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 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to continue debate on a bill from the Senate, Bill S-3, an act to amend the Indian Act with the elimination of sex-based inequities in registration.

Prior to doing so, I would like to translate for those watching at home on CPAC what happened just prior to this debate, in which the House was engaged in a three-hour conversation about the problems facing immigrants to Canada, and the consultants that sometimes prey on them. It was debate on a report that came out of our committee in which there was unanimous support for the recommendations. At the end of that three-hour debate, we watched the Liberals express their opposition to a unanimously accepted report proposing a crackdown on bad immigration consultants, and then force a vote later next week to vote against it. Does anyone watching actually understand the Liberal motivation behind that particular manoeuvre? I am sure that many of my Liberal colleagues cannot explain it, but maybe somebody else out there can.

Returning to the bill, because this has been some time in coming, I want to first acknowledge the incredible and heroic work of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. I do not use the word “heroic” often or lightly. However my colleague, for much of his life, being a first nations person by his very birthright but more so by his decision and inclination, has tirelessly fought for the rights of indigenous peoples in this country, in Quebec, at the United Nations, and around the world. He is one of the leading voices in this country speaking about the rights, the responsibilities of the government, the tragedy, the multitude of errors, and the racist legislation and policies that have emanated from this exact place, this room, for generations against the first peoples of this country.

My colleague has been determined. He has been incredibly articulate, and it is his opinion, along with those of the people who first brought this case, upon which I will rely this afternoon, in terms of my concerns for this bill, Bill S-3.

Not only my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou is opposed to this legislation. So are the proponents, the lady warriors who litigated this case for four decades, who remain opposed to this legislation. Their letter to the Minister of Justice states that:

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.

I will get into what “accorded 6(1)(a) status” means, but suffice it to say that the intention of this bill to remedy a racist and sexist policy of the federal Government of Canada will not be carried out in full by the passage of this legislation. Nor has the consultation, which was promised by this government in arriving here today, been done. The minister herself admitted embarrassment and shame at the lack of consultation that she and her government promised and failed to do.

We can understand why it would be difficult for first nations peoples, having had many experiences of their hopes being raised and false promises being made, to return back to the same old saga again, where the federal government in Ottawa says it will get things right and talk to them to make sure they are right, and the next thing the government does is nothing. The government did not talk to the first nations, include them, or bring in their wisdom. Rather, at the eleventh hour in this case, the government brought forward a piece of legislation and admitted it did not consult anybody, admitted it was bad, but said we are out of time and we need to pass the bill now, and it will do the trick.

It is not going to fix the problem, in whole. That is according to the people who first litigated the case. I trust them more than anybody else.

Let us start with first principles, the Indian Act, a colonial, racist piece of legislation that was created at the founding of this country, which the Prime Minister himself admits is colonial, racist, and sexist in design. That is what we are amending here today.

We are amending a racist piece of legislation, a sexist piece of legislation, a colonial piece of legislation to make it slightly better, not entirely better, not even better for all of the women and their descendants who are affected by its sexism, but just for some of them and only going back to 1951. People who were affected prior to 1951 and their descendants are not touched by Bill S-3 at all. They will not be deemed into new status. They will not be deemed to be aboriginal, when they are.

Only a federal government that says it believes in nation-to-nation dialogue, only a federal government that says that self-determination is important but then when it comes down to the question of who one is, what identity one is, remains in control of that decision and says that Ottawa knows best, that it will decide who are and who are not first nations, which is a continuation here in this bill.

Let us walk back, because it is important how we arrived here. It was not some great government benevolence that said this terrible piece of legislation discriminates against first nations women, which it did and does. Let us find out how.

There are two classifications for status. Through the course of this discussion I am loath to use the word, but the word is applied in law, and this is the word we have to use, because we are talking about the Indian Act. Indian status is described in the “Indian” Act. This name and this word was applied by Europeans to the first peoples here because they thought they were in India, because they thought that when they left Europe and arrived on our shores, they were in India. They were looking for the secret passage to India to enable the spice trade and other things that Europeans at the time were interested in, 350 to 400 years ago.

In 2017, we still use the term in our legislation to describe the first nations people of this country as Indians. Imagine how offensive this is to first nations people listening to this debate, the first nations people who continue to live under the Indian Act in the prescription of basic government services that the rest of the country enjoys without the racist terminology being applied.

Imagine if non-first nations Canadians had legislation using racist terminology to describe them, like immigrants from my home country of Ireland and all the racist epithets that were used against my people for years. If that were written into law and I went to apply for medical or dental or education benefits, I would have to apply under a terminology of law that was inherently racist against my people. We continue with this public secret. We continue to walk with this and say that we have evolved and acts like this will make it better.

When we ask the government if it wants to do nation-to-nation relationships, if it wants to do reconciliation, that when it listens to the current chief of the Assembly of First Nations say time and time again that the Indian Act is a colonial, race-based piece of legislation that we must end, that we need an exit strategy, as he calls it, the government replies by saying “there go the first nations leaders and the NDP again saying to get rid of the legislation”. Of course we should get rid of the legislation.

Who else would survive under this legislation happily? What other ethnic group, particularly a group that was here first, since time immemorial, would happily live under legislation that was inherently racist in its design, in its application, and in its use? Would Polish Canadians happily suffer under that? Would Canadians from Caribbean communities happily suffer under racist legislation in name and application?

