An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration)

Status

Considering amendments (Senate), as of June 21, 2017

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Summary

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

This enactment amends the Indian Act to provide new entitlements to registration in the Indian Register in response to the decision in Descheneaux c. Canada (Procureur général) that was rendered by the Superior Court of Quebec on August 3, 2015, and to provide that the persons who become so entitled also have the right to have their name entered in a Band List maintained by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. This enactment requires the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs to initiate consultations on issues related to registration and band membership and to conduct reviews on sex-based inequities under the Indian Act, and to report to Parliament on those activities.

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

June 21, 2017 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration)
June 21, 2017 Failed Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration) (report stage amendment)
June 21, 2017 Failed Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration) (report stage amendment)
June 21, 2017 Failed Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration) (report stage amendment)

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 9:20 p.m.
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Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, as I referenced in the comments I made to my colleague, it is impossible, as a Canadian, to stand in the House and speak proudly of the tradition the country has etched in the soul of its aboriginal people and not feel shame, not want to fix, change, and move to a better place with new laws that, quite frankly, in many cases, just have to eliminate past laws.

My family is from Australia. I am the kid of immigrants. People may think they arrive in this country free of that history, but the minute they become citizens, they inherit the responsibility to do right. We have not done right yet in our country. Until the Indian Act is abolished, I do not see a way of achieving that.

Even as we speak of that, we know, as I look across the way to my friend who is a proud member of the House but also a proud member of the Métis nation, it is just one step in a long march toward truth and reconciliation. We have obligations to achieve that. Perhaps we can do much in this Parliament, but my sense is that a country that was founded on 400 years of colonialism, racism, and theft, it will take a long walk out of those shadows, a long way out of that forest before we get to a clearing where we have common ground, and it will be painful.

I will be splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Winnipeg Centre.

One of the things we encounter very quickly when we have the responsibility and privilege of governance in the House is that we have the capacity to fix things, but in fixing things we have the unintended impact of also breaking things simultaneously. The challenge we face with this law and the challenge being delivered to us from the Senate is that as we seek to fix one part of this colonial tragedy and this colonial knot, we have to acknowledge we are not fixing all of it. In fixing one piece of it we may actually make solving other parts of the problem that much more difficult.

As we think we move toward reconciliation with aboriginal peoples with treaties, we have to understand that may leave the situation of people of nations without treaties in a more difficult situation. As we acknowledge we have the Métis nation and the responsibility to another group of people, differently configured, with different culture, that leaves behind conversations we should be having with our Inuit brothers and sisters. We have inherited a difficult, troubled history.

However, what gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction is we are getting criticized in a way that is fair, legitimate, and responsible. It is the personification of Loyal Opposition. The issues that were just enunciated, the poignant testimony from my colleague across the way, shows that we have not got it right. However, what we do have is a commitment from this side of the House, and I believe it is shared by all parliamentarians, to keep working at it until it is right. The failure to do that would be the failure of the country.

The challenges we have in dealing with the specific legislation in front of us right now is trying to decide whether we are trying to get better or whether we are trying to achieve perfection. The risk of perfection getting in the way of better is that perfection has been criticized by many people, including some of the strongest voices from the first nations community, in fact, some of the voices from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself.

Judge Sinclair, the senator from the other place, has said, “I looked seriously at how we could put an amendment together to make it say 6(1)(a) all the way, and I couldn’t come up with wording. This is not the wording that I would have come up with, and I don’t approve of this wording myself.” He voted against the amendment.

If one of the authors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says do not do something, we have to listen to that wise counsel. He voted in favour of the amended bill to ensure it came to Parliament, to ensure we could meet the July 3 deadline, to try to find resolution to this issue, but he cautioned us. This is the reality. Every time we move on indigenous issues in the country, we unintentionally put someone else in jeopardy, somewhere, somehow.

We have yet to find a perfect way to walk out of the forest quickly into a clearing, into common ground. Those of us who favour a process of incremental, persistent, and consistent improvement and persistent and consistent negotiation and consultation with as wide a range of people as possible are speaking in support of the motion tonight, and that is important. It is not that we do not recognize the harrowing, discriminatory, racial, and patriarchal dynamics that have been clearly highlighted. It is that we cannot solve all of it quickly without knowing in our hearts that we are going to make other mistakes that put other people in harm's way. It is hard to put people in harm's way as legislators, so we try to do things cautiously and carefully. That is why this process of incremental but persistent and consistent advancement is the one that has been chosen.

