An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c. Canada (Procureur général)

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.

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

Dec. 4, 2017 Passed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration)
Dec. 4, 2017 Failed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration) (amendment)
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

November 30th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the shorter, the better. We have been dealing with this for a long time.

When I was talking to my friends from Saskatchewan earlier this week, they were talking about needing time to find their family trees. The Internet in northern Saskatchewan, and in fact, in northern Canada, is very poor. A lot of people want to do proper research on their family trees, if we are going to go back to 1869, which is the wish of many of them. I think that is why they wanted a little more of a timeline.

Yes, let us consult right away. Let us get the process moving. This is a good start. We are 85% there. We need to be at 100%, which means shorter consultations. Moving Bill S-3 along would certainly help.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing on Algonquin territory.

I will be splitting my time with the member of Parliament for Burnaby South.

After much pressure, Liberals have a new Bill S-3 fix to end legislated discrimination against indigenous women, but only after consultations. This is not supported by the women who have been fighting this inequality in court for 40 years. It shows again that Liberals are not upholding their promise to respect indigenous people and to bring full gender equality.

I do not understand why a government that calls itself a feminist government needs to consult on whether indigenous women should have human rights, because they do. We want the Prime Minister and his government right now to remove all sex discrimination from the Indian Act.

Since its inception, the Indian Act has accorded privilege to male Indians and their descendants and disregarded female Indians as second class. To sum up where we are right now, despite unprecedented government promises of indigenous reconciliation and respect, Liberals are trading off human rights based on budget lines. Indigenous women who have been fighting 40 years in court for gender equality watched in dismay June 21, National Aboriginal Day of all days, as the Liberals gutted reforms that would have made the Indian Act less vile. These were moved by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and others.

Canada's laws still say that indigenous people with a university degree, military service, or a white husband lose their Indian status. Would one not think that a government that pledged to a nation-to-nation relationship built on respect would want to remove all of those conditions?

“Indigenous women deserve the equality the charter is intended to ensure and protect”, said litigant Lynn Gehl, and they do. There is much support for the government ending all sex discrimination in the Indian Act. Canada has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which clarifies state obligations on self-determination, including the right to determine membership. UNDRIP already has application in Canadian law.

Also, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women just a year ago called out the current government for the need to act on this file. It said:

...the Committee remains concerned about continued discrimination against indigenous women, in particular regarding the transmission of Indian status, preventing them and their descendants from enjoying all the benefits related to such status...The Committee recommends that the State party remove all remaining discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act that affect indigenous women and their descendants, and ensure that aboriginal women enjoy the same rights as men to transmit status to their children and grandchildren.

It did not to set out a very long timeline or an indeterminate timeline. It did not say consult on it. It said that Canada, to uphold its international commitments on human rights, must remove all gender discriminations against indigenous women.

The government has failed, and it has given the House again a flawed bill.

After 40 years of litigation by indigenous women, many of whom are still alive, and indigenous lawyers who have been fighting alongside them, the government failed to ask them what they thought or have them inform the proposed legislation now before the House.

Here are two indigenous women lawyers, and I am paying attention to their words.

Pam Palmater, chair of Ryerson University's centre for the study of indigenous governance, said:

...this bill does not remedy gender discrimination. ...according to the numbers, it actually will only remedy about 10 percent of the known gender discrimination under the Indian Act, and that, by far, is not a bill that's acceptable.

Another indigenous lawyer, now the Liberal justice minister, was the B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations. This is what she told the House standing committee in 2010 on Harper's version of Bill S-3:

What this bill does not do is address the other Indian Act gender inequities that go beyond the specific circumstances of Sharon McIvor and Sharon McIvor's grandchildren.

This year, the Ontario Native Women's Association said:

By rejecting the “6(1)(a) All The Way” amendment to Bill S3 the federal government has betrayed its promise to Indigenous women. The amendment would have reinstated our sisters and removed all sex based discrimination from the Indian act.

Three warriors whom we are still informed by, these powerful indigenous women, litigated starting 40 years ago against both Conservative and Liberal governments repeatedly. Jeannette Corbiere Lavell litigated for 40 years and is not helped by Bill S-3. Sharon McIvor, litigant and now defence lawyer, asked why they would consult on whether they can continue to be discriminated against. Lynn Gehl, also a longtime challenger of this discrimination in courts, said that the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs is using consultation as a weapon. That is no way to move forward.

Many indigenous women's groups have called attention to the provisions of clause 10,another flaw identified in Bill S-3. With this clause, the government is justifying past discrimination and past violations of human rights. It acts as an incentive to allow the government to continue to discriminate with impunity until it chooses to address it or is forced to address it. It underscores the sense of colonial entitlement. It undermines the rule of law. The government cannot be given immunity for its conduct.

My colleague the member of Parliament for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou moved two times, at committee and in the House, for the government to remove clause 10 on that basis and the government twice has voted it down.

Some of the up and coming women leaders are Shania Pruden, of Pinaymootang First Nation in Manitoba, and Teanna Ducharme, also known as Ayagadim Majagalee, a Nisga'a woman. They both were part of the daughters of the vote taking their seats in the House just six months ago and they both testified at the status of women committee, strong, powerful, young indigenous women speakers. The late Shannen Koostachin informs the work of the House so often. Helen Knott is a Treaty 8 activist on ending violence against women associated with mega projects such as the Site C dam, which again the government is letting indigenous women down on.

In their names our responsibility as parliamentarians is to say again we cannot afford half measures in this country anymore. Gender equality and first nations respect is the solemn promise of the government and of me and my New Democrat colleagues. We are going to keep working hard to keep those promises.

I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), the House:

1. agrees with amendments 1 to 8 and 9(a) made by the Senate;

2. proposes that amendment 9(b) be amended by replacing the words “on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council, but that day must be after the day fixed under subsection (1).” with the words “18 months after the day on which the order referred to in subsection (1) is made.”.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 3:40 p.m.
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Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration).

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-3, an act to amend the Indian Act, in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux v. Canada.

I want to acknowledge that we are gathered on traditional Algonquin territory.

Today, we pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the women, including Mary Two-Axe Earley, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bedard, Sharon McIvor, Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, Senator Dyck, and so many others who have fought to ensure that the descendants of women who lost their status because of sex-based discrimination are treated equally to the male line.

I want to be clear that I stand in solidarity with the indigenous women who have been fighting for gender equality in the Indian Act registration for decades. I hear their pain, the hurt of receiving a letter in which they were told that their marriage would cost them their indigenous status and knowing their descendants would also lose their indigenous identity.

Our government is committed to working with first nations, parliamentarians, impacted individuals, and experts to ensure all sex-based discrimination is eliminated once and for all from registration provisions in the Indian Act.

Bill S-3 was introduced by the government in response to the Descheneaux court decision and is focused on eliminating residual inequities flowing from the historical sex-based discrimination in Indian Act registration.