Under the Indian Act, section 6(1) determines that if both parents are of first nations status, the child will be first nations. Section 6(2) says that if one person has status and has a child by another person who is not first nations, that child will only continue to be first nations if the male parent was first nations, but if it was a first nations woman who had a child with a non-first nations man, that child is no longer first nations. That is what we are attempting to address today.

This was true up until the 1970s and 1980s. Children of first nation parentage were denied their status under the law because their mom had the audacity to choose who would be her partner. A woman in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s had to make a decision. If she fell in love with someone who happened to be non-native and had children with that person, her children could never be first nation. They could not be a member of their local first nation in voting. They could not be a member of their local first nation in celebration. They could not be a member of their local first nation in terms of government programs that were applied to them and their parents. This is sexism, if one's progeny are determined by whether one is a woman or a man. It is discriminatory.

However, it was not the government that decided to make a change, but the courts. In this case, the Quebec Superior Court said to the Government of Canada in 2015, all those many years ago, this is discriminatory. This is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada where we cannot discriminate against someone based on their sex. It took until 2015 for this to be resolved in court. However, it was not resolved. All the court can do is say that this part of the law is wrong, that it infringes on the rights of Canadians, and that it must be struck down and replaced with something, which happened in August 2015.

What did the then federal government do under former Prime Minister Harper? He appealed and said that he disagreed with the court's findings. He disagreed with the idea that we cannot make a determination about someone in this country based on their sex, disagreed that it is unconstitutional, and said he would appeal it. We were going to spend more taxpayer money, and hundreds of millions have been spent over the years fighting aboriginal rights and title in court, to fight for the principle, according to the former government, that the children of first nation people should be first nation or not depending on the sex of the parent.

The Quebec court said that we must change the law, Canada appealed under the former government, and then a new government came in and dropped the appeal. The courts do not care which party is running the Government of Canada, and it uses the term “crown”. These terms come back from our past. We are a colonial offshoot. The court said that the crown must remedy this and had 18 months to do so. It seems reasonable to me to have 18 months to consult with people, and if changes would be made to the Indian Act, they could be made in the most fulsome and proper way possible. It may be a good idea, in those 18 months, if the government of the day consulted with the women who first brought forward the case 40 years ago and who are still active.

However, 17 months later, with a month to go, the government pops up with Bill S-3. Amazingly, as the Liberals brought forward this legislation, they were challenged on it, because any fixes to this act are important, particularly to the people who might be affected. When the minister in charge of this was first commenting on it, this is what she said:

The Government is also exploring various opportunities and approaches for engagement with First Nations and other Indigenous groups on necessary legislative changes, and more information on this will be forthcoming

That sounds good: we are going to consult. However, a year later at committee she is asked how the consultations went. Here is what she said:

My department's failure to directly engage with the plaintiffs was not only unacceptable but embarrassing for me as minister.

There was a promise that they were going to consult to fix this, but a year later, the Liberals are embarrassed and call it unacceptable. To my mind, “unacceptable” means that one does not accept something. However, clearly it is acceptable, because here is the legislation.

Imagine the personal sacrifice of the plaintiffs, the women who fought for this over four decades. For 40 years, without money and political support, they fought for a principle, for the right not to be treated unfairly under a racist piece of legislation. The government did not bother to talk to the women who were involved, but those women have come forward and said, as I noted at the start of my speech with, that Bill S-3 did not remedy the problem they had first fought for in court.

What is going to happen with this legislation? I suspect that the Liberals will vote for it. It will get challenged and go back to court. It will start at the lower court, work its way up, probably to the Quebec Superior Court or the Supreme Court, with the government of the day spending more taxpayer dollars challenging its version of events, that this change should only go back to 1951, that that is good enough and we should accept it. We are going to repeat the errors of history.

I recall the apology to first nations in this place on behalf of the Government of Canada by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It is important to remember that with any of the apologies, even the one recently to the LGBTQ community, it is not the Prime Minister himself who is making the apology; it is the Government of Canada. It is the Parliament of Canada expressing regret and begging forgiveness in some cases for the mistakes made by previous governments, whatever their political stripe. It really does not matter who was in charge at the time.

The apology for the residential school travesty was warmly accepted by first nations people in the riding I represent in northwestern British Columbia. Despite years of oppression and oppressive legislation, there was an opening of the hearts of the people whom I represent, to say that in the face of all the harm done to them over the many years, they understood that the government now recognized that it was wrong, and they accepted our apology. I thought that was true until the government at the time that had made the apology cancelled the Aboriginal Healing Foundation two months later, which had been established to help the survivors of residential schools deal with the trauma of residential schools. What does an apology mean if one's next act is to continue the same thing one was apologizing for?

I was recently in a remarkable community in my riding, a place called Bella Coola. The Heiltsuk people have lived in Bella Coola forever. It is an incredible valley. It has glaciers and mountains and a massive river that is causing all sorts of concerns given climate change. The Heiltsuk had been living there and growing an incredible culture. On the way to the local school with the local chief councillor and another councillor, there was this beautiful plaque with a great first nation symbol on the front and beside it, many names. The names are of all the residential school survivors from that community, all of the children who were taken from their parents over decades. Their names are enshrined in the wall to remind the children who were not taken from their parents of what happened before.

