on a couple of letters that I received that indicate some of the dilemmas we are faced with.

The Quebec Native Women's Association wrote a letter on July 14, 2010, saying that it “would like to reiterate its support for the adoption of Bill C-3 considering that according to estimates by INAC there will be approximately 45,000 individuals that will gain Indian status with the passing of this bill. QNW believes that Bill C-3 should be adopted as soon as possible in order to limit the consequences of discrimination experienced for too long by those who are affected by this bill. However, it is important to note that QNW remains dissatisfied with the bill in its current form and asks the federal government for guarantees that once the bill is adopted, the concerns and recommendations expressed by aboriginal organizations and their communities on Bill C-3 will be properly addressed. QNW recommends the creation of a special committee with a mandate to find solutions and tackle the outstanding issues relating to registration, membership, citizenship and other discriminatory practices in the Indian Act that go beyond the specific measures of the McIvor decision”.

That aptly outlines what the next step should be.

It is great to have an exploratory process, or whatever the government of the day is calling it, but we need to have a full and open partnership and consultation that deals with these issues of citizenship.

In another letter I received on June 14 from the NDP Aboriginal Commission, it says that it also shares a profound objection to the federal government's refusal to end the fundamental discrimination of the Indian Act by continuing to assert a presumed authority over first nations' citizenship, membership and identify.

It goes on to say that NDPAC believes that it would be an additional injustice to deny those who have been the victims of gender discrimination under the Indian Act their right to status. An estimated 45,000 people would suffer direct harm if Bill C-3 does not pass.

It goes on to say that, in addition, children being born today are denied registration by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and denied their rights as first nations citizens as a result of the existing legislative gap. It says that this result plays into the hands of those who continue to pursue the policy of assimilation by allowing the government to refuse to recognize the constitutional rights of first nations people.

It also says that this situation continues the enormous injustice of earlier amendments to the Indian Act known as Bill C-31, 1985, which is expected to lead to the complete eradication of status Indians within only a few generations.The last words in the letter refer to the second generation cut-off. We know that is a piece of the Indian Act that has never been dealt with.

I want to briefly talk about how we got to this point.

Other members have spoken about the very long history of discrimination that has been in this country. It actually goes back to 1868 with the first post-Confederation statute establishing entitlement to the Indian status was enacted. This was in the Court of Appeal decision. The one piece that it was specifically referring to that was discriminatory against women reads:

All women lawfully married to any of the persons included in the several classes hereinbefore designated; the children issue of such marriages, and their descendants.

The early legislation then treated Indian men and women differently in that an Indian man could confer status on his non-Indian wife through marriage, while an Indian woman could not confer status on her non-Indian husband.

In 1869, the first legislation that deprived Indian women of their status upon marriage to non-Indians was passed. Sadly, this has been going on for so long and for so many generations.

It goes on to talk about the fact that this new legislation did not reflect the aboriginal traditions of all first nations. To some extent, it may be the product of the Victorian wars of Europe transplanted into Canada.

It continues on to say:

The legislation largely parallels contemporary views of the legal status of women in both English common law and French civil law. On the status of a woman dependant on the status of her husband upon marriage, she ceased in many respects, for legal purposes, to be a separate person in her own right.

As I said, we saw that perpetuated for generations.

In 1951 there were some slight changes. However, from 1951 onward, where an Indian man married a non-Indian woman, any child they had was an Indian. If, however, the Indian man's mother was also non-Indian prior to marriage, the child would cease to have Indian status upon attaining the age of 21 under the double-mother rule. The government introduced another aspect to discriminate against women.

Finally, in 1985, after complaints to the Untied Nations, there was a change in the legislation that did change some of the discriminatory aspects of the Indian Act but left many others in place, which ultimately resulted in the Sharon McIvor decision. Of course, Sharon and her family have suffered for decades because they were denied what they were constitutionally entitled to.

This has been a long-standing issue and we cannot claim in this House that we were not aware of the impact it was having on first nations' women and their male and female children. Back on December 22, 1982, there was an order of reference for a special committee on the Indian self-government task force. In that task force there were some areas outlined for further study. This is a reminder that this is not new information for this House.

In the areas for further study, the subcommittee was asked to: give attention to the elimination of the entire concept of enfranchisement; that the Indian Act be reviewed so as to reinforce group rights and to bring the act in line with international covenants; that the traditional practices, such as marriage, adoption, et cetera, should not be restricted or discriminated against by the Indian Act; and that the means for band control of membership criteria, process decisions and appeals in accordance with international covenants be instituted.