As members are well aware, this legislation was introduced in the context of a court-imposed deadline to remedy the specific charter breaches found by the Superior Court of Quebec in that case. In recognition of the court-mandated deadlines, the government launched a two-stage approach in response to the Descheneaux decision.

The first stage was focused on passing legislation to remedy sex-based discrimination in Indian Act registration, which violated the charter, whether ruled by a court or not.

The second stage was to occur immediately after the passage of Bill S-3. It was to be a comprehensive and collaborative process with first nations, impacted individuals, and experts on the needed broader reform of Indian Act registration, membership, and citizenship.

This consultation is enshrined in the bill and must commence within six months of royal assent.

I want to thank the Senate for its diligence and willingness to work with the government and across party and caucus lines to strengthen Bill S-3.

The government has worked closely with the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and many other senators on numerous amendments to the original version of Bill S-3. These amendments have greatly improved this legislation.

For example, the bill now proactively addresses further groups impacted by residual sex-based discrimination, which were identified during the Senate committee hearings by the Indigenous Bar Association.

The bill also now addresses the issue of unstated paternity by enshrining additional procedural protections in law.

As members will recall, there was one amendment proposed by the Senate that the House of Commons did not support. While well intentioned, the scope of the amendment, now commonly known as the “6(1)(a) all the way” amendment, would have focused on other Indian status issues beyond residual sex-based discrimination in registration.

As mentioned, Bill S-3 was introduced in response to the ruling in Descheneaux. Accordingly, the bill seeks to eliminate sex-based inequities in the registration provisions of the Indian Act.

While the government is launching co-designed consultations early next year regarding broader Indian Act registration and membership issues, these matters are outside the scope of the current legislation. Moreover, independent legal experts, including the Indigenous Bar Association, highlighted to the House committee that significant legal ambiguities were created by the way the amendment was drafted. The government also had significant concerns regarding the inadequate time afforded for meaningful consultation with first nations and other impacted parties regarding the practical implications of such an approach within the court-mandated deadline.

Given these legitimate concerns, last June, the House of Commons amended Bill S-3 to remove the “6(1)(a) all the way” amendment. The Senate expressed significant concern that without the “ 6(1)(a) all the way” amendment, or a comparable replacement, Bill S-3 would not eliminate all residual sex-based discrimination from registration provisions in the Indian Act.

Bill S-3, as passed by the House of Commons last spring, remedied all sex-based discrimination in Indian Act registration since the modern Indian registry was created in 1951. Given that the modern Indian registry came into effect in 1951, the current state of the law requires remedies for Indian Act sex-based registration inequities to apply from that date forward. This has become commonly known as the 1951 cut-off and reflects the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in the McIvor decision. While the 1951 cut-off is specifically referenced in Bill S-3 as a key component of the mandated future consultations, many senators and first nations advocates have argued strongly that amendments specifically dealing with the 1951 cut-off should be included in this bill.

The government acknowledges the understandable and justified scepticism of first nations and parliamentarians about decades of inaction by governments of all political stripes on the 1951 cut-off. We have listened to the arguments put forward by the Senate as well as other indigenous voices and are now proposing to amend Bill S-3 to deal with the 1951 cut-off. The proposed clause would put 6(1) status to all women who lost status through sex-based inequities and to their descendants born prior to 1985.

This includes circumstances prior to 1951. The proposed clause would eliminate sex-based inequities that date back to 1869.

The effect of this clause would be to remove the two-parent rule for the descendants, born between 1869 and 1985, of women who lost status because of sex-based discrimination. The government amendment is also drafted in a way so as to avoid any internal contradictions within the Indian Act, and therefore, would not create any legal ambiguity.

The government believes that in keeping with the scope of Bill S-3, the proposed amendment is the best way to eliminate all remaining sex-based discrimination from registration provisions in the Indian Act.

The Senate passed Bill S-3 with the government's new amendment on November 9.

It is important to note that during the debate in the other place, the new government amendment garnered majority support from all the Senate caucuses and groups. Senators Dyck, Lovelace Nicholas, Sinclair, Christmas, and Patterson were among the many prominent senators from each of the caucuses and groups that publicly supported Bill S-3 with the new government amendment included.

Senator Lillian Dyck said the following in the debate in the other place:

The motion today legislates the intentions of the “6(1)(a) all the way” but in a different manner than the McIvor amendment. The end result is the same and the legislative mechanism proposed can actually be seen as an improvement over the McIvor amendment. If we pass Bill S-3 as amended by today's motion, all of the female sex-based discrimination will be eliminated in the Indian Act.

During his speech, Conservative critic Senator Patterson stated:

I believe that by supporting this message—and it is a bit of an act of faith—we are doing right by indigenous women and their descendants.

Senator Sinclair also spoke in favour of the motion. He stated:

I would like to add my support for this motion and indicate that I intend to vote for it....

The amendments before us, to my relief, leave no legal distinction between indigenous men and women. It brings the act, therefore, into compliance with the Charter.

Both the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada also support the amended bill.

An updated democraphic analysis, which was commissioned by the government over the summer, is now public.

The government made this demographic data public in the interest of transparency, but does not believe this to be a reliable way of estimating potential impacts.

These numbers significantly overestimate the number of individuals who would successfully obtain Indian status. The limitations of the current demographic projections, even with the additional independent demographic work, further underscore the need for meaningful consultation on the best possible implementation plan.

The government will continue to work on further refining current demographic estimates and looks forward to the broad-based consultations on Indian Act registration and membership, to begin in early 2018, to assist in this process. The government is committed to ensuring that the removal of the 1951 cut-off is implemented in the right way, in terms of both first nations communities and the individuals who will become entitled to registration.

We have always been clear that significant changes impacting first nations would be done in consultation and partnership. This approach is in keeping with the commitment to a renewed, respectful relationship, based on the recognition of rights, and to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is why while the balance of Bill S-3 will be brought into force immediately after royal assent, the amendment dealing with the 1951 cut-off will be brought into force after the conclusion of co-designed consultations.

These co-designed consultations will be about how to remove the 1951 cut-off, not whether to do it. They will be focused on identifying additional measures or resources required to do this right and on working in partnership to develop a comprehensive implementation plan, to be launched simultaneously.

Some have raised concerns about this approach, but while speaking during the Senate debate, Senator Christmas summarized the realities succinctly:

I believe it’s also essential to recognize that the consultation with First Nation communities that will flow from the bill’s requirements on consultation and reporting back to Parliament reflect the basis of the Principles respecting the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, announced in July of 2017.

In doing so:

The Government recognizes that Indigenous self-government and laws are critical to Canada’s future, and that Indigenous perspectives and rights must be incorporated in all aspects of this relationship. In doing so, we will continue the process of decolonization and hasten the end of its legacy wherever it remains in our laws and policies.

During the same debate, Senator Sinclair added:

I want to point out that this bill attempts to reconcile two different constitutional obligations that the government has: One is, of course, to comply with the Charter when it comes to gender discrimination; the other is to comply with its constitutional obligation to consult with indigenous people.....