The chief councillor went to the wall, pointed to his own name, and said he was taken when he was five. He pointed to the name right above his and said it was his mother's name, who was taken when she was six. He said he only found out that she had even been to a residential school when this plaque was unveiled. I asked what he meant, and he said she never talked about it and the community never talked about it. The shame was so incredibly great that only during the ceremony honouring the victims did he find out that his mom had been through the same horror he had been through. I asked when he had told his kids that, and he said it was when he was 53, when he was right enough to be able to talk to them. It is hard to understand of impact of it, as a father, of having my kids taken by another culture and government and then beaten, raped, and oppressed. The emotions are powerful.

When we look at opportunities like this to do away with the continued practice of racists and oppressive legislation, the bare minimum of decency requires that we talk to the people who have been oppressed. The bare minimum of intelligence is to use the wisdom and understanding of those most affected. Bill S-3 does not do that. The government chose not to do that. It admits embarrassment and shame now, but it is not good enough. If it is going to do something and wants to rebuild a relationship, then it should do it. It should do it with integrity and not keep issuing apologies and continuing to do things that it will have to apologize for again in the future. First nations deserve better. This country deserves better.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 1:50 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments we have heard in regard to the importance of Bill S-3. When the Prime Minister was leader of the third party a number of years ago, he made it very clear in terms of trying to establish a relationship of respect. The idea of it being nation-to-nation is something the Prime Minister embodied. He made it part of what members of this government caucus and my Liberal colleagues have also embraced, recognizing the many historic tragedies and wrongs that have been put upon people who really did not deserve it.

To that extent, we have before us legislation that looks at making a significant change and making sure there is a higher sense of equality. There is the broader issue that needs to be addressed and that is talking about the relationship and the need for us to move forward.

I represent Winnipeg North and I have the honour and privilege of representing many people of indigenous background. I am very proud of that fact. I like to think that one of the strong characteristics of Winnipeg North is the very high sense of indigenous heritage we see when we drive down many of our community streets. I suspect that we have a high percentage of volunteerism coming out of the indigenous community.

There is one in particular. Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata is an organization that has done so much for first nations and Métis over the years, advancing many different causes. We want to address some of those needs. I have spoken in the House on many occasions dealing with indigenous issues. I have consistently said that we should be encouraging government and all members to enable strong indigenous leadership and supporting that in whatever way we can. The first nations communities' acceptance of us as a whole should never be underestimated in terms of its importance and contributes to who we are as a nation today.

Earlier I had the opportunity to talk about immigration and I said we are a country of immigrants. We all know first nations and Inuit were not immigrants. They were the individuals who had been farming and using this beautiful land that we call Canada as home for thousands of years. Through time, we came to this land and through many different initiatives, communities have built it up to become a wonderful and many would argue the best country in the world. Having said that, we need to recognize our first nations, Inuit, and Métis for the fine work that has been done and will continue to be done. We need to demonstrate respect. Through the Prime Minister's commitment that this is priority issue, we want to further this nation-to-nation relationship. That is fantastic to see.

We have a government that has taken tangible action also. We have given historic amounts of money to attempt to address many of the issues. I was so impressed when the Prime Minister made the announcement that we were going to split the department into two, where our former minister of health would now be responsible for indigenous services. I think that was exceptionally well received. If we look at the need and desire of indigenous people to become more independent, and the need to have a better understanding of the realities taking place in their daily lives, it is of critical importance that we act in a more expeditious way. Therefore, designating a minister who is responsible for looking at those services is a positive and wonderful step forward. We have seen a government that has not only talked passionately about the importance of education but has also invested in education for indigenous people. I believe we need to equate education with opportunities. We know if we invest in education, that individuals will grow because of that education, whether elementary, secondary, or post-secondary, and it will provide more opportunities in the future. There are many wonderful initiatives that the government has already taken.

I take it my time is running out. I look forward to continuing my comments at the end of question period.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

November 30th, 2017 / 3:10 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, today we will continue the debate on Bill S-3, indigenous registration. Tomorrow, we will take up third reading debate on Bill C-63, the budget legislation.

On Monday, we will have the last opposition day in a supply cycle, meaning that we will also vote on supplementary estimates (B) and the respective appropriation bill at the end of the day.

Tuesday, we hope to complete third reading debate on Bill C-58, concerning access to information reforms.

Wednesday afternoon, we will call C-61, the first nations education legislation.

We will round off the week with Bill C-24, the Salaries Act, at report stage.

I would like to take a moment to sincerely thank all hon. members in this House for coming together on the apology of the LGBTQ2 Canadians this week.

Finally, discussions have taken place between the parties, and if you seek it, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, when the House begins debate on the second reading motion of Bill C-61, An Act to give effect to the Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, a Member of each recognized party, a Member of the Bloc Québécois and the Member for Saanich—Gulf Islands may speak to the said motion for not more than 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes for questions and comments, after which the Bill shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at the report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 3:10 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, prior to Standing Order 31 being read, I was well engaged in talking about a very important issue for the Government of Canada as we try to advance Bill S-3 through the House of Commons. We continue to move forward in a very tangible way dealing with a nation-to-nation responsibility, as our Prime Minister has very clearly indicated, dealing with a new, genuine relationship between the national government and first nations, Métis, and Inuit.

