Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Act

An Act respecting the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band Order

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Bernard Valcourt  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment grants to the Governor in Council the power to amend the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band Order.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

March 6, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-25, An Act respecting the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band Order, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2014 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise before the House to explain the necessity of Bill C-25, the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation act.

The genesis of this issue dates back to a historical oversight at the time Newfoundland joined Confederation that left Mi'kmaq residents on the island of Newfoundland outside of the Indian Act.

From the 1950s through to the 1980s, the Government of Canada provided funding to Newfoundland and Labrador for social and health programs aimed at first nation communities located in the province. However, both the federal government and the Mi'kmaq population on the island realized that formal recognition of Mi'kmaq communities was needed to replace the ad hoc and inadequate existing arrangements, which did not take into account Mi'kmaq governance or cultural heritage.

In 1989 the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, representing approximately 7,800 members from the nine Mi'kmaq communities across the island, along with chiefs of six affiliated groups, began a Federal Court action seeking eligibility for registration under the Indian Act. The litigation was resolved through the 2008 Agreement for the Recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq Band.

The agreement set the stage for the recognition of the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland as a landless band and its members as Indians under the Indian Act. This entitled eligible members to rights and benefits similar to those available to status Indians living off-reserve. It was always understood that the founding membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation would be granted primarily to people living in or around the 67 Newfoundland Mi'kmaq communities named in the agreement.

To allow adequate time to assess who could satisfy the criteria for membership, the 2008 agreement provided for a two-stage enrolment process meant to identify the founding members of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation. The first stage of enrolment, which concluded on November 30, 2009, saw 23,877 people registered as founding members through the recognition order, and three subsequent amendments to the schedule to the order were made to add founding members' names.

It was during the second phase that issues emerged that led to concerns, shared by both Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, about the credibility of the enrolment process.

During the four-year enrolment process, over 101,000 applications were received. Of these, more than 70,000 applications were received in the final 14 months of the process, and more than 46,000 of them were sent in the last three months before the deadline. That was 80,000 more applications than were originally anticipated by both parties. Both parties recognized that the numbers were not credible and could undermine the integrity of the first nation.

A large percentage of the applications submitted during phase two were sent by individuals not residing in the identified Mi'kmaq communities in Newfoundland. Of special concern was the insufficient level of detail in the supporting evidence provided by many applicants.

It became obvious that the original intent of the parties to the 2008 agreement could be compromised and that greater clarity was needed regarding the requirements of the application process. That led to the negotiation and eventual signing of the 2013 supplemental agreement, which provided clear direction to the enrolment committee about possible evidence to support the claims contained in people's applications. It also offered detailed information to applicants about the documentation the committee is looking for to determine their eligibility to become founding members.

The original 2008 agreement is still fully in effect. In fact, the criteria for membership under the 2008 agreement and the 2013 supplemental agreement are exactly the same. The 2013 supplemental agreement extended the timeline to review all 101,000 applications received during the two-stage enrolment process, resulting in the assessment of unseen applications and a reassessment of the applications already considered. This was the only way to be sure that the rules of eligibility for founding membership were fairly applied, that all applications were treated equally, and that applicants were given a reasonable chance to demonstrate their entitlement to founding membership.

In early November 2013, the enrolment committee sent letters to all the people whose applications had not been previously rejected. It indicated whether their application had been determined to be valid or invalid, based on the requirements set out in the 2008 agreement.

Approximately 94,000 applicants received letters confirming the validity of their applications. The letters included information regarding next steps in the assessment of their applications and what additional proof they had the opportunity to provide in support of their applications.

Some 6,000 applicants received letters indicating that their applications were invalid and would go no further.

It is conceivable that some of the current 23,877 founding members of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation will lose their memberships as a result of this comprehensive review. In turn, this means that these individuals would lose their entitlement to be registered as Indians under the Indian Act, and any rights or benefits flowing from it.

This gets to the heart of the matter before us today.

Bill C-25 is an essential part of preserving the integrity of the enrolment process. It would ensure that the Governor in Council is properly authorized to carry out the last step in the process, which is the creation of a new founding members list to modify the existing one.

It is not entirely clear that the Governor in Council has such authority. There is no express authority set out in the Indian Act to amend a recognition order establishing a band, and it is uncertain whether the Indian Act specifically allows the Governor in Council to remove names from the schedule of such an order.

Certainty is critical to correct the problems that arose during the initial enrollment process. Without this act, we cannot finalize the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation's founding membership list and fully implement the 2013 supplemental agreement. This would be an enormous disservice to the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation, which has been waiting for some time to have these issues resolved.