So while it is with reluctance that I see us delaying the implementation of a Charter right, I can also see the need to do so because of that competing constitutional obligation to consult. And so I am prepared to support this legislation because it enshrines the right.

Bill S-3 also has numerous clauses to provide accountability to Parliament on its implementation and the related consultations. Within five months of royal assent, the bill requires the government to report to Parliament on the design of the consultations and how they are progressing, and a further update to Parliament is required within 12 months of royal assent.

There is also a three-year review clause in the bill, which requires the government to report to Parliament on the provisions of section 6 of the Indian Act enacted by Bill S-3.

The purpose of this review is to confirm that all sex-based inequities under the registration provisions have been eliminated.

If the government fails to pass legislation before December 22 to address the Charter issues outlined in the Descheneaux decision, the sections struck down by the court will be inoperative in Quebec. The practical implication would be that these provisions would then become inoperative within Canada, as the registrar would not be in a position to register people under provisions found to be non-charter compliant.

Ninety per cent of status Indians are registered by the federal government under the provisions that were declared of no force and effect in the Descheneaux decision. These individuals are consequently unable to access the benefits that come with registration.

We cannot lose sight of the thousands of individuals who will not be able to register if the court deadline passes and the provisions noted above become inoperable, or of the up to 35,000 people who will become eligible to register as soon as this bill receives royal assent.

Bill S-3, as amended, would remove all residual sex-based inequities from registration provisions in the Indian Act. As Senator Christmas said during the debate in the other place, “The government did its job—in listening and in acting. Now it is time for all of us to do our job and adopt this amendment without delay.”

I urge all members to support the amended message from the Senate and pass Bill S-3 in its current form.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 4 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the course of Bill S-3, the conversations I had with the hon. minister in this place in June and the attempts to remove all vestiges of historic gender-based discrimination have now come to a good place. The new and expanded role of a Senate with independent senators and indeed the role of indigenous senators in the other place, Senator Dyck, Senator Dan Christmas, Senator Murray Sinclair, have helped enormously in bringing about that sober second thought which we used to think the other chamber was capable of providing, particularly from an indigenous perspective.

While I certainly applaud and appreciate that we are taking the bill forward, as amended, to passage, it is time to repeal the Indian Act, and this is the first time I have said that in the House. There is a lot of discussion about how we need to consult with first nations and indigenous people before we repeal it. They did not pass it. It is a vestige of a colonial history and it is inherently discriminatory and racist.

I know the minister has now had the department split in two, but this question is squarely in front of her, and it is a tough one. However, when can we start the conversation about when, not if, we repeal the Indian Act?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to rise in debate today on Bill S-3, an act to amend the Indian Act on the elimination of sex-based inequities in registration. For anyone who might be paying attention to the debate, it might sound very complex and convoluted, so I will start with a very simple comparison and then perhaps move to the actual process.

The Conservatives intend to support the legislation. However, the government botched it all along the way. Therefore, I will reflect on the many problems that were experienced in getting us to this place.

I had the great privilege in the 1980s to be hired as a nurse for a small band. I had no idea of the issues of status or registration in bands. I was from an urban area and was hired to work in a rural community. Fairly early on in my time there, one of the community health representatives took me to visit some of the elders, and one elder in particular, Maggie. She told me that we were not supposed to visit as she was not an Indian anymore since the government took away her registration, that she was really not part of them but was part of them.

Maggie had been born in the late 1800s. In the early 1900s, she had married someone from a neighbouring community, who happened to be a white man, and she lost her status. In this case, the husband died a few years later. The community knew who the band members were and made special accommodation to ensure they welcomed their elders into the community. However, it was always very difficult for them because of the issues of housing and non-insured health benefits. She did not have those things by virtue of the fact that she had married a white person. We surreptitiously visited her and, as a nurse, I was able to take care of Maggie. She was a real inspiration to me in terms of what she did and how she did it.

In comparison, a gentlemen lived there and he had married someone from the neighbouring community. This had no impact on him. His wife was able to move to the community, they had non-insured health benefits, and his children continued to receive the benefits the community provided. That was an eye-opener. It did not make any sense. For the gentleman who married a woman from another community, there were no changes, yet there were significant changes for Maggie, which impacted her until the day she died. Clearly this was an inequity, and it was identified by many.

The minister talked about Sharon McIvor and so many others who had been advocating for many years for changes and to put in place legislation that would deal with these problems. It seemed simple, but as we went through the process of looking at the legislation and the massive charts in front of us, we came to realize how complicated this whole thing was and the fact that the government was determining who was 6(1)(a) or 6(1)(b). It was an amazingly complex process.

It is close to a year since the bill was first introduced. It was introduced in the Senate, with a looming court deadline that needed to be taken care of. In appreciation of the court deadline, the House of Commons committee, knowing it was introduced in the Senate, said that it would pre-study the bill and bring in some witnesses. We were trying to be co-operative with the Liberals. We knew there was a court deadline and we were trying to get the legislation dealt with in a reasonable way.

We started to have our hearings. One of the first people we had before us was Mr. Descheneaux, and his lawyer. They said that they did not know the legislation was even going to be tabled until they were called as witnesses. This is the plaintiff who won the case. The government responded by tabling legislation without even talking to the plaintiff. It was shocking to committee members to hear the government, which has talked about having consultations and how important it is, had not talked to the plaintiff.

Some other things happened as we were moving the bill through Parliament.

On the first day of testimony, which was November 21, 2016, department officials testified that they were confident the bill would address all sex-based inequities in the Indian Act. I will quote what we were told with respect to that.

I asked the officials this:

First, in terms of your statement...this would eliminate all known sex-based inequities, are you confident that we're not going to be looking at another court case and another piece of legislation coming down the pike? Are you confident that we have...taken care of...[the] issue?

Ms. Joëlle Montminy stated:

We are confident. With these amendments, we are dealing with all known sex-based inequities in Indian registration. That's not to say there are not other types of inequities that are going to be brought forward by various groups. We do have active litigation on this. It could relate to other...issues.

We know there still are some outstanding issues that perhaps relate to veterans, but we had their guarantee that the sex-based inequities were taken care of.

The next day I spoke with Mr. Descheneaux, and his statement is quite interesting. He was at committee the next day. He said:

...we've never been called or asked which way we saw that stuff....I was thinking that they would come to the band and meet us, and say that they're going to go that way, or they're looking to go this way.

Then we had heard from Chief Rick O'Bomsawin, who stated that the minister's office:

...told us that we were consulted, that they consulted with chiefs last summer. I have not found one chief that they consulted. They've never consulted me, and it was our case. They never even called us.

We knew the Senate was hearing the same issues at that time and was becoming as concerned as we were.

I understand that the staff were blamed. At the Senate aboriginal committee on November 30, the minister said, “My department's failure to directly engage with the plaintiffs was not only unacceptable but embarrassing for me as minister. I have now personally spoken with each of the plaintiffs...”.