In many ways, we are talking about the issue of gender equality and trying to see more of that within the legislation of the Indian Act. We have had many people provide comment on the act. I would be challenged to find members who stand in their place and say that the Indian Act is a good piece of law. The drive to change it, many would say to replace in its entirety or get rid of, is in order.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs clearly indicated, we have to have something in its place. As we work toward that, there are many other things that we can do.

I want to pick up on what the Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women said today in question period when he was asked a question in regard to empowering and advancing indigenous women through government programs. He made it very clear that the government is pleased to announce $5 million that will go toward projects to empower indigenous women to be leaders in their communities in order to address issues that affect them or that hinder their advancement.

I started my speech by saying how important it is to recognize and deal with indigenous issues, this legislation being one of them, but it goes beyond legislation. We need to look at financial ways or alternative ways. That talks about the whole concept of consultations, working with our partners, working at that nation-to-nation level and seeing what else we can come up with. This was a significant commitment.

In Winnipeg North, I have had opportunity to encourage at least one organization to look at this announcement and see if there is room in Winnipeg North and even beyond its borders where we could tap into some of that $5 million. There are many different impediments that prevent women, in particular indigenous women, from being able to access certain things that we might take for granted.

I am very happy to hear this announcement. It complements what the government is hoping to achieve. I want to highlight some important messaging the government is hoping to communicate to people with respect to the bill. We understand that it is all about ensuring that sex-based discrimination is eliminated from the registration under the Indian Act.

I always find it amazing that here we are in 2017, and with the support and encouragement of our courts, we have legislation recognizing that aspect, but we also have what many people refer to as a strong feminist Prime Minister with a very proactive minister responsible for indigenous affairs and the department that ultimately recognize that this is an issue that does need to be dealt with. I am very glad that within Bill S-3 we will be doing just that.

The bill would also remedy all known sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act. Again, these are things that, given it is 2017, we would not think would still be within the legislation. It needs to be moved forward, at least until we have that more comprehensive, holistic approach with respect to the Indian Act, or at least until we have been able to fill that void that would be created by getting rid of the Indian Act.

It would also seek to amend the legislation to remedy sex-based inequities that existed. It sets it just prior to Confederation, 1869 all the way up to 1951. The amendment, as passed by the Senate, would remove all sex-based inequities from the registration provisions in the act. My colleague from the New Democratic Party spoke at length on that issue. I agree with the member across the way at times, and this is one of those times.

It is hard to imagine how we could justify these inequities. We know we could never justify it in 2017, but there was a time there was gender discrimination to the degree that a male from a reserve could have a child with a non-native woman and there was never any question of the heritage or entitlements of that child. Contrast that with a female, and the heritage of the child would have been questioned if she had chosen to marry someone who was not indigenous. I think most Canadians would recognize just how unfair that is. Even back then, we had very strong feminists who no doubt would have recognized that sense of unjust legislation. I am surprised that it is still in legislation today. That is one of the reasons members should seriously look at the legislation. I understand that we will be voting the legislation through, hopefully before the end of next Monday.

We recognize the government amendment was passed by the Senate as the best way to achieve the stated goal of getting rid of the sex-based inequities. We will be launching consultations early next year that will look at a broader range of the Indian Act registration and membership issues. That is really important. I sat for many years in the opposition benches, and we had legislation that impacted our indigenous communities. I would often talk about the importance of consultations. There is always room for improvement. Even under our administration, we can always strive to be better at working with people to ensure we are consulting in a very thorough fashion.

I have found there is no shortage of ideas related to issues such as we are talking about today. I often have individuals come by my local restaurant, which I go to every Saturday from 10 to 2. I will not say which restaurant, but I am committed to going so constituents know they can visit me to share their thoughts and ideas.

In the last number of months I have had a half dozen or more individuals talk to me about the United Nations or Bill C-262, proposed by one of our NDP colleagues and has been advanced for debate in the chamber. I have received postcards on it. I have had phone call discussions. Even in group meetings, there is always a great detail of interest in having that dialogue. I can only imagine in the macro picture the degree to which we need to be sensitive to the need for consultations.

On that note, I would like to extend my recognition and congratulations to both the minister of indigenous affairs and the parliamentary secretary to indigenous affairs. They have done an outstanding job in working with indigenous community members and the leadership, ensuring the government is moving on what are some absolutely critical issues going forward.

As a general rule, we will see more legislation and budgetary measures. A good example of that was the recent announcement of the housing strategy. It was a historic announcement in the House by the minister responsible for housing.

It was commented that despite this wonderful plan to provide housing for literally hundreds of Canadians into the future, there was still a very important component that needed to be expanded upon, and that is the indigenous factor. We need to work with indigenous leaders to ensure housing and housing standards are also put on the table.

Today, many would see this as long overdue legislation. In a good part, they are right. It is long overdue, but it will pass through. I do not want people to think, whether it is from the remarks by the Prime Minister or others with respect to this important relationship, that this is all we will do. There is other legislation. There are budgetary measures. There is a very high sense of willingness to co-operate, to continue to develop, and promote that nation-to-nation relationship.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 3:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech with great interest. He talked about the importance of a nation-to-nation relationship and consultation.