All of that being said, the thing we need to caution ourselves against most importantly is that we need to be very careful not to position competing perspectives from different aboriginal organizations and individuals against one another and somehow suggest that one is right and one is wrong. It is quite possible that when we propose solutions, they are both right and wrong simultaneously. I hope this process of the last two years, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the legislation that has been coming from the government on a consistent basis, negotiations that have been held on a consistent basis, and consultations that have been held on a consistent basis, is showing those who have no reason to trust the Government of Canada that they can trust this process and this government to make sure that every time it moves it does so cautiously, conscientiously, and carefully.

We will make mistakes and we will not move fast enough for every person who has been affected by colonialism in this country. That is as true as the sun rising tomorrow, but I want to assure people listening and my colleagues in the House that those of us who have taken the notion of truth and reconciliation to heart, soul, and mind are moving forward with our brothers and sisters, even if we do not always agree on every single tactic, every single clause, every single rule and regulation. We will get there. We probably will not get there in my lifetime. We probably will not get there in the lifetime of most members in the House, but I am comfortable in knowing that we are moving in the right direction.

I had the privilege in the last year of consulting with aboriginal elders, Inuit elders, as well as Métis nation authorities and elders in that community, about housing in urban settings across this country. I have talked to folks from coast to coast to coast about what they see as a good housing program and everyone asked me at the beginning of the process to check in with an elder first, before doing wider consultations with the community at large second. It was wise advice that I received and good advice that I followed.

A couple of thoughts, gifts of wisdom, that were imparted to me stick with me to this moment and these are why I am comfortable supporting the government's position on Bill S-3. It was this: every time INAC or the government makes a new rule or regulation as it relates to aboriginal people, the roots of colonialism and racism grow a little deeper in this country. There is truth to that. What happens when a tree's roots grow deeper is that the branches have the capacity to grow wider, tangle, and create even more complex problems. What is really needed is the clearing that I spoke about. We need common ground to emerge and not to grow the roots deeper or the branches more complex.

We need that clearing for new life to spark and take root, a new relationship to grow, and for that to define the relationship between those of us on this side of the treaty table and those on the other side of the treaty table, those who have lived here for thousands of years and those of us who are new arrivals. We need that space to emerge. We need new opportunities, new ideas, and new life to take root, and we need a new future to emerge from the common ground, the clearing ground, in the forest. Otherwise, this country shall remain in shadows and the people who will be hurt the most from that are our indigenous brothers and sisters right across the country.

I said I was from Australia. Australia has also travelled through this painful process and has also struggled to find truth and reconciliation with its aboriginal peoples. Eddie Mabo, who is one of the great warriors for justice in that country, once asked, “What more can they do to me that they have have not already done?”

We can do more harm if we are not careful. That is why I implore this House to take the careful steps to embrace Bill S-3 and to remain committed to truth and reconciliation, because that is the way forward.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 9:30 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am still struggling with this. I understand that the hon. member says that perfect can be the enemy of the good, but in this case no one here is striving for perfection.

We still have the Indian Act before us, which I think we agree, and as his earlier statements made clear, is something that brings shame to the whole country. Now we have amendments proposed by the Senate that would at least ensure that gender discrimination would be removed from it. It is hardly the perfect being the enemy of the good.

I am struggling with it, but I do not believe I can vote for Bill S-3 without the Senate amendments that ensure that at least the gender discrimination pieces have been removed.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 9:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just had an interesting meeting with a lady, Alana Daniels from Long Plain First Nation. She said, “Always speak from the heart”, and so I will. I do not really have any prepared notes and I do not have anything to hold up, just a few little scribbles about my thoughts.

This weekend, I had the opportunity of participating in a sun dance under Chief David Blacksmith. It was out at Spruce Woods. It is a ceremony that lasts a minimum of around a week, but really the main ceremony is around three days. For three days and three nights, there is no food or water taken by the participants. I have done a four-year cycle, meaning four years in a row I have pierced. I do not pierce for myself. I do not ask things of the creator for myself. I ask things for others. I pray for others. I put myself and I humble myself for others. This weekend was my opportunity not to have to dance in the sun dance itself, but to be a helper, a skabe. I ran around picking up garbage, running the sweat lodge, doing the things that needed to be done to make sure that the dance was successful for those who were praying for us.

People also knew at the sun dance that I am a member of Parliament, and even though it is not a time for politics, the women at this sun dance asked me again and again about Bill S-3. They asked me, “What are you doing about Bill S-3, and why is the government willing to take away our rights? Why is the government willing to remove our birthright? Why is the government not giving back our birthright to our children, to our grandchildren, to our descendants, and their descendants?” This is a debate that has been going on for many generations in this country, and it is a painful thing for me to stand here, because I do not want to be standing here taking this position. I was hoping that it would not come to this moment, but I must have the courage.