I have to remind members that the government came into office with this very firm commitment to always ensure it had proper consultation and engagement. This is the first piece of legislation it has tabled with respect to the indigenous affairs file, with absolutely minimal or almost no consultation.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, called on the Liberals to withdraw the legislation, ask the superior court for an extension, and use the time to fix the bill and engage in proper consultation. National Chief Bellegarde stated his team had not had adequate time to undertake a full review of these amendments, and when asked whether or not the consultations had been adequate, he gave a firm answer. That answer of course was no.

The Assembly of First Nations, the AFN Women's Council, the Quebec Native Women's Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and the Indigenous Bar Association, among others, all identified deficiencies with the process and content of the bill.

The minister talked about some of the things my colleague Senator Patterson said. On November 17, he said:

...witnesses described the consultation as lacking. National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations told us that First Nations impacted by the bill were not properly resourced or given enough time to adequately review the proposed amendments to the Indian Act. We were astonished to find out that the plaintiffs in Descheneaux—the case that forced the writing of this bill—and their counsel were not consulted...

He reiterated some of the same concerns.

With the early introduction, we all tried to move the bill forward. Then we quickly realized the government had utterly failed in doing the consultation it so often says is important, but it had not actually done. Then we had witnesses who showed us design after design. In spite of what the officials said, the bill was not going to fix the inequities we needed to deal with. Again, we had to add some amendments to deal with a number of other issues.

The Senate committee put the bill into abeyance. The minister had to ask for a court extension to do its additional duties, which was to consult. On December 13, the Senate committee sent a letter to the minister, urging her to act on the witnesses' concerns. The minister then withdrew the bill and sought an extension of the court, which was granted until July 3, 2017.

We know the Senate continued to have significant concerns and issues. We voted in the House in June on an amended bill. We sent it back to the Senate, because we knew the court deadline was in the summer. The Senate refused to deal with it, or they rose in the summer before it dealt with the legislation. Again, the minister had to go back to the court to ask for a new deadline. We might see a bit of a pattern here, with deadline after deadline being missed.

Finally, we are at a place where, hopefully, all sides in the House will support moving forward. The Senate has agreed to move forward. In spite of what should have been done a year ago, the people who should have had the process of their registrations started in response to this particular case have been sitting back.

In terms of Bill S-3, many community members have been very patient. On this side of the House, in the official opposition, we have stood up many times for first nations gender equity and rights. Looking at what we have in front of us, it kind of draws me back to the debate around matrimonial real property rights. That was a really important piece of legislation to protect women. Mr. Speaker, I know you were here at the time. You will recall who voted against protection for women on reserve with the matrimonial real property legislation. It was the Liberals.

We are going to be supporting this, but we need to remember the record of the Liberals when it has come to issues around gender equity and first nations. Who was the government that put forward legislation so human rights would apply on reserve? It was the Conservative government at the time. I am really quite proud of our record in terms of moving some of these issues forward in a positive way, and again note that we will be supporting this bill and hopefully finally dealing with this.

In conclusion, the minister has talked very optimistically about her communication and consultation process and reporting back to the House. I am very concerned about the process she is going to undertake and whether the Liberals will ever get to any resolution on this issue, and suspect that we might end up back in the courts again.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the questions that remain is the fact that even after the passage of Bill S-3, none of the lady warriors who litigated this issue for some 40 years would be accorded 6(1)(a) status. In fact, they wrote a letter to the minister who spoke before and the Minister of Justice, which states, “Our reading of the motion introduced by Senator Peter Harder in the Senate on November 8, 2017 is that we, and many other indigenous women who are similarly situated, will not be accorded 6(1)a) status when Bill S-3 passes.”

This is squarely equality delayed, and therefore equality denied. I would like my colleague to comment.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

[Member spoke in Cree]

[Translation]

Mr. Speaker, first of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this issue, which has been very important to me for many years.

I would like to begin by talking about the context in which we are debating changes to the Indian Act, to eliminate all forms of discrimination, especially against indigenous women who have been treated unfairly for many years under this act.

Earlier, I mentioned just how racist, sexist, colonialist, and outdated I think the Indian Act is. That is why I agree with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, who suggested earlier that we should simply get rid of the Indian Act for all these reasons.

I find it rather strange to rise today to speak to an act that we should get rid of. Why? To paraphrase the Prime Minister: because it's 2017. We should have gotten a lot further by now, especially when it comes to policies affecting the first peoples of this country.

In December 2015, after the current government was elected, I was in the room when the Prime Minister promised several things to Canada's chiefs. There were five major items in his speech. One of the promises he made in the 2015 speech to all indigenous leaders in Canada was that the government would review every piece of legislation passed unilaterally by previous governments and get rid of them. I was very pleased with this promise made to Canada's indigenous leaders because it is something I have been thinking about for a very long time.

When I heard the Prime Minister making this promise to all of Canada's chiefs, the first act that sprung to mind was the Indian Act. I believe that it is possible to replace the Indian Act with something else, especially in this era of reconciliation in Canada.

One of the other important promises that this government made to indigenous people was that it would adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In my view, this is the most important promise. Why not accept this framework, which would allow us to move forward?

I will read Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

This is the new framework that must guide our debates on these issues in the House.

I do want to mention that I was pleased to hear the Minister of Justice say last week that the current government would support Bill C-262, which has to do with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am happy that the government is supporting this bill. This bill addresses the 43rd call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

We should let this framework that is the UN declaration guide all of our debates involving the rights of indigenous peoples, whether on the Indian Act or other agreements. This is what Bill C-262 proposes, and I am happy to hear that the government will support it. We will see how these issues are debated next Tuesday, during the first hour of debate on Bill C-262.

However, as I pointed out in my question to my colleague, even if the bill is passed, it will not include the three lady warriors who fought against the discrimination perpetuated under the Indian Act for nearly 40 years. I think this is cause for concern.

One part of this bill aims to eliminate all discrimination committed under the authority of the Indian Act. As an indigenous person, I would have a hard time rising in the House to support a bill that does not fully eliminate discrimination. I will never rise in support of a bill that continues to discriminate against this country's first peoples. It will not happen.

As the bill currently stands, there remains entrenched sex-based discrimination in the bill. Ideally, the government would respect the wishes of the parties to the case, as well as stakeholders, in keeping with the current international human rights standards, specifically articles 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9, which I have just read, and article 33 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We want all gender discrimination to be eliminated from the bill before it is passed by the House of Commons. We also want the liability clause to be removed entirely. I will never take away the right of an individual to sue the government for past wrongs. I will never allow this place to pass legislation that eliminates that right. Therefore, I will be moving amendments to that effect shortly.

We must remain critical of a bill that does not entirely address all discrimination, and also critical of the slow pace of change and the failure by successive governments thus far to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, since adhering to the declaration would provide a basis for Canada to address all systemic problems within the Indian Act. It is important to do so in this era of reconciliation.