I would like the member to talk about the consultation process with the Premier of the Northwest Territories. He was given a 45-minute warning of an announcement of a moratorium on offshore drilling, where $3.2 billion of investment flows out of the territories. Could he also talk about what the Liberals did when they announced the ban on tankers, which crippled a number of first nation communities with respect to their opportunity to have economic development and opportunities?

The hon. member spent 20 minutes talking about the importance of consultation and how the Liberals would have a consultation process with Bill S-3. If that process is anything like their consultation process with the moratorium, or with the tanker pipe ban where they have absolutely destroyed first nations' communities and their opportunities, then he needs to justify how the process is anything but a sham.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-3. I will be sharing my time with the member for Peace River—Westlock.

When I was chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, we did a number of studies, in particular on gender equality. Gender equality is built on many pillars, but essentially, its aim is to ensure that men and women are treated equally in all aspects.

Correcting an irregularity like the one raised in this bill is a simple and obvious way to move towards real gender equality. I am proud to support Bill S-3 and I appreciate having the opportunity to speak in favour of this legislation here today. An individual's status should not be based on their sex. It is a question of history and culture, and righting this wrong is a logical step.

I am very happy to talk about Bill S-3. For those who are not familiar with this bill, it amends the Indian Act. It seeks to remedy gender inequality for those born after 1951.

The changes to the act, specifically, are to replace the long title; to delete from the bill a clause that has been quite controversial, and there has certainly been some discussion about the “6(1)(a) all the way” clause today; and to add the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the list of documents the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs has to consider during promised forthcoming consultation on those issues. Those are really the changes to the bill.

I am definitely in support of gender equality. I talked about my experience on the status of women committee. I would also mention that I have two non-status Métis daughters. Gender equality, when it comes to status, is very important. I am glad to see that this bill would take steps in that direction.

If we think about the record of the party I represent, we did a lot of things when it came to gender equality for first nations women. You may recall the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which was brought forward to address differences in the way women were treated with respect to matrimonial property over men.

It is notable that the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs actually voted against that measure. I see that there is a change of tune now on the other side when it comes to gender equality.

In addition to that, we re-introduced legislation to guarantee people living on reserve the same protection other Canadians enjoy under the Human Rights Act. That was another thing the Conservative Party was proud to bring in. We also addressed, under Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, in 2010, the McIvor v. Canada case to allow eligible grandchildren of women who lost their status as a result of marrying a non-Indian man to be entitled to registration.

Members can see that the party has a history of taking steps to try to restore gender equality in our first nations and Inuit societies.

With that, I am certainly glad to see this bill moving along. That said, I would be remiss if I did not talk about how botched this legislation already is. It is bad enough that the Supreme Court had to order the government to do something, but to then have to get two court extensions shows a lack of planning and a lack of an ability to execute.

I noted that there were lots of struggles on the way to getting this bill here. It does not seem that it is just this bill. It seems that the government has great difficulty executing any number of things when it comes to first nations people.

We know that there was a big push to spend $8.4 billion to eliminate the problem of not having clean water in first nations communities across the country. We see now 120 more boil water advisories than we had at the beginning, and we are two years into it. It really shows a lack of ability to execute.

The other example would be the murdered and missing aboriginal women effort. I have quite a number of things to say about that one. First of all, in almost two years, 20 people have resigned or been fired from that initiative.

The government talks about its nation-to-nation relationship and that it is going to consult broadly and everything else. Here is an example of a consultation where it has talked to very few victims. The Liberals have spent a huge amount of money, and it is two years up the road.

There has been a lot of press on this issue saying that people are dissatisfied: there is no plan, there is no schedule, there are inadequate computers and Internet access, there are limited aftercare plans for the family members who are trying to participate, there was an eight-month delay in opening offices, and there was a four-month delay in hiring staff. There is a whole shopping list of things that are wrong with the murdered and missing aboriginal women inquiry. It does not inspire confidence that the government will be able to execute properly in the go forward.

The Liberals need to not be all talk and no action. They need to learn how to execute and actually say the things they mean and then follow up and do the things they need to do.

If we want to talk about examples of places where the Liberals say they want a nation-to-nation relationship but then do not actually follow through, we can look at a number of examples. We see, for example, that the courts said that indigenous children were being discriminated against with respect to welfare, yet the government was ordered to pay $150 million and dragged its feet on that. How can they have a nation-to-nation relationship when they will not even do what the courts are ordering them to do to give restitution to children? It is ridiculous.

We can talk about the oral health of indigenous people. We see that the government would rather spend $110,000 fighting in court than pay $6,000 for dental work for an indigenous child. That again does not say to indigenous people that the government wants a nation-to-nation relationship. It is pretty much hypocrisy.

I am concerned about Bill S-3. I see that it is well intentioned, but in the execution of it, it could become problematic. There were amendments in the Senate, and I am glad to see that some of them were taken along, because that does not always happen. A lot of times, when the Senate has brought amendments, they are refused here. That is a total waste of the taxpayers' money in terms of the Senate, because if the Senate is doing all this work to bring amendments, and they are rejected here, it seems a little pointless.