It is long past time that we settle these matters once and for all so that the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation can move forward with confidence to a better future.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2014 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for that clarification on some of the concerns raised with the bill.

I wonder if, for the members of the House, he could clarify something with regard to the order in council. Clause 3 says that by order in council:

The Governor in Council may, by order, ...add the name of a person to, or remove the name of a person from, the schedule to that Order, along with the person’s date of birth.

Some concerns were raised at committee regarding the feeling that the Governor in Council would be making the decisions about who was on or off the list. I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could clarify that this is, in fact, not the case, and that it is the enrolment committee that would be making recommendations and determining who is off or on the list.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2014 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite correct.

As we heard through testimony from officials and from the minister, it would be the enrolment committee making the determinations, going through all of the applications and applying the same criteria to all of them. It would be the one making the decisions as to who is or who is not on the founding members list, and the Governor in Council would simply affirm those decisions.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2014 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief on this. I am speaking to Bill C-25, Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Act. This is very short legislation, with simply four clauses. As the parliamentary secretary rightly pointed out, it would grant a power to add or remove names that was unclear that the Governor-in-Council currently had.

I want to put add a couple of details. In 2008, an agreement was to establish a landless band for the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland. The parties intended that the founding membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation would be granted primarily to persons living in or around the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq communities named in the 2008 agreement.

While individuals living outside these communities could also become members, the intent of the parties was that non-residents would be required to have maintained a strong cultural connection with a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq community, including a sustained and active involvement in the community despite their absences.

As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, there was substantially more applicants than was anticipated and there was, perhaps, a lack of clarity around how the documentation would be applied.

That resulted in a supplemental agreement. On July 4, 2013, Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians announced the supplemental agreement that clarified the process for enrolment in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation and resolved the issues that emerged in the implementation of the 2008 agreement.

In the supplemental agreement, I want to specifically refer to two things. One was they reiterated, in section 8, the self-identification as a member of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland. They said:

In making the Agreement, the Parties were guided by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Powley where the Court recognized that belonging to an Aboriginal group requires at least three elements: Aboriginal ancestry, self-identification and acceptance by the group. The Supreme Court stressed that self-identification and acceptance could not be of recent vintage. This formed the basis for the criteria set out in paragraph 4.1(d)(i) of the Agreement. The Parties intended that the Enrolment Committee assess whether applicants had previously self-identified as Members of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland.

In the same supplemental agreement in section 5 it says:

Determinations. The Enrolment Committee will determine whether each applicant is eligible to be enrolled under the Agreement. Every applicant will be advised of the Enrolment Committee’s determination of his or her eligibility only after the assessments or reassessments of all applications have been completed.

As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, there were a number of questions that arose during testimony. We sought clarification from the department and the minister's office with regard to a number of them. I want to reiterate for the record about how those would be resolved.

One of the questions was whether there was some sort of an appeal process. The other question was how the Governor-in-Council got the list. The parliamentary secretary already addressed that in the question and answer.

From the guidance we received, it says that a person's whose name is added to, deleted or omitted from the Indian registry and a band list may protest that decision in accordance with section 14.2 of the Indian Act. Furthermore, the first nation or one of its members may also protest the addition to or deletion or omission of a person's name from the Band list under subsection 14.2(2) of the Indian Act.

It is important to note that the decision of the registrar with respect to whether or not to add a name to the Indian Register and the departmentally maintained band list under paragraph 6.1(b) and 11.1(b) is not discretionary and would not involve a review of the Qalipu enrolment application nor of the enrolment committee review process. Rather, if an applicant is found to be eligible for founding membership by the enrolment committee, in accordance with the agreements, and his or her name is added to the schedule as a founding member, the registrar only has the authority to register that person and will not review the enrolment application. That protest of the registrar's decision would be rather straightforward.

The evidence upon which the registrar will base his decision is whether or not the individual's name appears on the schedule. If the name does not appear on the schedule, then the registrar will not have the authority to add it to the Indian register or the band list under paragraph 6.1(b) and 11.1(b) respectively. The registrar's decision on a protest may also be appealed to the courts in accordance with section 14.3 of the Indian Act, but again the courts would likely not review the enrolment committee's decision under this provision and instead would be limited to reviewing this information that was before the registrar in rendering his decision, namely the presence or absence of a name on the schedule.