I would like to address the insubstantial nature of what passed the Senate and is poised to be adopted by this chamber. I say this because the government is promising to do only what the courts have ordered. No one should be fooled by the rhetoric into thinking that this bill, as it stands, addresses paragraph 6(1)(a) registration rights for indigenous woman, who have been seeking that status for over 40 years of litigation, namely Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Sharon McIvor and, most recently, Dr. Lynn Gehl. Beneath the rhetoric, the bill represents an insubstantial aspiration that leaves complete discretion to the government to extend 6(1)(a) to everyone because there is no mechanism for implementation or accountability. In fact, this bill leaves so much to be desired that Sharon McIvor and Dr. Pam Palmater are headed to Washington to make a submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ask them to intervene regarding Bill S-3 to make sure this government addresses all gender discrimination.

Many indigenous women's groups have called attention to the provisions of proposed section 10. With this clause, the government is justifying past discrimination and past violations of human rights. If we truly believe in the rule of law in this place, then this cannot happen. With this clause the government is justifying past injustices, and this should not be tolerated.

The government would continue to discriminate with impunity until it chooses to address it or is forced to address it. In my view, this underscores the sense of colonial entitlement. It undermines the rule of law. The crown has a fiduciary responsibility to first nations. It owes fiduciary duties to the people. It cannot be given impunity for its conduct because that would essentially enable breaches of the law and breaches of potential fairness to many people. With this bill, we are giving it licence to do whatever it wants, without consequence.

I want to quote Lynn Gehl, who says:

Not addressing the 1951 cutoff because the court said that the issue was one of matrilineal lineage versus sex discrimination was wrong.

....I’m of the position that the hierarchy created in 1985 between Indian men and their descendants as they are registered as a 6(1)(a) and Indian women who are only registered as a 6(1)(c) must be abolished if you want to eliminate the sex discrimination and end this process of amending the Indian Act.

In their letter that I referenced earlier, Sharon McIvor, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, and Lynn Gehl wrote to the ministers and said:

We are writing to request confirmation that when Bill S-3 passes in the House of Commons there will be no change to the current category of Indian status accorded to Sharon McIvor (6 (1)(c)), and Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell (6(1)(c)), and Dr. Lynn Gehl (6(2))....

They continued:

None of us is affected by the 1951 cut-off introduced by Bill C-3 in 2010. Our reading of the motion introduced by Senator Peter Harder in the Senate on November 8, 2017 is that we, and the many Indigenous women who are similarly situated, will not be accorded 6(1)(a) status when Bill S-3 passes.

Again, this is equality delayed and the consequence is equality denied.

I too share the concern about the consultation process. It seems that the government only consults when it is convenient. Yes, I agree with the minister that there is a constitutional obligation to consult indigenous peoples when their rights and interests are affected, but it has to be applied throughout. I do not recall if the indigenous nations affected by the Site C dam, for instance, were ever consulted. In fact, it was to the contrary. They were being intimidated by BC Hydro with lawsuits. That constitutional obligation to consult has to be applied throughout.

In the case of the bill before us, I reiterate that it falls short of settling everything. The bill continues to discriminate. The Indian Act, in fact, is archaic and we need to get rid of it. The no-liability clause, as I mentioned, is a major problem. If we recall, last June I proposed amendments to that effect, which were rejected. If the amendments introduced back in June had been accepted, we would not be here today. We would not be debating this issue anymore. Unfortunately, they were rejected.

Since my time is quickly running out, I will close by saying that it is essential that the House consider the suggestion I just made of getting rid of the Indian Act altogether and giving first nations, Inuit, and Métis the right to decide whether or not to recognize their own members.

I think that is one of the fundamental rights that we successfully negotiated in the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It is up to indigenous communities to decide who their members are, something that the Indian Act still does not allow them to do.

I am therefore proposing amendments so that the motion would now read as follows:

That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill S-3, An Act to Amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), the House:

1. agrees with amendments 1 to 6, 8 and 9(a) made by the Senate;

2. proposes that amendment 7 be amended by replacing the words “Replace line 3 with the following: 'ly before the day on which this section comes into'” with “Delete clause 10”;

3. proposes that clause 11 of Bill S-3 be amended by adding the following on page 9 after line 33:

(3) The consultations must be completed within 18 months of the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent.

4. proposes that amendment 9(b) be amended by replacing “on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council, but that day must be after the day fixed under subsection (1)” with the words “18 months after the date that the order in subsection (1) is made”.

Those are the amendments that I am proposing, and I hope that the House will accept them this time.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
See context

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of comments I would like to make and a question. First of all, the member opposite talked about repealing the Indian Act, and it is probably the desire of all of us, at least on this side of the House, to repeal the act, but we also know that we have a fiduciary responsibility and that, in the absence of other legislation, it is not responsible for government to proceed in that way at this time.

However, we are creating a way and a mechanism to get there. That is the broader agenda of what government is engaged in and what the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs has spoken to. In the meantime, we also have a responsibility to honour the rulings of the court. The rulings of the court indicate that we eliminate all sex-based discrimination against women within the Indian Act. That is exactly what we are doing.

In fact, it has been with the tremendous support of the Senate that we are able to get to where we are today. I would like to ask the member a question, because Senator Sinclair has said:

I would like to add my support for this motion and indicate that I intend to vote for it.... The amendments before us, to my relief, leave no legal distinction between indigenous men and women. It brings the act, therefore, into compliance with the Charter.

The member opposite also knows that we have gone beyond the 1951 cut-off amendment in Bill C-3. In fact, we have made amendments in the bill that would include circumstances prior to 1951 and remedy sex-based inequities back to 1869. I ask why the member opposite will not support these amendments in Bill S-3.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
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Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-3 today, and I will be splitting my time with the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Rouge Park.

The minister, in her address earlier today, gave a tremendous overview of the changes and critical components that make up the amendments in Bill S-3. As members know, since last fall, the government has been working to make these amendments based on the superior court decision of Quebec in the case of Descheneaux and in the last number of months we have worked with the Senate to clarify certain components of the bill and to ensure there were no charter violations and that we could, in fact, go beyond what was being recommended to ensure that we were doing everything we could possibly do at this stage to end any clauses with sex-based inequities within the bill.

Today, I want to thank all of those who did this work in the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, senators, witnesses, and many others who appeared before the committee. We also appreciate the support and co-operation they gave government to make what we believe are some really significant improvements that we are happy to propose in this bill.

A number of previously unknown groups that were impacted by sex-based inequities were added to the bill and the government has worked with senators to address the issue of unstated paternity by enshrining additional procedural protections in law through Bill S-3. The bill was also amended to require the government to report back to Parliament on a number of occasions and in a number of ways to update parliamentarians and all Canadians on its progress toward broader Indian Act registration and membership reform. All of the amendments were welcomed and supported by the government.

The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples also added an amendment to Bill S-3, with the intent of implementing what was known as the 6(1)(a) clause or 6(1)(a) all-the-way approach. Basically, the intent of this amendment was to provide entitlement to 6(1)(a) Indian status to all of those who had lost their status back to 1869 and all of their descendants born prior to 1985. This amendment was passed and referred to the House of Commons.