The fact that there are so many Senate bills coming forward is also a bit problematic. We have a limited amount of time in the House, and the government is running on promises that it is having trouble keeping, but there are a lot of promises, and it is getting late in the mandate to start delivering on some of those things. Every one of the Senate bills disrupts the agenda of the day.

Although I am in favour of Bill S-3, and certainly of gender equality and the restoration of that to first nations people, I wanted to point out a few of those things I see.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my support for this bill. While the Liberal government seems to be incapable of keeping a single election promise, I am pleased that at least it appears to support this effort to achieve gender equality with respect to the transmission of Indian status.

I would again like to thank my colleagues across party lines for their efforts today, as well as the Senate for the hard work it has accomplished since the beginning of the study. The Liberal government has already managed to extend the deadline twice, but the court appears to have no intention of extending it a third time.

It is time to pass this legislation in order to solve a problem that the government seems to be avoiding.

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November 30th, 2017 / 3:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague, and I want to highlight something I thought she talked about quite well. In fact, on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network this morning, we were asked the same thing. It is two years into the mandate of the Liberal government, and we were asked for a letter grade on how the government was doing with respect to its commitments to indigenous people in Canada. I said I would give it an A-plus for talk but a C-minus for action.

Bill S-3 is one example of a piece of legislation that has been botched from the very beginning. We are a year from when it was first introduced in the Senate. The government has had to have the deadlines extended twice by the courts, and of course, we are now up against a timeframe. We found many flaws in this legislation when it first came for pre-study at committee.

I would invite more comment on the current government's execution on the issues that it speaks so well about but really fails to execute on.

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November 30th, 2017 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, that was a great speech by my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton. I know she is always a very passionate speaker and I very much appreciated her speech.

I am proud to stand today to speak about this as well. The title of this bill, the elimination of sex-based inequities in the Indian Act, is a bit of a misnomer. It should probably read say that it is an attempt to get rid of them. That is what we are dealing with today. This particular bill had a very tumultuous passage through the parliamentary system of Canada. It started out in the Senate, came to the House, and went back to the Senate. There have been messages sent back and forth. There have been extensions given by the courts. This bill has been interesting to follow. Even very experienced members are saying it is an interesting way of trying to pass a bill. There is no doubt about that.

One of the roles, and I would say the role, of the Government of Canada is to ensure that there is justice. I am all in favour of limited government, but the role of the government is justice. In this particular case, that is what we are looking at. We need to ensure that justice is done. The government is trying to walk a fine line when it comes to this bill. It is saying it cannot eliminate all of the gender-based discrimination without imposing some sort of band membership on first nations. That continues to be a problem.

Ms. Catherine Twinn, who lives in my riding, is the wife of former senator Walter Twinn, and her step-daughter, Deborah, has neither status nor band membership. This bill would do nothing to rectify Deborah's situation. Deborah Serafinchon is her full name. She has DNA evidence proving that she is the daughter of Walter Twinn, the former chief of the Sawridge First Nation, and she is unable to get status, let alone band membership. When we deal with this particular bill, it would be great to get rid of all of the gender-based inequities. However, when Deborah was at committee, she noted that she was Indian enough to be discriminated against, but not Indian enough to get status. That is how she put it, and it went viral on Facebook. I know that for sure.

In the case of this particular bill, we are dealing with the truth of the situation, and just this situation. What this comes down to is that the courts dictated to the government that it bring forward this legislation. The one thing it failed to take into consideration is whether individual bands are under the same rules as the Government of Canada. We like to talk about their nation-to-nation relationships, self-determination, and all kinds of things, but the fundamental question is whether bands are under the same requirements as the Government of Canada to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At committee, that is what Deborah said, that even if she were to get status, her band may not allow her membership. She said we need to ensure that, on the basis of her DNA evidence, she could get status and band membership. We are looking to the government for some sort of mechanism within Bill S-3, some sort of appeal process or due process, that individual band members can use to ensure that they get their status, if they are entitled to it, as well as band membership, if they are entitled to it.

This is the discussion the current government is not interested in having. The Liberals do not want to talk about it. In fact, the member for Bay of Quinte likes to talk more often about how we must give status to all first nations who are entitled to status. We must be careful that we do not annoy particular bands who want to limit their band lists. This is going to be the cut and thrust of this particular bill.

Deborah has been consistent in saying that Bill S-3 would not solve her problems, because it would not give her status and band membership. Therefore, she is continuing to call on the government to fix Bill S-3 so that she can get her status, and eventually her band membership. To some degree, the truth of the situation is what is most pertinent to this. She has DNA evidence that she is the daughter of Walter Twinn, a renowned chief from the Sawridge band, a former senator in fact. She has proof of that, and yet she is unable, through any system that we currently have, to get status, even though her father has status. She is also unable to get band membership, even though her father was the chief of the band for a very long time.

This is the truth of the situation, and yet we have no system whatsoever, including the changes that would be made by Bill S-3, of an appeals process in order to be able to say to the Government of Canada, “Please help me in my search for justice and help me to stand up to ensure that I get status and band membership without taking my band to court”. Deborah is a woman of very limited means. She does not have any high-priced lawyers at her disposal. She has only DNA evidence. She is unable to hire a lawyer to take this to court. She is prepared to take it to court, but she clearly does not have the funds to do that. Why can there not be a system of appeals, a system of due process, something that she can appeal to to ask why she cannot have status and band membership. That is what Deborah is looking for, in particular, when it comes to Bill S-3. That is what she said when she came to the committee, and we are looking for that too.