It is quite disillusioning that it takes so long for this House, under various governments of various political stripes, to deal with the ongoing discrimination that is inherent in the Indian Act.

One of the things that has been touched on here is the resources. I will turn to a couple of documents about why this is such a concern. In a briefing note from April 25, 2006, dealing with registration as an Indian under the Indian Act, Bill C-31, it talks about the increase in the first nations status population as a result of Bill C-31. It says that an increase of 402,940 status Indians occurred between 1984 and 2006, which is over 100% increase of status population as a result of Bill C-31.

The reason I mention that number is that we already have some past experience in this House about when legislation has been passed and inadequately resourced, and the kinds of projected increases as a result of Bill C-31 and the impact it has had on housing, health care, education, the water systems and the infrastructure. They simply have not been accommodated based on the increases in population as a result of that act.

October 1, 2009, when the assistant deputy minister appeared before the House, in her presentation she acknowledged the demographic and program implications. She said:

I'd like to talk for a moment about the implications of the McIvor decision. Demographic research is still ongoing to determine how many people may be newly entitled to registration...and while preliminary indications were between 20,000 and 40,000, we now believe it will be more in the neighbourhood of 40,000....

Of course there will be budgetary implications...with these potential new registrants, primarily involving health benefits and post-secondary education assistance.

What she did not touch on was housing, water, infrastructure and all the other aspects of maintaining programs and services on reserve, and whether people would even be able to return to the reserve if they wished to.

On July 2008, the First Nations Registration (Status) and Membership Research Report was prepared by the joint AFN-INAC working group. Once again, the government was fully aware of the implications on resources. This report outlined some of the serious problems that arose from the 1985 decision and why we continue to talk about the importance of resources.

The fact that there is a study going on is not good enough. We already know there will be an increase. According to this joint AFN-INAC working group, the increase in the registered Indian population as a result of the 1985 Indian Act amendments had major impacts on federal programming and expenditures, as well as for band governments now required to provide additional programming, facilities and services to newly reinstated individuals.

It goes on to say that band governments, first nations and aboriginal organizations stress that the increase in funding was not adequate to meet the needs created by the 1985 amendments as additional demands had been placed on already underfunded programs. As a result of the inadequate financial resources to accommodate reinstated individuals, many bands had difficulties in accepting new members and in providing them access to on-reserve services and programs.

These pressures, coupled with the socio-cultural implications of classes of Indians created by the 1985 reforms contributed to community conflict which continues to challenge community cohesion even in the present day.

We already know from past experience that we need to take a very serious look at implementation, and that what we heard around implementation so far has left us with very grave concerns.

In the time remaining, I want to touch briefly on citizenship because this goes to the heart of what we are talking about today. What we have done is narrowly dealt with a court decision while leaving all the other questions around citizenship outstanding.

The National Centre for First Nations Governance had a quote on what developing citizenship laws look like. It says:

Developing citizenship laws are an act of self determination. When a First Nation creates its own rules for identifying who is a citizen, it is taking a large step away from the control of the Indian Act and towards something of its own design. The development of citizenship laws is a significant step for First Nations in the implementation of self-governance and the creation of culturally relevant institutions that support Nation rebuilding.

It goes on to talk about criteria and objectives and those kinds of things. I think it is an important statement around citizenship, and it has been at the heart of why so many people have disagreed with the government approach on Bill C-3.

In the “First Nations Registration (Status) and Membership Research Report” of July 2008, there was a whole section on citizenship. I want to touch on the principles for change that were outlined in this joint report. It says that focus group participants were in agreement with the following principles: blood quantum cannot be the basis for defining membership; first nations need to define their terminology, identity, citizenship, membership, Indian status; the principles of international law, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, can provide a guide for discussion of first nations citizenship; reforms must be consistent and supportive of first nations' right to self-determination; processes should be inclusive, gender sensitive and linked to culture and traditions; the federal government's role should be limited to providing support to first nations and rectifying the damage caused by its legislation not redefining Indians.

Those were the principles that were in this joint task force working group. We have not seen those principles rolled out when we are talking about defining status. Those are key principles that should underlie any respectful consultation and discussion about who is a citizen.