I think it is clear that both the registrar and the Governor-in-Council will not be in a position to override decisions that are being made by the enrolment committee. However, the enrolment committee has an appeal master, so there is a process by which members can actually appeal the enrolment committee's decision.

Finally, there were some questions around the abilities of people going to the courts. The clarification we sought was around that issue. What we received was that clause 4 protected the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation and the Government of Canada from liability. However, the clause did not prevent individuals from appealing the enrolment committee determination or to challenging in court through a judicial review application their exclusion from the schedule to Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation band order.

Based on that clarification, the New Democrats are confident that the bill reflects the wishes of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq and we are supporting the bill before the House.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2014 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, according the departmental documents, Bill C-25 would enable the Governor-in-Council to implement the agreements reached between Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians to create a landless band for the Qalipu Mi'kmaq people.

The Liberal Party believes this legislation is actually focused on unnecessarily restricting the legal rights of individuals to pursue damages flowing from the band's troubled enrolment process.

When Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, the Mi'kmaq communities were not recognized as first nations under the Indian Act.

This left many indigenous people in Newfoundland with uncertain legal status and robbed them of the same benefits and recognition first nations in the rest of Canada were and are entitled to.

Talks to rectify this uncertainty have occurred on and off ever since, and in 1989 the Federation of Newfoundland Indians commenced a legal action to obtain recognition for Mi'kmaq individuals. The most recent phase of discussions to rectify this injustice began in 2002, culminating in an agreement in principle signed in 2007.

The 2007 agreement proposed specific terms for the recognition of membership in, and operation of, the future Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

Canada ratified the agreement in principle in 2008. Unfortunately, the Conservative government badly mismanaged the negotiations and implementation of membership criteria. Initial estimates of likely band membership were approximately 10,000 to 12,000 individuals. The enrolment committee has now received 103,000 applications. This unexpected volume of applications led to a huge amount of confusion, and has left the government scrambling to manage open-ended criteria to which it originally agreed.

In the summer of 2013, the federal government and the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation band raised a supplemental agreement which adjusted the guidelines used to implement the membership criteria. These new guidelines were designed to make it more difficult to meet the enrolment criteria, and all applications are being reviewed under the new guidelines.

This has led to numerous rejections and left many who had applied under the original criteria very disgruntled with the process. In fact, this review could result in individuals who have already been granted membership in the band losing their status.

The Liberal Party recognizes that both the agreement and supplemental agreement flow from a nation to nation process that must be respected. However, it is unclear whether the bill is actually required to implement these agreements and, as I noted before, half of the bill is actually focused on limiting the government's potential liability for mismanaging this process.

It should be stressed that the federal government has been intimately involved in both designing and implementing the enrolment process.

Clause 4 of the bill provides that no one may receive “any compensation, damages or indemnity” from any entity, including the Crown, because of being removed from the schedule to the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation band order.

The government, in a process that has been mired in confusion and controversy, is now asking parliamentarians to prejudge whether applicants may be entitled to compensation for any mismanagement or the impacts of the retroactive changes to how the membership criteria are being interpreted.

As we learned from testimony at committee, this legal indemnification was not requested by the band and is not something it is looking for. It is clear that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development badly underestimated the number of applications that would be put forward during the membership process, relying extensively on measures of self-identification of indigenous heritage.

This is particularly puzzling given that we know that generations of prejudice and marginalization induced many in Newfoundland to hide their indigenous heritage. As a result, whole family histories have been buried.

Whether damages are appropriate in specific cases is matter that is more appropriate for a court to decide. A judge will have the benefit of the facts on each particular case or class of cases.

It is unacceptable for the minister to use legislation to insulate his department from possible damages using a bill that he claims is simply to implement the agreements reached with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and more recently the Qalipu First Nation.

Pre-emptively removing access to legal damages that an individual would be otherwise entitled to, flowing from an enrolment process that has been the subject of such confusion and controversy is simply wrong.

That is the reason the Liberal Party of Canada will be voting against Bill C-25.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would first indicate that I am splitting my time with the member for Sarnia—Lambton, so the House will only have the privilege of hearing me speak for about 10 minutes. Then I will leave the floor for questions and comments.

The bill has been spoken to already. There have been many persuasive arguments to support this important piece of legislation. First and foremost, Bill C-25 would enable the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation to finalize its membership list. That process began with the 2008 agreement for the recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation, signed by the Government of Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, but it has yet to be completed. For reasons other speakers have already explained, and as others will hereafter, the full implementation of that agreement has been delayed.

