Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to speak to the private member's bill from the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. I count him not just as a colleague but as one of my personal friends. I could not be more pleased for the hard work he does, not just on the standing committee but as a first nations person in this place, starting a process that is long overdue and is a great opportunity for us as parliamentarians to debate.
Tonight I will address a couple of elements in the private member's bill. First is the issue of first nation bylaw publication; second, outdated sections in the act; and finally, the repeal of the residential school references in the act.
Currently, first nation band councils do not have the same opportunities that municipalities and rural municipalities have to independently develop bylaws. There is also no requirement for first nations to make their bylaws publicly available to their members. As a result, for years confusion has reigned as first nation residents and law enforcement officials have often found themselves in the dark as to the specific nature of the bylaws of each individual first nation.
In addition, first nation band councils have had to go to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to request approval for each and every bylaw. This cumbersome process has caused many bands to wait for extended lengths of time for approval or even to have their bylaws declined. Others have chosen to completely bypass the minister and as a result do not openly inform their membership of the changes to band bylaws.
Bill C-428 would create a more transparent and accountable process for first nation band members wherein first nation councils would be required to publish their bylaws on their website or via some easily accessible communication channel, such as a band newsletter or widely read local newspapers, television, et cetera. The bill would also eliminate the need to request approval from the minister. The requirement to make each first nation bylaw publicly accessible would provide clarity for first nation residents, visitors and law enforcement officials seeking to understand their role in either abiding by or enforcing these rules. It would also place the responsibility for these bylaw-making powers squarely back in the hands of the first nation, where it belongs, and provide grassroots members of the bands with greater accountability from their band councils.
This change would benefit not only law enforcement officers who would more fully understand the expectations of the chief and council of each first nation for a given bylaw, but also those members of the council and band members eager to see the bylaws that they have enacted enforced in an efficient, effective and timely manner. Importantly, this change would also streamline the decision-making process by eliminating the unnecessary step of having to submit any and every new bylaw to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for approval. Currently, following the submission of new bylaws to the minister, there follows a 40-day period during which the law may be disallowed by the minister.
Bill C-428 would also repeal sections of the Indian Act that, while they remain in the law, are no longer enforced. This is equivalent to what we would call “legal underbrush”, which confuses the real issues facing the Crown and the first nations. We must clear this underbrush away, so that we can see the parts of the Indian Act that are substantively affecting the daily life of first nations. One of these is the removal of restrictions on the sale of produce from reserves. There are several other similar examples of sections of the Indian Act that are no longer enforced and that simply have no place in modern legislation.
Though there have been numerous amendments to the Indian Act over the years, the substance of the statute remains very much in the 19th century and that fact is reflected in the language of the document. The bill would seek to do bring the language and content of the statute into the modern era. Incremental changes such as these would pave the way for future legislation to be developed in collaboration with first nation members that would benefit all Canadians.
Some of the detractors of Bill C-428 have chosen to ridicule this set of changes. That is misguided. As a lawyer, I feel very strongly that it is important to take those steps to remove from the law things that are no longer relevant, or in the case of residential schools, institutions we no longer support. It is a dark chapter in Canada's history and we must move on from that.
By taking concrete steps to amend the language and remove outdated and irrelevant sections of the Indian Act, this bill addresses some of the challenges facing first nations communities in regard to their political, social and economic development.
Bill C-428 would also remove the provisions allowing for the establishment of residential schools.
On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada made an impassioned and heartfelt apology to the first nations people of Canada for the treatment of children in residential schools, a sad and shameful chapter in our nation's history. The Prime Minister deservedly received praise, not only for the sentiment of the statement but also for the eloquence with which it was expressed and the sincerity of his remarks. Following this momentous apology, the government also announced its intent to repeal those sections of the Indian Act that allowed for the establishment of Indian residential schools and the removal of children from their homes and communities.
Bill C-428 would do exactly that. It would remove from the Indian Act, once and for all, any mention of residential schools as well as the outdated language dealing with the religion of first nations residents in relation to their schooling. This would ensure that no future government could open a residential school for first nations.
The pain arising from the legacy of residential schools continues to affect constituents in the great Kenora riding and across the country. By removing this antiquated language and all references to residential schools, we can take another collective step on the path toward healing as a nation.
While the horrors of the residential school situation cannot be erased or forgotten, removing the segments of the Indian Act, which still to this day refer to residential schools, can provide a path to better understanding and can reassure our first nations' communities of our commitment to never see this happen again.
The Indian Act has had the effect of robbing children of their goals and ambitions. By nourishing and encouraging the dreams of first nations youth, we help not only these children but our entire community. For generations the Indian Act has allowed the potential of first nations youth to wither. We cannot afford to allow this waste to continue.
The colonial and discriminatory nature of the Indian Act has led to decades of discrimination and cultural division. The residential schools were a vehicle for the social, cultural and spiritual destruction that was embedded in the act. Removing offensive and irrelevant sections from the Indian Act is symbolic and will help residential school survivors on their personal path to healing.
Bill C-428 has as its primary goal the empowerment of first nations people and their governments. I am proud to stand here today in support of the work my colleague from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River is doing in this regard. I thank the residents of the great Kenora riding, particularly our first nations communities, more than 42 in our jurisdiction.