We are amending the bill that has been passed by the Senate in three particular ways: first, we are changing the title of the bill; second, we removed 6(1)(a) all-the-way amendment; and third, a reference to UNDRIP was added to the bill review clause. As members know, UNDRIP was signed onto by this government and members can expect much more detail around our commitment to and implementation of UNDRIP to come in the weeks to follow.

It has been a long process to get here. I know that many have said that we should just repeal the Indian Act. I can guarantee that is a sentiment that has been shared by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs and our government for a long time. However, we know that our responsibility is really to ensure there is legislation in place in Canada that responds to the needs of indigenous people. Our goal at the end of the day is to ensure that is in place.

In the meantime, we have made significant changes and amendments to this bill. In fact, through this bill, we are ensuring that we will provide status to all women who have lost their status through sex-based discrimination, as well as their descendants born prior to 1985 or after 1985 if their parents married each other prior to that date. This includes circumstances prior to 1951 and, in fact, remedies sex-based inequities going back to 1869.

Should the House of Commons pass the version of Bill S-3 that the Senate passed on November 9, the bill, with the exception of the 1951 cut-off amendment, would be brought into force immediately after receiving royal assent. This is something that has been welcomed by indigenous governments across Canada.

At that time, the second generation cut-off rule would be eliminated for women who lost their status as a result of gender-based inequities and had children between 1951 and 1985, as well as for their descendants who were born during that same period. The additional amendment regarding the 1951 cut-off, which was proposed by the government and is included in the current version of Bill S-3, would be brought into force after further consultations and the co-development of a comprehensive implementation plan to address the impacts of removing the 1951 cut-off.

That seems to be the obstacle that my colleague who spoke previously is having some trouble with. However, this is a responsible and prudent way of proceeding, that the government implement this amendment in a way that would eliminate or mitigate any unintended negativity or consequences for communities and individuals. We have been hearing this from many people, and we know all agree that this needs to be done, but we have to be responsible about how it gets done. We have to ensure that those who are to care for and absorb those extra constituencies within their nations have the ability to provide the services and the care in an appropriate way.

The version of the bill that is before the House today would remedy all residual Indian Act registration inequities flowing from sex-based discrimination. I think that is the important factor. Just as the Senate has supported this motion and has outlined its support in many speeches and comments within the Senate, we do the same on this side of the House within the Government of Canada, because we know it is the right thing to do. It is time for us to really make the drastic changes that indigenous Canada has been asking for and wanting for a very long time. This is just the beginning. There is a lot more work to do, and we can assure members that the government is ready to do that.

We ask that all members support the bill before the House today.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-3, an act to amend the Indian Act.

This Senate bill is in response to the superior court of Quebec's decision in Descheneaux v. Canada and has undergone several iterations. I am pleased to support this set of amendments, which will effectively eliminate sex discrimination under the Indian Act.

I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples.

It is hard to believe that we are having this debate today, in 2017, on sex equality. It is even more disturbing that those making the decision on such a fundamental issue of Indian status for first nations peoples are not members of any first nations communities themselves but are primarily from settler communities. The irony is not lost on me. What is equally absurd is that it has been primarily men making these decisions. Our Indian Act, unfortunately, makes this absurd debate necessary.

The renewed relationship our government seeks to establish with first nations communities on a nation-to-nation basis will untangle first nations peoples from the shackles of colonialism and the Indian Act and will set our country towards a path of true reconciliation.

The Indian Act is deeply rooted in racism and has for generations resulted in uneven and racialized outcomes for our first nations peoples. The Indian Act essentially controls the lives of our first nations peoples. It defines who is and who is not an Indian, where they live, whom they should live with, and so on. It separates first nations peoples from the rest of Canada, physically, through reserves, but also in virtually every aspect of life.

The numbers speak for themselves. I am just going to give some examples. In 2011, 26.2% of first nations people on reserve lived in overcrowded housing, compared to 4% of non-aboriginal people. In education, 39.8% of first nations people do not have high school or a post-secondary degree. Only 12.1% of non-indigenous people do not have a high school diploma or a post-secondary degree. We could go on with life expectancy, suicide, and income.

On virtually every measure available to assess social well-being, Canada's first nations people rank lower in comparison to their settler counterparts. None of the constraints of the Indian Act, however, have been more scrutinized and more painful than the definition of who is and who is not an Indian.

Notably, this Indian Act discriminates against women in a systemic and structural way, leading to inequities in membership and having an effect on their daily lives. Discrimination based on sex has affected the children, grandchildren, and their generations of kin by excluding them under the Indian Act. The amendments to Bill S-3 we are debating today aim to correct that trajectory and ensure that sex discrimination is eliminated from the Indian Act once and for all.

I want to walk members through the history. The issue of sex discrimination has been dealt with by Parliament on several occasions. However, in each round, the amendments made in the House did not go far enough to ensure that sex discrimination was eliminated altogether.

The amendments initially considered under Bill S-3 were in response to a superior court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux v. Canada, rendered in 2015. The Quebec court deemed the provisions of the Indian Act to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it treated grandchildren descended from a status Indian man and a status Indian women differently by providing status to the former and denying it to the latter.

Madam Justice Chantal Masse cautioned the government to ensure that any legislation that stemmed from the decision ought to have an expansive view of the issue of sex-based discrimination under the Indian Act. I would like to quote paragraph 239 of her decision:

When Parliament chooses not to consider the broader implications of judicial decisions by limiting their scope to the bare minimum, a certain abdication of legislative power in favour of the judiciary will likely take place. In such cases, it appears that the holders of legislative power prefer to wait for the courts to rule on a case-by-case basis before acting, and for their judgments to gradually force statutory amendments to finally bring them in line with the Constitution.

After considerable back and forth with the other place, we are here today to eliminate sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act altogether.

During debate this summer, we heard from many witnesses, including women whose lifetime of work advanced the issue of gender equality in the Indian Act. It was a very painful experience for most of them. We also heard from many bands and communities that they alone have the right to define the citizenship of their people. I believe that both seemingly divergent views are not incompatible. Ultimately, first nations people should have the say as to who their citizens are, but in a manner that does not discriminate against one particular gender.

I want to take a couple of minutes to outline previous attempts to remove sex-based discrimination from the Indian Act. The sex-based inequities in the law we are grappling with today have their roots in the patrilineal transfer of Indian status that existed in the Indian Act prior to 1985, and the subsequent imperfect attempts to end discrimination in the act.

With the introduction of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, explicit discrimination in the Indian Act finally had to be changed to comply with section 15 charter rights.

Bill C-31 was introduced to make the Indian Act charter compliant. It unfortunately did not go far enough. In fact, it is Bill C-31, including the introduction of the second generation cut-off and the subsection 6(1) and 6(2) categories of Indian status that inevitably opened new sex-based inequities and the inability of individuals to pass on status to their children and grandchildren. The residual sex-based inequities that remained in the act resulted in a rise in registration-related legal challenges.