As the House may know or may have already heard during this debate, the very first stage of that enrolment process ended on November 30, 2009. The first stage resulted in the issuance of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band order on September 22, 2011. As a result, 23,877 individuals were enrolled as the band's founding members. With that they gained Indian status under the Indian Act, giving them access to certain federal programs and services, as they should have.

However, issues with the enrolment process became apparent during the second stage of the enrolment process, which ended on November 30, 2012. Just to remind the House, an additional 36 months were provided under that original 2008 agreement to guarantee that everyone who might be eligible to become a member of Qalipu Mi'kmaq band had ample time to apply.

Much to the surprise of both parties, more than 75,000 additional people took the opportunity to apply for membership, bringing the total number of applications to over 101,000. To put that into perspective, that figure represents about 11% of all registered Indians in Canada, so it is a very significant number. It is also worth noting that over 46,000 applications were sent in during the last three months, the last quarter before that November 30, 2012 deadline.

Concerns were raised by both parties to the agreement that these numbers were possibly not credible and that the integrity of the enrolment process had been undermined. Consequently, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada agreed to the need for a supplemental agreement, which was announced in July 2013. The parties were able to use those provisions in the 2008 agreement to amend the original agreement.

The supplemental agreement provides greater clarity surrounding the criteria for band membership. It provides the necessary detail to ensure that the original intent of the 2008 agreement is respected and that the integrity of the process is protected. This is of great concern to the leaders of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and to our government, as it should be to all members of the House.

To be clear, the enrolment criteria set out in the 2008 agreement remain the same. Nothing has changed with respect to that. The supplemental agreement clarifies how to assess that criteria and which documents may be considered. Anyone wishing to join the first nation needs to prove his or her eligibility for membership. That is the responsible and appropriate thing to do, from the point of view of the Newfoundland first nation and the Government of Canada and all citizens across this great country.

Applicants must provide documentary evidence that they self-identified as being members of a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq group prior to 2008. They also have to demonstrate that they were accepted by the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq group of Indians through their active involvement in Mi'kmaq culture before the first nation was officially formed.

The supplemental agreement also allows more time for the enrolment committee to process the tens of thousands of unexpected applications. That is essential to ensure that everyone who submitted an application is treated fairly and equitably and that there is due consideration given to each application in the process.

This process will ultimately resolve any lingering questions about who is or who is not a member of the band, and it will provide clarity for the entire enrolment process. However, to accomplish this, another step is required, and the fact is that legislation is necessary to enable the Governor in Council to amend the recognition order once the enrolment process under the supplemental agreement is complete.

An amendment to the schedule will be required to add the names of those who are found to be entitled to be members and also to remove the names of those on the list who are determined to be ineligible for membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation, according to the criteria.

It is possible that some of those initially deemed to be founding members will no longer be entitled to Indian status, should the current review reveal that they do not meet the enrolment criteria. However, I want to underline that there will be no changes to the schedule until the review process is over. All those currently registered as Indians under the Indian act will continue to have access to designated programs and services until that time.

Despite the steps our government is taking to come to a conclusion on this matter to ensure clarity and fairness for applicants, the members of the Liberal Party thus far have suggested that the agreement with the FNI establishing clear criteria for enrolment in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation stands for nothing, that it is of no account and is not important at all. We believe that it is. It is crucial, and I think that any complacency or lack of regard for integrity is an example of what the Liberal members are doing on this. It is really a matter of putting their own personal interests before the interests of those they claim to represent.

I am sure that all other members of the House can understand that clarity is essential. I think fair-minded people would admit that. It is essential for everyone involved but especially for the Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland. They want this kind of clarity and integrity.

Yesterday, on the floor of the House of Commons, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the House leader for the NDP, mistakenly referred to this legislation as a treaty. Maybe it was misspoken on his part or a slip, but I want to make it very clear to the members in this House that this is not about a treaty.

When the member does his homework, he will know that this is about an agreement entered into between Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. It is the only way to ensure that the original intent of the 2008 agreement is respected and that the supplemental agreement can be implemented. It is vital for ensuring the integrity of the process.

Parliamentarians need to recognize that this can only be accomplished by enacting the piece of legislation before us. It would enable the Governor in Council to make the required amendments to the recognition order. Passage of Bill C-25 is necessary to finalize the membership list of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation. It is the final step in fully implementing these agreements and going on from there.