All of that said, one of the very interesting things about this is that the Liberal government continues to say that it will hold consultations, consultations, consultations. The Liberals say they will implement phase one of Bill S-3 and then consult on how to implement the other phases of the bill.

I just want to talk a bit about consultations. It very much seems that when the current government members want to delay something, when they want to postpone something, and when they want to push something off that they do not want to deal with, they say they are going to consult and get back on it. Someone who should be consulted on this would be Deborah, for example. She is perhaps an anomaly but still someone who would definitely be impacted by Bill S-3. Has she been consulted? No, there has been no contact whatsoever. She had to come to committee on her own accord. She had to reach out to me and ask to get to committee. That has been the only consultation she has had.

We can look to other examples as well. We see the imposition of a drilling moratorium in northern Canada without any consultation. When the government wants to do something, it can do something very quickly and it does not seem to really need to do a consultation about it. When Bill S-3 first came to committee, we had the very people who had taken the government to court to force the bill to come into place, and they said they were not even consulted and that the first time they saw the bill was the time we also first saw it. The first time they were consulted was when we asked them to come to committee to hear them.

I do not have any confidence that the current government knows how to manage anything. I will be supporting this particular bill from this point forward, but there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done, and I look forward to the Liberals doing something, although I am not confident they can manage this whatsoever.

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November 30th, 2017 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member asked if it is imperative that the government act. One of my great critiques of the Liberal government is that it says a lot of nice things. It says the most amazing things, has crafted the words and made it just right. It has the terms just right, including, for example, that we will have a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. However, that is the extent of it. It recites nice words, such as that it is going to put a tanker ban on the west coast. Those are nice words, but the desired result is never achieved by the government.

Another example is the marijuana legislation. The government is saying it will keep marijuana out of the hands of children, but is going to legalize it at the same time. Again, it says really nice things, reciting what it is going to do, but never achieving it. This is because it is incapable of managing anything. That is what this comes down to.

Canadians have given the Liberals the keys to the car of Canada, who are unable to figure out how to start it. They are unable to put gas in the tank and get it going. That is what this is all about. This particular bill, Bill S-3, comes right back to that. They say they are going to fix gender-based inequities in the Indian Act and come out with this piece of legislation that says really nice things, but it would not give Deborah in my riding any satisfaction whatsoever.

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November 30th, 2017 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

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

I am pleased to stand today on Bill S-3, and I would like to acknowledge first and foremost that I do so on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

The government has always been clear that it is committed to removing all sex-based discrimination from registration provisions of the Indian Act. With the government amendment, which was passed by the Senate, Bill S-3 would remove all sex-based inequities from the registration provisions of the act.

The government is also committed to doing this in a way that is the right way, and therefore it will be launching broad-based consultations next year on Indian Act registration and membership reform. This will include extensive consultations on identifying any unintended consequences of the 1951 cut-off amendment and working in partnership to develop solutions to eliminate or mitigate any concerns by first nation people.

While the balance of the bill would be brought into force immediately, the proposed clause regarding the 1951 cut-off would be brought into force after those consultations and once a comprehensive plan to address the identified issues is developed in partnership so that it can be implemented simultaneously.

Senator Christmas, a senator of Mi'kmaq heritage from Nova Scotia, summarized the issue during his speech in the other place on November 8. He said:

...throughout the consultation that is to occur, the government will need to be attendant to the voices of these communities. There will be a myriad of factors impacting the communities flowing from the numbers of those who will receive status dealing with issues going beyond the matter of gender.

I recall the last time efforts were made to address gender discrimination of the Indian Act in 1985. I can tell you with absolute certainty that my community experienced confusion, felt concern and had a great deal of questions about the process and its impacts, both short term and long term.

It’s a complicated matter for First Nation bands. It will take time, cooperation and assistance in enhancing capacity to make the significant transition both manageable and sustainable. Effective consultation in this regard is critical. The government needs to be certain it’s prepared to go before our First Nation band councils to explain this bill’s provisions to leadership, to band members and to those who will ultimately receive status as a consequence of the bill’s passage.

The government is absolutely committed to dealing with all sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act registration, including circumstances that date before 1951. By convention, a government does not put into any act or law any provision it does not intend in good faith to implement, and so, this amendment is a clear and unequivocal statement of the government's commitment to remove the 1951 cut-off. Consultations will be focused on identifying additional measures or resources required to do this right and working in partnership to develop a comprehensive plan, which can be implemented simultaneously.

Senator Sinclair, chair of the Indian residential school Truth and Reconciliation Commission, noted in his speech in the other place on November 8 that:

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.

He went on to say later in his speech:

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.

In a way, it enshrines both rights: the right to be consulted and, of course, their charter rights that one should not be discriminated against on the basis of gender.

Given the government's commitment to co-designing consultations with first nations, it will not accept the addition of a specific coming into force date to the proposed 1951 cut-off clause. It would be counterproductive to the nation-to-nation relationship.

Senator Christmas also said in the Senate on November 8:

For those who might suggest the lack of a firm date for coming-into-force provisions is a weakness or flaw in this undertaking, I would assert otherwise. The reporting-to-Parliament provisions in the bill more than adequately deal with this, in my mind.