One such challenge was launched by Sharon McIvor. Dr. McIvor's case centred on her ability to transfer status to her children. Since Dr. McIvor married a non-Indian, she was only able to transfer section 6(2) status to her son, Mr. Grismer. As Mr. Grismer also married a non-Indian, he was not able to transfer status to his children. However, had Sharon McIvor had a brother who was also married to a non-Indian, prior to 1985 their child would have been entitled to status under 6(1). Because of this discrimination, the B.C. Court of Appeal struck down paragraphs 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) of the Indian Act and gave Parliament one year to respond.

Bill C-3 was introduced by the previous Conservative government in response to the McIvor decision. However, the government decided that it would interpret the decision as narrowly as possible and that it would not address other obvious examples of sex-based discrimination in the act.

At the time, Marc Lemay, a former Bloc MP, rightly pointed out, “As we speak, a dozen or so of these complaints are before the courts in various jurisdictions across Canada, including one or two similar cases currently before Quebec courts.” I have no doubt that the cases in Quebec he was referring to were those of Stéphane Descheneaux and Susan and Tammy Yantha.

It only took six years for us to arrive back here again to pass amendments to the Indian Act to address discrimination, which should never have existed, with Bill S-3. Like Bill C-3, Bill S-3 did not initially take an expansive approach to addressing discrimination in the Indian Act. Initially, Bill S-3 addressed only the cases ruled by the Superior Court of Québec: the cousins and siblings issue and the issue of omitted minors.

I can continue to give more examples of where we have failed, but it is very clear that today, as we stand, we have the right balance to ensure that we eliminate sex-based discrimination from the Indian Act once and for all.

There would be a process of consultation that would ensure that people, particularly women, would not have to go to court to assert their rights. It is embedded in the legislation today. The bill would ensure that any discrimination based on sex, dating back to 1869, would be addressed once and for all. This is an important amendment we need to make to the Indian Act.

As my colleagues have previously said, as we walk toward elimination of the Indian Act, this is a necessary evil that will ensure that we do not continue to discriminate on the basis of sex.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2017 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was a little over a year ago, I believe, when my colleague asked us to pre-study Bill S-3 so we could move it forward to make the Supreme Court of Canada deadline, which as we now know, has had to be extended numerous times since.

Mr. Descheneaux came before us at committee and stated that he had no contact with the government. He was the plaintiff in the case, and he had had no contact with the government before it tabled the bill. He was the successful litigant who had brought the case forward.

Can my colleague explain to Mr. Descheneaux why there was such a gap in the process? In spite of the government's commitment to ongoing consultation, it brought forward legislation when it had not even consulted the successful plaintiff.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 21st, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I am seeking unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House:

(a) if Bill C-23, An Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, is concurred in at report stage later this day, when debate on the said Bill collapses at third reading, all questions necessary for the disposal of the Bill at that stage be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment, provided that, if a recorded division is requested, the bells to call in the members shall ring for not more than 30 minutes;

(b) Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), be deemed read a third time and passed on division;

(c) Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act, be deemed read a third time and passed on division;

(d) a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that the House disagrees with the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-44, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017, and other measures, because these amendments infringe upon the rights and privileges of the House;

(e) when the House adjourns today, it shall stand adjourned until Monday, September 18, 2017, provided that, for the purposes of any Standing Order, it shall be deemed to have been adjourned pursuant to Standing Order 28 and be deemed to have sat on Thursday, June 22, and Friday, June 23, 2017; and

(f) when, at any time the House stands adjourned until and including Friday, June 23, 2017, a standing committee has ready a report, that report shall be deemed to have been duly presented to the House upon being deposited with the Clerk.

Motions in AmendmentIndian ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

moved:

That Bill S-3 be amended by deleting Clause 10.

Madam Speaker, [member spoke in aboriginal language]

[Translation]

First, I could not help reiterating my disappointment in the Speaker's ruling on the question of privilege raised by the member for Winnipeg Centre. I am going to accommodate the House and repeat my message in both official languages.

It is all the more disappointing that it has been decided, with unprecedented and delicate irony, on the eve of National Aboriginal Day, that I will no longer have the right to speak my own language here in the House of Commons. This is frustrating, not to say insulting, because my language has been spoken for 7,000 years. It was spoken before a word of French or English was ever spoken in this country that we now call Canada.

I am going to accommodate the House.

This afternoon, the Speaker rendered his ruling on the question of privilege that was raised by the member for Winnipeg Centre, which is extremely disappointing, especially on the eve of National Aboriginal Day.

On the very eve of National Aboriginal Day 2017, in this country that you now call Canada, I am told that there are only two official languages in this place, and that I cannot speak the language that has been spoken in this country, on this territory, for the last 7,000 years, even before a single word in English or French was heard in this place. In this country, that you now call Canada, I am told that I cannot use my language. Allow me to express my disappointment.

Tomorrow is a sacred day for all indigenous peoples in this country. It is so sacred. However, hearing this ruling from the Speaker was the most terrible thing I have heard in this chamber in the six years that I have been sitting in this place. In fact, if members want to know, the words in Cree for the Speaker of the House is [Member spoke in Cree] which means “the boss of those who speak in the House”.

However, I rise again on Bill S-3, which is a bill that should eliminate any gender inequities in the Indian Act.

In doing so, I need to refer to a couple aspects of where we are at this moment as we speak. As we know, there were important amendments that stemmed from the work of the Senate, important amendments that not only attempted to respond to the Quebec Superior Court ruling in the Descheneaux case, but also addressed the other inequities and discriminations that exist under the Indian Act.

That was the purpose of the amendments submitted by the Senate. Unfortunately, the majority Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs decided that those amendments were unacceptable. That is very unfortunate, because discrimination in this country should not even be allowed in 2017. That is so unjust. That is one aspect that I will be talking about in the remaining time I have.

There is also the aspect of the liability of the crown, which needs to be addressed. It is one of the most important calls to action of the TRC. It is number 26 of the TRC which deals with this aspect. Again, it is a provision that is included in the amendments that are before us. I believe it is a proposition to accept human rights violations that were done in the past and accept them in 2017. In all conscience, I as an indigenous person will never accept that proposition. We cannot justify past wrongs, past human rights violations in this place in 2017. Wrongs of the past are wrongs. We cannot say today to forget about them and move on. That is not how it works.

The other aspect I would like to address in the couple of minutes I have left is the fact that the government is telling us to trust it, that there is a second phase coming up, and it will deal with the other concerns that we are talking about six months after this bill is ratified by the Senate. Again, who else is asked that their human rights be delayed once again? Indigenous women in this country have waited for so long. Now we are asking again to do away with their human rights, that we will deal with them later on. That is absolutely unacceptable. On this side of the House, that cannot be accepted.

Let me quote one of our expert witnesses who came before us, Pam Palmater. She had this to say to our committee:

How many more times are you going to require that indigenous women spend their entire lives trying to get equality, in a country where equality is actually the law?

We do not have a choice here. This issue should in fact be moot. There is a very clear message here. The fact the government or any committee would be wondering or considering delaying equality for one more day shows exactly how ingrained sexism and racism is in this country, and especially for indigenous women.