We have been talking about this since 1978 when Sandra Lovelace went to the United Nations with others, and they fought to get their rights back, to remove the discrimination in the Indian Act. The government said it was going to give them back their rights, but it was like when we rub the lamp of a genie and the genie comes out and gives us our wish and says, “I grant you three wishes”. The wish the government gave was “I'll give you equal rights”, but it reduced the rights of men and created first- and second-class status Indians. They could see the termination of their status within the lifetime of their descendants, of their grandchildren. If they married out for love, if they met someone they happened to love, they could not bring the person into the nation as the men could before. In fact, they would see the termination of their status because they married for love, even men are like that today. That is a denial of the birthright of indigenous peoples.

We might not like the Indian Act—no one loves it—but at the end of the day, it is what we have and it defines who is an indigenous person in this country. It defines our citizenship in this country. Therefore, in 1985 when the government passed its legislation, I remember being only 10 years old and knowing about Indian status and who in the family had it and who did not have it, which cousin had it and which cousin did not have it. That is a painful thing. Why should a 10-year-old have to know who has more rights than another, who is a full citizen and who is not a citizen, who can go on the traditional territories and who cannot?

In 2010, the government was once again, after a court case, faced with making a decision. It made a decision. It was to do two rounds, a second round of consultation afterward to see if there should be additional amendments. We are still waiting for that second round of consultations to lead to legislation. Now here we are in 2017. I am 40 years old, and we have been debating this for my lifespan. Here I stand as a member of Parliament and it comes before me. I am asked to support a position that I cannot support.

Who am I to deny the birthright of my cousins, of my brothers and sisters in the sun dance? I simply cannot do it. It is absolutely shameful that we are debating this. Why should a man have to wait for justice? Why should a woman have to wait for justice. Why should the children have to wait for justice? Have we not waited long enough for justice?

Yes, the bill that the senators have sent us may be imperfect. Yes, it may not be the best type of bill, the greatest bill that the lawyers of the Justice Department had decided we should consult or debate in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, it is the bill that was submitted. INAC had an opportunity for many months since the Descheneaux case to actually come up with a solution and multiple plans, yet here we are facing an ultimatum of July 3, because they could not do the task that was laid before them by their minister. That is a disgrace about the Indian affairs department.

They ask us to trust them, and we have been asked to trust them for 150 years, only to be asked to trust them again for another two years and to hopefully see it happen. I know the minister has a good heart and cares about this issue, but what happens if the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs is shuffled out of that position and it is someone else whose priority is not justice? Are we to wait again and again?

This is truly from the heart. I was going to read some stuff, but at the end of the day I do not care about what is there. I remember listening to the lady at the Indian affairs committee. I am an Indian. I assumed that name Indian because my grandfathers call me an Indian and we use it among ourselves. I am an American Indian, a North American Indian. I am also nehiyo, even more important, Cree.

When I think about the Indian Act, it is discrimination, but it does not mean that the Indian Act must continue into the future as it is. We can make those adjustments, but today the Indian Act is so important because tomorrow it will decide who will be the citizens of the indigenous nations of this land. If people have status today, they will be citizens tomorrow. If they have no status today, there is no guarantee that tomorrow they will have that status and will be able to exercise that status within an indigenous nation, nor will they have access to their traditional territories, nor to who they are and what makes them a nehiyo, Anishinabe, an Inuit, a Métis, a Michif.

This is the basis of the future indigenous nations, taking the Indian Act, which granulated us down into little components fighting among ourselves, and hopefully we will be able to come together. Yes, it is going to be difficult. Yes, it is not going to be fun, but we need to have this debate and we need to be forced into that debate.

The indigenous leaders of our country needs to be forced to face reality as they were in 1985. No chief wanted these bastards back on their territory, yet here we are, and we are still asking to be let in. We are still banging on that door; we are still saying let us into the eastern, the southern, the western, and the northern doors. Let us into our traditional territories because we have a birthright, and it is a birthright that should not be denied in 2017.

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 9:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member from Winnipeg for his tremendous speech. Once again, he has talked about issues that are so relevant to so many people, not only in our city that we share but across Canada. There is simply so much history we cannot be proud of, beginning with Canada's relationship with indigenous people, the royal proclamation.

Our first policy toward first nations people was to Christianize. Part of the Government of Canada's policy was to make indigenous peoples Christian. From there, civilization became the policy objective, to drive the native out of the native person by any means possible. Assimilation, of course, was to make all indigenous people not indigenous, to make them Canadian. From there spawned the Indian Act, which still governs the way we deal with first nations people today, including what we are discussing today and into the future, Bill S-3.