It goes on to say that the elders consider it important that barriers for change be addressed by revitalizing traditional laws to guide change. The report outlines as well a couple of other key points. One was independent conflict resolution mechanisms. The participants recommended that AFN take steps to initiate research and policy work with senior levels of government leading to the establishment of mechanisms for mediation or arbitration on issues related to Indian status, citizenship and membership.

The report goes on to say that members of Parliament, political parties, standing committees and so on need to be educated on these issues from a first nations perspective.

There is much more in this report, which I simply do not have time to touch on.

At the heart of this matter, although we will be supporting Bill C-3, is that it simply does not address the much larger issues that are facing first nations communities. In order to truly deal with the colonialist aspect of the Indian Act, first nations need to be front and centre in the consultation process, in the decision-making process and in the implementation around who is a citizen.

We need a very clear recognition about the resource implications. In my question to my colleague at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I talked about the backlogs that currently exist in the entitlement unit. We can see from those numbers, from the 2006 cost drivers project, that we are looking at a minimum of five years to clear the backlog that was in place at that time. How are those units going to deal with up to 45,000 new applicants? We cannot ask people to wait another 10, 15 or 20 years to determine if they are eligible for status.

It would be extremely important that we have a very clear statement from the government about the actual resources that are going to be in place once this legislation is in effect.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for so clearly outlining the challenges and struggles that many parliamentarians felt in dealing with Bill C-3, which we commonly call the McIvor bill.

The member raised the issue around the resources for implementation. A cost drivers report from 2006 talks about some of the challenges around processing information.

The report says the following:

Cost Drivers for Effective Service Standards

The Entitlement Unit currently has a backlog of 7,300 Applicants, which is approximately a 2 year waiting time....It will be necessary to have 14 Officers working on Entitlement applications for the next five years to completely eliminate the backlog and bring the turnaround time to approximately three months, which is comparable to other services.

There are more numbers like this in this cost drivers report. It talks about the fact that the processing time for applications is simply unacceptable. In some cases, people are waiting up to 10 years if they disagree with the decision as to their entitlement status.

I wonder if the member could comment more fully on how critical it is to see up front the kinds of resources that will be put in place to ensure timely processing for people who are applying for newly reinstated Indian status.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-3.

I first want to congratulate Sharon McIvor who fought for 25 years. It is unimaginable to us that she would fight for 25 years for justice and equality, but that has been her struggle. Her case was launched in the late 1980s. Before her, we had women like Mary Two Axe Early, Ms. Sandra Lovelace and Ms. Corbiere-Lavell, all who fought these battles for equality and justice for aboriginal women.

It is unseemly that it takes a generation sometimes to address an issue of inequality, something that could be so glaring that we all can recognize it. However, our system did not allow that to happen.

I said this in my opening speech when we talked about Bill C-3. I really do not care what government was in place at the time. There is something wrong with the system when it takes 25 years to achieve some type of equality or equity for individuals, and in this case many individuals.

Sharon McIvor court case was won at the B.C. Supreme Court. It was at that time a very broad decision that affected many areas of the Indian Act in terms of giving rise to residual discrimination, sex discrimination, gender discrimination.

The Government of Canada appealed that decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal. The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled much more narrowly on the facts and only affected certain sections of the Indian Act.

When the decision came out, the government tried in some way, shape or form to engage first nations people through something called an engagement process. It did not call it a consultation process because a consultation process gave rise to various legal parameters or certain expectations. It called them exploratory processes on something as fundamental as discrimination, as equality. The government did not engage in a consultation process, but rather in an exploratory process.

When the bill came out, it was a disappointment for many aboriginal women in our country and for many aboriginal groups that testified at committee. They said that the government had an opportunity to end sex discrimination under the Indian Act once and for all, but it did not do it. Instead Bill C-3 is very narrowly scoped and only speaks to what the court ordered the government to do.

The court ordered the government to deal with two particular clauses and that is all the government responded to, not saying that the government did not have it in its power or did not have the authority to scope the bill in such a way to end sex discrimination once and for all.

Some of those who testified at committee said that in fact it gave rise to other issues of inequality, where a woman for example would have to discuss the paternity of her child, whereas the same would not take place for a male.

Even though the bill narrowly speaks to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision, there are concerns with Bill C-3. Are they that substantive? Perhaps we should let Sharon McIvor speak, the lady who fought this for 25 years. She does not like Bill C-3. She does not feel the bill responds to the questions that she put to the court as a complainant. She now has taken her fight, where? To the United Nations. She is launching a complaint against Canada, saying that Canada has not responded adequately to the issues that were raised in the court case and Canada has not responded adequately with Bill C-3 in terms of ending gender discrimination once and for all.