It is incumbent on members on both sides of this House to ensure that this can take place and that we move on it. I urge all parties to join our government in ensuring the swift passage of Bill C-25 to complete the process for the recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation and its eligible members.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the government has invoked time allocation on the bill, given the fact that it has only been debated one Friday in the House, and today is the second Friday. Essentially we will have only a couple of hours of debate. As the member for St. John's East ably outlined, we are providing equivocal support for the bill, so it is not clear why the Conservatives had to shut down debate on it.

With regard to clause 4 in the bill, which deals with an indemnity clause, I wonder if the member could outline what he expects this indemnity clause in the bill to cover.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, clause 4 would support the overall integrity and credibility of the membership. I think it is crucial in the enrolment process of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation. It would ensure that the applicants who are found not to be entitled to registration would not obtain compensation for benefits intended only for registered Indians. They are on the list presently until found otherwise, according to some very clear criteria.

Those benefits would not be clawed back. I think we would all agree that individuals who are rightfully a part of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation will continue to be, but there may be some on that list who are not eligible, according to clear criteria.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, first, I would echo some of my NDP colleague's comments regarding the issue of time allocation. We are also concerned about the way the government is using time allocation almost as a normal procedure in the passage of legislation. In fact, it is not appropriate.

Having said that, I wonder if the member could provide some comment regarding the appeal mechanism, if he is familiar with it. Individual applicants who might be going through the process may feel that they would like to challenge a decision. Could the member provide comment as to what an individual would be able to do in terms of appealing a decision?

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the legislation would not prevent individuals from appealing the enrolment committee determination, pursuant to the agreement. They would have recourse to the courts and other legal processes. They could challenge through the courts their exclusion from the schedule of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq first nation order. They would be deprived of none of that. They would have full access to any and all of that in terms of appeals they may feel they need to undertake as a result of being excluded from the order.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:10 a.m.
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Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, there was some confusion between two members of the NDP the last time we debated this issue. The member for St. John's East was very clear that he expected the criteria to apply to all 101,000 applicants, whereas the member for Western Arctic made it clear that he thought the 23,877 members who had already received Indian status should be protected and should not be subject to the same criteria as the others who applied later.

Does the hon. member believe that there should be equality and fairness for all applicants, or does he believe that there should be special status for those who were approved early on in the process?

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no grandfathering. The very clear and careful criteria that have been agreed to and the interpretation of the criteria would apply to all of them. To maintain the integrity of the process, everyone would get the same due process and the same thorough scrutiny.

In terms of procedural fairness, most of us would agree to have the same criteria. Nobody should sneak in under the wire. The criteria should not be applied differently to some who were already on the list. As I said before, there would be no clawing back for people deemed to have been on that list inappropriately. None of the benefits they might have received in the meantime would be taken back from them. They are currently still on the band list.

All of these together would be considered under the same consistent criteria that would be applied to all of them. None would be excluded.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to express my support for this legislation. I want to use this occasion to underscore that our government and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians are united in the desire to achieve our mutual goal: to enable the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians in the province to build a strong foundation for Mi’kmaq cultural growth and development. This is something we have jointly worked to achieve for a number of years and are determined to bring to fruition. However, it can only be accomplished with the passage of Bill C-25. This is why we hope that all members of the House will stand up for the integrity and credibility of the band, to the exclusion of personal motives, and vote favourably for the expedited passage of the bill.

Unlike the Liberals who would put self-interest ahead of the integrity of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation, we have made major progress in advancing the shared goal of officially recognizing the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation as a band under the Indian Act. Let me remind the House that it was this government that finally created the first nation, to resolve a court action. We reached an agreement in principle with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians to create the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation in 2007 and signed a final agreement a year later, in 2008.

The 2008 agreement for the recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation established a process to create a landless band and legally recognize its members as registered Indians under the Indian Act, providing them access to important federal programs and services previously unavailable to them. The order in council creating the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation was signed in September 2011. Both parties in the 2008 agreement intended that founding membership in the band would be granted primarily to individuals living in or around the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq communities named in the 2008 agreement. Of course, it was always understood that some people living outside these communities might become members of the first nation. However, it was also agreed by the signatories of the 2008 agreement that non-residents would be required to have maintained a strong cultural connection with the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq community. This means a sustained and active involvement in the community, despite not having a physical presence.