Does the hon. member foresee a time in our lifetime, in our children's lifetime, when we will no longer have an Indian Act in our country?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 9:50 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to this bill but doubt very much that I will use a full 10-minute or 20-minute slot. I realize that debate is on the verge of collapsing. I only wish to say more than I was able to say earlier in questions and comments.

It is lamentable that we approach something as critical as the injustices, embedded racism, and deep discriminatory aspects of the Indian Act in an attempt to deal with a deadline for one court case. I think it is unfortunate that the bill began its course in the Senate and has come to us with an important amendment that is not supported by the government but which to many of us on this side of the House, and certainly I think to some others on the Liberal benches, is the only thing that makes it possible to vote for the bill. The amendments that come from the other place would ensure that all gender discriminatory aspects have been removed. It is only through the elimination of the gender discriminatory aspects that one could imagine voting, at least on this side of the House, for the legislation.

I recognize that the policy downsides for the government are the vast unknowns and how many people would then become status Indians within the meaning of the Indian Act and whether there would be knock-on effects and unintended consequences. This is a difficult place for parliamentarians to find themselves.

As we deal with this bill, I remind us all, only at second reading, normally it would be a bill on its way to committee. However, as we heard from members of the committee, particularly the member for Peace River—Westlock, they cannot say how they will vote on this bill until the committee finishes its work. Therefore, we find ourselves in a doubly, perhaps triply, awkward space.

As a parliamentarian, I try to stay on top of all my files. However, Bill S-3 is one that I find not ready for vote in this place. It is going to committee, but I very much fear that positions are already entrenched. The government does not want to approve the amendments that came forward from the Senate. Those amendments are the only things that actually eliminate all the discriminatory aspects of who can inherit the status of their parents, grandparents, and so on. It is certainly an appalling situation that we live under this act, where it is people outside of indigenous communities who decide who is indigenous and who is not. Therefore, the vast Gordian knot of Bill S-3 will not be fixed in this second reading debate tonight.

Given time pressures to get this through by July 3, I doubt very much that it can be fixed at the committee that will now study it before it comes back to this place at report stage. I just want to register, as strongly as I can, a plea that we not treat this as something to deal with using a quick fix for a specific problem but that as much as possible, we open our minds to the bigger question of how we, in 2017, 150 years from Confederation, commit to striking down the oppressive colonial discriminatory act on which South Africa's apartheid was based. We all know this.

It is an appalling situation that our friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou identified. He identified that under the Indian Act, the minister could decide to nullify his personal will and bequest to his family. It is appalling that in 2017, this is still the law of the land, and we are dealing with one piece of it.

I would urge the committee if it can, and the minister and the government if they possibly can, to use this opportunity to signal that we want to get outside, beyond, and out from under this discriminatory piece of legislation. It will be way beyond the mandate of amendments to this bill to actually fix the Indian Act. I know that. However, can we make some bigger commitments to get out from under a racist and discriminatory piece of legislation before the end of the 41st Parliament? If we just push it down the road to another parliament, it will not get rid of it either. There will always be an excuse for why we are not ready.

As the member for Winnipeg Centre asked, how long does a man have to wait for justice? How long does a woman have to wait for justice? How long do first nations children have to wait for equal funding under a law, which they have already been promised? It has been far too long. When I see the calls from Idle No More for July 1 to be about unsettling, I sympathize so deeply with that and understand it, but if anything has defined the response of indigenous peoples on this continent to cultural genocide, abuse, and oppression, it is patience. It is such a deeply moving degree of tolerance and patience for the oppression from settler society.

I cannot add much to the Bill S-3 debate. I cannot vote for Bill S-3 unless it includes the amendments that the other place sent us that create a situation where there will not be gender discrimination, but it is within the fabric of a bill that is entirely about racial discrimination. Therefore, I urge us to do something better and something more with every opportunity that comes our way.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 10:05 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly believe it is appropriate to move forward with a northern British Columbia coastal tanker ban. It is very consistent with the territory and the waters surrounding particularly Gwaii Haanas, Haida Gwaii. The council of the Haida Nation has been very clear in its sovereign authority that it does not want oil tanker traffic along its coasts.

The member's question was specifically to consultation. In the context of Bill S-3, it was put best by Professor Palmater, when she said, “There is simply no legal mechanism by which to consult out of gender equality.” Some topics are open to consultation. Matters of rights, of constitutionally protected rights, of interpretation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are less open to consultation than other decisions.

Changing the Indian Act, for instance, will be a subject of massive complications.

The difficulty with consultation as we experience is it depends on the topic. The experience first nations have had with consultations for a very long time has been that once a government has made up its mind what it wants to do, it then comes and consults as a formulaic matter, so it can put a check mark and tick a box saying there were consultations. That is not real consultation. We all have a long way to go at all levels of government with respect to genuine consultation.