When it comes to the person who fought for 25 years, we must be sensitive to her opinion and give some credence to the fact that she is not happy with the government's approach to Bill C-3.

Some will ask if the title of the bill accurately reflects the intent of the bill, which is to provide equity. Many would argue that it tries to achieve that objective, but it would be wrong for the House to think the legislation would resolve all of the issues of inequity based on sex. Now we are at a crossroads.

We get up here at third reading debate and we hash it out, me for 15 or 20 minutes, the parliamentary secretary for 15 or 20 minutes, and somebody else in the other party for 10 or 15 minutes as if we are going to accomplish anything. We are faced with the decision now of whether we should support this bill as it is.

It is not the best bill in the world. We know that. We know that it was not arrived at properly by the government. We know that there are many dissenting voices out there. There are those, too, who believe the piecemeal approach is not the proper way to go forward.

Jennifer Lynch, the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, said:

The Committee has already heard that the Indian Act has had discriminatory effects, including residual gender-based discrimination.

A case-by-case, section-by-section approach to resolving discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act will be costly, confrontational and time-consuming.

Moreover, the Act places the burden on complainants who do not necessarily have access to legal resources.

The approach by the government is not what one would prefer. It is narrow, not broad, and it does not end all gender discrimination under the Indian Act.

The government says that it does speak to and has spurred debate around other fundamental issues that the bill does not specifically raise. I tend to agree that in some regard the bill does not raise these issues, but they are there in the public purview. They are a matter of debate. Those issues of jurisdiction, of citizenship, and of who determines membership must be talked about. They must be acted upon.

As one of what some people call the “enlightened” countries in the world, we have one of the staunchest pieces of colonial architecture still in place, and it is called the Indian Act. A law in this place, in this House, determines if one is an Indian or not. Issues of culture, descendancy, self-identification, and self-governance do not determine it. We in this House actually determine who is a status Indian, the identity of a person. It could not be more outdated. We know that fundamental change has to come.

The government asks how we will deal with this fundamental change. Again, it is not going to be a consultation. It is going to be an “exploratory process”, as I heard the parliamentary secretary say. We should be thoughtful. We should not rush it.

God forbid we would rush it when this discrimination has existed for generations and it takes a single individual a generation to resolve even some aspects of it. I know we cannot rush it, but we have to give it some prominence. We have to be able to say that the government is sincere in terms of its approach.

Consider what “exploratory” says to a citizen out there, to a first nations person who is just looking at what some of the issues might be. I am sure our relationship with first nations and aboriginal people in this country has given rise to enough issues that we do not have to basically explore them anymore. We have to sit at the table and do something about them.

That is what the apology was supposed to be about in 2008. It was supposed to be about a renewed relationship, a post-apology approach to aboriginal issues in this country that we should try to resolve.

We do not see much of a difference in the government's approach. It is the same old business as usual. Deal with what the courts told us to deal with and only that. Other substantive issues that require change that will affect the well-being of first nations people for generations to come we will talk out in something called an exploratory process.

To me, the government has the ability to go beyond that, to truly engage, to truly consult. I respectfully would ask the government to engage aboriginal people in a substantive way. To me, this exploratory process seems to be just something we put out there so that we could get the support of first nations, or to at least get Bill C-3 through the House.

The minister in public says that we will not touch this exploratory process until Bill C-3 passes in the House.

We could be doing a lot of work prior to this bill actually receiving assent in the House, then in the Senate, and being signed off by the Governor General.

We also need to raise issues around implementation. That was touched on by the hon. member opposite. We asked if the department was ready. We asked if the register of Indians was ready. The government really did not answer those questions satisfactorily.

We asked other questions. Do we have an expedited process for these people who have been waiting so long for registration? Do we have an expedited process to make sure they are not bogged down in bureaucracy for years and years, having faced this gender and sex discrimination for these decades and generations? The government cannot tell us if in fact it has an expedited process, or a way to approach this, that will be acceptable to people.

I am sure many in the House who have first nations in their ridings get letters all the time from people complaining about the process. I received an email from one person who has been dealing with the register of Indians for 20 years about getting status. It is unacceptable.