The provisions that were truncated from the proposed Senate amendments were once accepted by both the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the Minister of Justice. In fact, this is what the Minister of Justice said to Parliament back in 2010. She insisted that Parliament eradicate discrimination wherever and whenever possible. Now she has changed her mind. The proposition that I have before us is the very minimum that we need this House to adopt.

Motions in AmendmentIndian ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place to put my views forward following the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. He said exactly, in much clearer, more passionate language and with greater depth of experience, the reasons that I am also putting forward amendments to try to repair Bill S-3, so that it does not perpetuate gender-based discrimination against indigenous women and their descendants.

As members know, Bill S-3 comes to us as a result of yet another court case raising the issue of discrimination under the Indian Act. Let us step back for a moment and acknowledge the Indian Act itself is a monument to discrimination. The Indian Act is a racist piece of legislation, and I grieve that we are not as a Parliament taking on the challenge of eliminating the spectre of a piece of legislation about which many Canadians may not know. It was a piece of legislation on which South Africa modelled apartheid. It needs to be replaced, it needs to be gone, but what we have before us is a slice of that discrimination that is embedded in a discriminatory act which treats indigenous women and their descendants quite differently than it treats indigenous men.

The case was brought to the Quebec court by Stéphane Descheneaux. The court set a deadline, the case was heard and resolved in 2015. The deadline was extended once, and as we just heard in my hon. colleague's comments in response to a question, just today the plaintiff returned to court, and asked if Madam Judge Masse would extend that deadline once again. As the deadline now sits, this Parliament needs to resolve the matter by July 3, or there will be consequences in the issuing of status cards, and there will be unacceptable consequences. On the other hand, it is certainly distressing and incomprehensible to me that given how flawed the bill is that the Government of Canada has not gone to the court to ask for an extension.

Should we be able in this place now to accept either my amendment, or the amendment put forward by the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, then at least we have a piece of legislation which does not perpetuate gender discrimination. If we accept those amendments and the government feels it creates a tremendous chaos out there, we are not sure where we are going to go next. It does not have to move forward on the legislation, all it has to do is go to the judge and ask for an extension.

The Quebec court in this matter has made it very clear as of less than an hour ago, when the press conference from the plaintiff took place, that it is ready and willing to give an extension. The judge was not willing to given an extension on the deadline today on an application from the plaintiff, because she did not want to put the Quebec Superior Court in the position of arbitrating between the Senate of Canada and the House of Commons. It is very clear, very fresh and pertinent, and timely information that the extension could be had if the government seeks it. I would wish the government would seek it.

However, let us go back to why these amendments really matter. It is a question of justice. It is a question of discrimination, and it is a question of whether we can draw a line in the sand and accept all the historical wrongs that happened if someone was a descendant based on relationships before 1951. Before 1951, we are just going to say that it does not matter anymore, and we are going to limit it to 35,000 people, because that is a manageable number. This is something I have never seen before in any debate on rights, that we only give fairness to X number of people, and we are not prepared to extend it to all the people. It is unconscionable.

I want to go back, and my colleague has already mentioned the testimony of Professor Pam Palmater, who is uniquely qualified in this debate not only because she is a distinguished lawyer and professor, and comes from the territory of the Mi'kmaq First Nation in Nova Scotia, but she has written a book which directly bears on this. Her book is Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity.

Her research has shown that, for example, and I will quote her:

The hierarchy of Indian status between section 6(1) and 6(2) have and continue to disproportionately impact Indigenous women and their descendants since its creation in 1985. It is an unconscionable formula based on racist ideas related to blood quantum that were designed to legislate Indians out of existence.

She is referring to sections of the Indian Act. She goes on to say:

As a result, Canada's own demographer can pin point with relative accuracy the extinction dates of each First Nation in Canada based on birth, death and out-marriage rates.

Some might wonder what out-marriage means. The essence of this discrimination is that, if a first nations man marries a non-indigenous woman, their children continue to be recognized as Indians for the purpose of the Indian Act, but if a first nations woman marries a non-indigenous man, the children are not recognized. Further, with respect to children of unwed mothers who are not willing or able to name the father, or fathers who deny paternity, we go through a whole hierarchy of subtractions, subtraction of indigenous women's rights through a hierarchy of different classes of people.

If my amendment or the amendments put forward by the NDP are accepted, we could restore at least those pieces of Bill S-3 that were put forward in the Senate. They were supported by the Senate but removed from the bill by the government. They are what would make it possible to support Bill S-3 and get it through the House. With those removed, we are back in a situation where the defence that I hear from the government is that there will simply be too many people and we will not know quite how many there are. As I said, this cannot be a question of numbers.

Again, from evidence that was heard in the Senate committee, if the estimate is 200,000 people instead of 35,000 people who have rights through ancestry and parenthood once historic discrimination against women is removed, that is roughly equivalent to the number of new immigrants we take into Canada every year. We need to put 200,000 into some context. Why would we deny rights based on the question that this might be too many new people?

The fundamental crying need in this area of law is to get rid of the Indian Act, and then we could be talking about how to move forward from here. However, we are dealing only with this piece based on the court decision and the court case brought by Stephane Descheneaux. It seems to me that we do not have any choice other than to eliminate gender-based discrimination.

In the minute I have left, I want to turn again to the words of Professor Palmater, because it could not be clearer. She said:

There is no reason to consult on whether to abide by the law of gender equality. The laws of our traditional Nations, Canada and the international community are clear on gender equality. There is no optioning out of equality, nor can it be negotiated away. Traditional Indigenous Nations did not permit inequality between genders. The constitutionally-protected Aboriginal right to determine one’s own citizens is conditioned on section 35(4)’s guarantee of equality for Indigenous men and women.

Of course, that is section 35(4) of the Canadian Constitution.

UNDRIP which provides extensive protections for indigenous peoples also guarantees these rights equally between Indigenous men and women.

I want to underscore this sentence from Professor Palmater's testimony, “There is simply no legal mechanism by which to consult out of gender equality.”

She went on to say:

Discrimination is discrimination—whether five layers of discrimination are piled on top of us or “only” one layer—Indigenous women and our descendants bear an unfair burden of trying to convince others it should end.

I urge every member of the House to vote for the amendments, and then we can pass Bill S-3 with a clear conscience.

Motions in AmendmentIndian ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, first let me just say once again that there is no need for haste. We do not need to deal with this now. We merely need to ask the court. The court has made it clear that it is more than willing to give an extension, but on this concept of phase two, again I want to turn to the testimony of Professor Palmater:

If we don't address gender equality now, it will never be addressed. Canada's plans to shove "complex" gender issues to Phase ll under the impossible standard of "consensus" means we'll never see full gender equality.

I thought the whole intent of reconciliation was to do better by indigenous peoples. If this is the case then we have no real choice but to remedy all gender discrimination in Bill S-3. That is what I am committed to. I am trying to remedy the gender discrimination in Bill S-3.