In the 2008 agreement, the parties agreed to a two-stage enrolment process for founding membership in the new first nation. The first stage, which ended in November 2009, was intended to identify founding members of the band. The second stage provided an additional 36 months to ensure that anyone who might be eligible to join the first nation could still apply and be assessed for membership. This was something both Mi'kmaq leaders and our government felt was fair and reasonable. What was unreasonable, and unexpected, was the approximately 46,000 applications that arrived in the final months of the second stage of the enrolment process. Only 23,450 people self-identified as aboriginal residents of Newfoundland and Labrador in the 2006 census; however, more than 101,000 people had submitted applications to join the band by the time the application process closed on November 30, 2012—which, if accepted, would represent 11% of all registered Indians in Canada.

Not surprisingly, this raised a lot of eyebrows on the part of both the government and the FNI, and questions regarding the integrity and credibility of the enrolment process. A much lower number of applications was expected. No one ever imagined the number would be in excess of 101,000. Clearly, there was a need for greater clarity about who actually qualifies for membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation. This was essential to ensure there could be no misunderstanding about what is required to be eligible to become a member of the band. Only in this way could everyone submitting an application be treated fairly and equitably. Especially important, such clarity is vital to the integrity of the enrolment process. That is why the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the government jointly agreed to explore improvements to the process. Both parties wanted to be sure that applicants would provide sufficient detail to establish their eligibility for band membership.

They wanted to ensure that the enrolment process reflected the original intention of the parties and provided adequate time for all applications to be carefully reviewed. To accomplish this, the federal government signed a supplementary agreement with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians in June 2013 to resolve issues that emerged in the implementation of the 2008 agreement. This has led to a comprehensive review, currently under way, of all of the applications received from the very start of this process, except those already rejected. The supplemental agreement signed last July does not in any way change the rules of the game. It maintains the original criteria for band membership contained in the 2008 agreement.

Potential applicants must still satisfy four key criteria, which, I want to underline, were negotiated with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. These criteria were and remain as follows.

First, the individual must be of Canadian Indian ancestry. Second, the individual must be descended from a member of a Newfoundland pre-Confederation Mi'kmaq community. Third, the individual must also have self-identified, prior to the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation's creation, as a member of the Mi'kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland.

Fourth, and equally important, the individual must be accepted by the Mi'kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland, based on a substantial cultural connection. Acceptance is based on residency in one of the communities listed in the 2008 agreement or through frequent visits or communications with residents and by maintaining the Mi'kmaq way of life.

Both the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the government believe that this is a fair and reasonable way to assess who is ultimately eligible to be a member of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation.

There was also full agreement that enough time must be provided for this process to unfold, to give all those with valid applications a fair chance to provide the information required during the review. Only when this comprehensive process is complete can the parties be sure that the names of those who qualify go onto the band's membership list. It is at that stage that Bill C-25 would be required. The legislation is crucial to the implementation of the supplemental agreement. The legislation before us today is the last step required to resolve this long-standing issue, something both the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and members of the government are anxious to do.

Ultimately, the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation act would provide the Governor in Council with the authority to amend the recognition order once the enrolment process resulting from the supplemental agreement is complete. This would allow the Governor in Council to add or remove names from the band membership list. As others have noted, it is possible that after closer examination, someone previously named as a founding member of the band might fail to satisfy the criteria I outlined earlier. Anyone who no longer qualifies for membership would subsequently lose his or her entitlement to Indian status, while those added would gain status under the act. This is only fair.

The House can rest assured that until all of this is sorted out, nothing will change. However, the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation is looking to us, as parliamentarians, to help provide certainty for the future of the band. Let us make sure that the band's membership list is able to be finalized by quickly passing this legislation before us today.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a question that has arisen with respect to resources for membership. We know from Bill C-3, called the McIvor bill, which reinstated membership for a number of people who had been denied membership because of some gender discrimination, that there is a lengthy list of people waiting to get their status cards. This current legislation would increase that list of people waiting for their status card, which also impacts the ability of people to access benefits.

I wonder if the member could comment on whether the government is prepared to put additional resources into processing applications for status.

Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

March 7th, 2014 / 10:25 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has spent countless hours working on behalf of first nations and we certainly appreciate what she has done in that regard. Her heart is definitely behind her work and what she has been doing.

This agreement is supported on both sides, by the FNI and by the government. That is extremely important. We must remember that each application for membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq is being assessed on its own merits, and that is the way it should be. There is no quota for a maximum number of members who will be registered at the end of the enrolment process, but we need to ensure that all applicants are treated fairly and equitably. All applications, except those that have been previously rejected, will be reviewed.

Bill C-25 addresses technical requirements and provides the Governor in Council with the authority necessary to amend the schedule to the first nation band order. These are things that need to be done and certainty is required. We look forward to moving the bill forward.