While the government is touting equality in the House under Bill C-3, it must also put that into practice when it comes to implementation. The onus is going to be on individuals to apply, to provide some very detailed and personal information. It is only incumbent upon the government to make sure there is a process that people feel is fair and they have some confidence in.

We also want to talk about what the impacts are. Mr. Clatworthy, a noted demographer, said that approximately 45,000 may be eligible for registration. That is not to say that they are all going to register on one day or indeed get it in one day, one week, one year, or even two years.

The government said some months ago that it did not have figures. It could not tell us how much it was going to cost. It could not say how much of an impact it was going to have on a band, or a council, or a first nations government. It could not say how much it was going to cost. It could not say how many people would actually pick up for non-insured health benefits or post-secondary education as two programs they would be eligible for without a shadow of a doubt.

The government has not thought out the implementation of it, and I do not believe it has thought out the impacts of it. That, to me, speaks to an issue of sincerity. It does not do just do what it is forced to do. It goes beyond that and makes sure that once something comes into law, it has the means and resources to effectively deal with it.

Otherwise, what will it be like for a first nations woman or her children who can now get status when she finds out that she will be bogged down in bureaucratic red tape at the registration office, or for the new member of a band that does not have the resources to deal with those programs and benefits that the new member should receive as a registered Indian? That will not speak very highly of the government, which touts one thing in the House but does something different outside of it.

At the end of the day, there is a process in the House that I am not necessarily totally comfortable with, but we are part of it. We cannot change the bill. We have to live with what we have. It is not great, but we have to live with what we have.

We will be forced to vote on this particular bill. We may be grimacing or not quite happy doing so, but we may have to support it. That is what we are caught in so many times in the House.

With all sincerity, I believe the government sometimes designs things in this manner. To me, it does not speak well of a government when it designs things in a manner that puts parliamentarians in a very difficult position.

We tried to make amendments to the bill. We did everything in our power to amend the bill, first as a committee when it was referred to committee, and then as parliamentarians. We tried to make it more palatable to all of us here in the House, to make it more palatable to people like Sharon McIvor and other women and other families out there who want to end sex discrimination once and for all. The government shut us down and would not allow us to do it.

The procedure in the House is that we have to have consent many times in order for amendments to be made to a specific piece of legislation. When we brought those amendments forward, the government fought against them and said it did not want to broaden the scope of the bill. It only wanted to deal with what it was told to deal with by the B.C. Court of Appeal. That approach speaks volumes about a government that talks about equity but does something different.

In closing, I want to again thank the women and their families who have given so much of themselves and their lives to fight for equality in this country. Hopefully in the future we as a Parliament can be more open and more respectful to them and their needs in their fight for justice and equality.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague works very hard in his community. We have had a number of discussions about issues relative to aboriginal peoples. I look forward to working with him more to solve some of the problems that we see in each of our communities.

The question he has asked is how this will affect the number of registered Indians in our country. INAC chose to engage the services of Stewart Clatworthy, who is considered one of Canada's leading experts in aboriginal demography. He undertook a study to look at what numbers might be produced as a result of the changes brought about by McIvor. It is estimated that at this point, there may be up to 45,000 people who will become registered Indians, following any passage of Bill C-3 to address the McIvor issue.

How will we address costs relative to an additional 45,000 registered Indians? The minister and the government have compiled an internal financial impact working group to study this issue, to ensure that we are prepared for any cost consequences, so we get this right in the end. It has been working already at resolving the cost that may be anticipated by the addition of 45,000 new status Indians. We will wait for the group's work to be completed and come up with a number when that is done.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to express my support for Bill C-3, which we call the gender equity in Indian registration act. The legislation now before us represents an effective response to a ruling of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. The court ruled that certain registration sections of the Indian Act are discriminatory under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rather than declare these provisions of the Indian Act to be immediately null and void, the court temporarily suspended the effect of its decision to allow Parliament to amend them. Should Parliament fail to amend these sections of the Indian Act before the suspension expires, which is now set to happen in January 2011, the court's ruling would take full effect. This would mean individuals residing in British Columbia or affiliated with B.C. bands could not be registered. As parliamentarians, we can play a central role in preventing this from occurring.

As I said, rather than declare these provisions of the Indian Act to be immediately null and void, the court temporarily suspended the effect of its decision to allow for Parliament to amend them. Should Parliament fail to amend these sections of the Indian Act before the suspension expires, which is now set to happen in January 2011, the court's ruling would take full effect. This would mean that individuals residing in British Columbia or affiliated with B.C. bands could not be registered. As parliamentarians, we can play a central role in preventing this from occurring.

To fully appreciate the advantages of Bill C-3, one must have at least a basic grasp of previous revisions of the Indian Act. I would like to take just a few minutes to remind my hon. colleagues of this historical context.

As my hon. colleagues recognize, the Indian Act provides the main framework for the relationship between registered Indians and Canada. Now more than 130 years old, the Indian Act has been amended many times. The heart of the ruling by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia touches on a series of amendments dating from the mid-1980s. The inspiration for these amendments was the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, along with a commitment by the Government of Canada to eliminate discriminatory aspects of federal legislation.

To accomplish this goal, the government of the day launched a comprehensive effort to amend the Indian Act. The discriminatory nature of the Indian Act was never in doubt. At the time, the legislation stipulated that a woman with Indian status would automatically lose her status if she married a man without status. A man with status, however, would retain status regardless of whom he married.

After considerable research, analysis, engagement, discussion and debate, Parliament endorsed a series of amendments in 1985, popularly known as Bill C-31. In its ruling, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia focused on the 1985 amendments and their effects on issues of status, entitlement and registration.

At issue are subsections 6(1) and 6(2) of the Indian Act. Subsection 6(1) includes a provision whereby Indian women who lost their status through marriage before 1985 can regain it, while the children of these women became entitled to first-time registration under subsection 6(2).

The new subsections significantly improved the Indian Act, and Bill C-31 soon became law.

At issue are subsections 6(1) and 6(2) of the Indian Act. The former includes a provision for Indian women who lost status through marriage before 1985 to regain it, while the children of these women became entitled to first-time registration in accordance with subsection 6(2).

The new subsections significantly improved the Indian Act and Bill C-31 soon became law. Although the amended Indian Act eliminated gender discrimination for the future, it did not solve the lingering effects of certain past gender discrimination. The descendants of an Indian brother and sister who had each married non-Indian spouses were still treated differently. Even though an Indian woman who had married a non-Indian could regain her status after 1985, her children would be eligible for registration under subsection 6(2), not under subsection 6(1), while their cousins, the children of an Indian man who had married an non-Indian woman before 1985, would be eligible for registration under subsection 6(1).

This also affects subsequent generations, because someone with subsection 6(2) status must parent with another person with Indian status in order to have a child who will be eligible for registration.

If a child has a parent with subsection 6(2) status and the other parent does not have status, the child will not be eligible for registration. So the grandchildren of women who regain status through subsection 6(1) would not be eligible for registration unless both their parents were registered Indians.

In contrast to this, the grandchildren of the Indian man and his non-Indian wife would be eligible for Indian registration even if they did not have two status Indian parents.

The Court of Appeal for British Columbia acknowledged that the 1985 legislation was a bona fide attempt to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex. At the same time it concluded that there was unequal treatment that needed to be rectified by Parliament through amendments to the Indian Act.

Rather than immediately striking down the offending sections of the Indian Act, the court called on the Government of Canada to implement a solution within a specified period, which has been extended to January 2011.

As soon as the Court rendered a decision in the McIvor case, the Government of Canada took action to identify and implement an effective solution, which became Bill C-3. The legislation now before us is the product of comprehensive study and engagement with first nations and other aboriginal groups.

Led by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the process began with the publication of a discussion paper outlining the issue and describing potential amendments to the Indian Act. The next step of the process involved a series of 12 engagement sessions staged across Canada. Three national aboriginal organizations, being the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the National Association of Friendship Centres, also co-sponsored one session each. A total of approximately 900 people participated in the sessions and INAC officials received more than 150 written submissions.

Based on the views expressed, federal legislation was drafted and introduced as Bill C-3 in March of this year. The House referred Bill C-3 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for further study. The committee amended the bill, including a very broad amendment that significantly altered the bill and a corresponding amendment to the short title. Both of these amendments were subsequently struck from the bill as a result of a ruling that they were outside the scope of the bill.

The committee also removed one of the clauses of the bill and added a provision requiring the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to review and report on the impacts of Bill C-3 within two years following passage of the bill.

I was pleased to see that clause 9 was restored at report stage. Clause 9 is an important provision that protects not only the Crown, but also first nations from claims for compensation based on previous decisions regarding registration that were made in good faith.

Another government amendment at report stage made technical changes to clarify language in the provision requiring a report to Parliament.

With these changes, Bill C-3 fully deserves the support of the House.

We must do our utmost to ensure that the laws of Canada are charter compliant. This was reinforced by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia when granting an extension to provide more time for this important legislation to be passed by Parliament. The court stated:

We would also observe that while efforts of Members of Parliament to improve provisions of the Indian Act not touched by our decision are laudable, those efforts should not be allowed to unduly delay the passage of legislation that deals with the specific issues that this Court has identified as violating the Charter.

As individuals elected to represent Canadians and to uphold the law, it is our duty to act in the interest of justice. Concerns for equality and justice lie at the core of Bill C-3. In a tangible sense, a vote for the proposed legislation is also an expression of support for the notion that all Canadians are equal before the law.

The McIvor decision, along with the engagement sessions held last year, has touched off a healthy debate in this country about the Indian Act and a host of topics related to Indian identity. While this debate illustrates that our democracy is alive and well, this is a broader discussion about registration, membership and citizenship. That is why an exploratory process will be launched to explore outstanding issues not addressed in Bill C-3 once the bill is passed.

The legislation now before us aims to address a specific problem identified by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. Rather than discuss how well Bill C-3 would resolve this problem, however, many commentators have chosen to propose ways to overhaul the Indian registration regime or to replace the Indian Act in its entirety. The free exchange of ideas is always welcome, of course, but I encourage members of the House to focus on the specific merits of Bill C-3 as they respond directly to the court's decision.

The Government of Canada recognizes that opportunities exist to develop solutions to ongoing problems related to status, registration and citizenship. However, progress on these complex issues cannot be achieved in isolation or overnight without first passing Bill C-3.

As my hon. colleague no doubt recall, when Bill C-3 was introduced in this House, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced that an exploratory process would be launched to explore broader issues related to the Indian Act.

The process will feature close collaboration with national aboriginal organizations and various first nations groups. In fact, the government has already invited proposals from the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the National Association of Friendship Centres, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Métis National Council on the exploratory process.

Given the number of groups involved and the complex nature of topics, such as band membership, Indian registration and concepts of citizenship, a thorough discussion and analysis of these issues will take time. Given the importance of these topics, the process must not be rushed.

In the meantime, the court's January deadline draws steadily closer. The exploration of the broader issues of registration, membership and citizenship is important, however, this must not come at the expense of passing legislation that will eliminate the specific cause of gender discrimination as identified by the court of appeal for British Columbia.

Bill C-3 focuses solely on this purpose. From the outset, the goal has been to respond effectively to the court's ruling prior to the deadline. While this objective remains of primary importance, the proposed legislation would also have a number of other positive impacts.

As the members of this House are aware, discrimination is one of the barriers that prevents many first nations peoples from participating fully in Canada's prosperity. And Canada will never achieve its full potential until all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, can contribute to this country's social, cultural and economic fabric. The only way to eliminate the barrier of discrimination is to systematically address underlying causes, for example, by amending the sections of the Indian Act specifically identified by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

As the members of the House recognize, discrimination is one of the barriers that prevents many first nations peoples from participating fully in Canada's prosperity. Canada will never realize its full potential until all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, can contribute to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our country. The only way to eliminate the barrier of discrimination is to systematically address underlying causes, such as by amending the sections of the Indian Act specifically identified by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

Support for Bill C-3 would also strengthen the relationship between Canada and first nations peoples. In recent years the Government of Canada has worked alongside national aboriginal organizations and first nations groups to address a long list of issues, such as drinking water, education and child and family services, among others.

This collaborative, open and honest approach has fostered mutual respect and trust. It has also fostered significant progress on each one of these issues.

Bill C-3 offers an opportunity to further this momentum. Support for Bill C-3 sends a simple, explicit message: Canada will not tolerate unjust discrimination against first nations peoples.

More than 20 years ago our country enacted a landmark piece of legislation that speaks volumes about Canadian values. The Canadian of Rights and Freedoms has since become a cornerstone of our democracy, a practical instrument that protects even the most vulnerable of our citizens.

As the court has reminded us, Bill C-3 deals with the specific issues that violate the Charter, according to the court. That is why I encourage all of my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-3.

As the court has reminded us, Bill C-3 deals with the specific issues that it has identified as violating the charter. On that basis, I encourage all of my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-3.

Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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