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.

The bill contains numerous clauses holding the government accountable to Parliament regarding the implementation of this legislation.

Bill S-3 requires consultations on implementation of the clause in question, as well as broader Indian Act registration and membership reform, to commence within six months of royal assent. I understand these consultations are expected to commence early in 2018, and the co-design of these consultations with first nations is already under way.

Within five months of royal assent, the government is required to report to Parliament on the design of the consultations and how they are progressing, and provide a further update to Parliament within 12 months of royal assent.

There is also a three-year review clause in the bill. Parliament will have numerous enshrined opportunities to hold the government to account on its progress toward removing the 1951 cut-off.

In terms of how long consultations will take, the government will not prejudge the co-design process but is committed to working with its partners to move forward in an expeditious manner.

If we do not have legislation passed before December 22, which addresses the Descheneaux decision, the sections struck down by the court will be inoperative in Quebec. Based on the most recent extension decision of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, it is unlikely the courts will grant a further extension. The registrar has stated she would not be in a position to register people under provisions found to be non-charter compliant in Quebec, and would also not register individuals under those provisions in the rest of Canada. Ninety percent of status Indians are registered under the provisions struck down by the Descheneaux decision. We must not 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.

I urge members of the House to support Bill S-3. I am glad to hear that members of the opposition are in support of it in the form that was referred to the House by the Senate.

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November 30th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, there are two things that need to occur. As a Canadian society, we are trying to work toward reconciliation, but there are more profound conversations that need to happen among indigenous peoples about what type of nation we would like to have and what it would look like. I do not think we are very advanced in that. We are held up too much in our own constructs or prisons of mind that have been created for us surrounding the Indian Act.

There are too many first nation peoples in this country, and even Métis people, who only see themselves through the prism of the Indian Act. We need to take the time to adequately ask what should we actually be doing? Where do we wish to go and how are we going to get there? It is wonderful that people have extended that hand of nationhood and said they are willing to be partners with us, but we have to be able to grasp that hand.

At this time, we have not done that necessary work, though I do salute the work of the chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the native women's organizations, NWAC, as well as the Métis National Council, but we are not there yet. There is still work to be done concerning Bill S-3 about what constitutes an indigenous person. As for the Métis, will they now become indigenous under these consultations? These are profound conversations that must be had among first nations and Métis people about what that means. How are they going to work together, because we do not exist in isolation and should not exist opposed to each other?

Tapwe.

[French]

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November 30th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood.

I will attempt to build on some of the comments that my colleague just made in his question and answer period.

I think that anyone in this place would be hard pressed to argue that the Indian Act is anything other than deeply flawed. Passed in 1867, among its many flaws is that it is based upon archaic gender systems. Further, it could be argued that the act was, in its design, never meant to be anything more than a way to entrench paternalism and to assimilate first nations while simultaneously reducing the number of people who could claim status.

The Indian Act paternalistically lumped together a diverse population of people and forbade first nation people and communities from expressing their identities through governance and culture. Subsequent amendments to the act made things worse, not better, for first nations by more deeply entrenching colonial practices into law.

Amendments made in 1884 required first nation children to attend residential schools and made it illegal for first nation people to practise religious ceremonies, such as the potlatch. An amendment in 1914 outlawed dancing off-reserve, and in 1925, dancing was outlawed entirely. Amendments to the Act in 1927 made it illegal for first nations people and communities to hire lawyers or bring about land claims against the government without the government's consent.

Putting it mildly, these issues demonstrate a dark past in terms of the actions of legislators and Canadian officials against first nations people.

The 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated that “...Recognition as 'Indian' in Canadian law often had nothing to do with whether a person was actually of Indian ancestry.” Instead “status” was used as a tool of assimilation and cultural destruction. For example, a first nation person could lose status if he or she graduated university, became a Christian minister, or achieved professional designation as a doctor or lawyer.

In 1961, the government finally removed section 112, the so-called “compulsory enfranchisement” section, to end this and other assimilatory practices, but the damage had been done. For nearly a century, first nation people were given an impossible choice: try to live traditionally in spite of the outlawing of many cultural and religious practices, or attempt to interact with non-indigenous society and risk losing status. All of this is in addition to the patriarchal system that the Indian Act imposed.

The patriarchal system of the Indian Act is the crux of our debate today.

Bill S-3 was tabled in response to a Superior Court of Quebec decision, Descheneaux c. Canada and other clearly identified issues. The court found that several aspects of Indian registration under the Indian Act violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because there were differences between how status was passed down from first nation women compared to first nation men. These provisions were struck down by the courts, and Parliament was given a limited time to pass alternatives. The new deadline to pass legislative changes, after two extensions, is December 22, a date that is quickly approaching.

Aspects of the bill that directly respond to the Descheneaux decision should come into effect upon the bill receiving royal assent. Essentially, these amendments seek to remedy gender inequity in the Indian Act for those born after 1951.

The Liberal government added new amendments to Bill S-3 on November 7. Now embedded in the legislation is a consultation period to discern how to best remedy gender inequity for those born between 1869 and 1951. No date has yet been given of when these consultations will begin or when changes will come into force. There have been two court extensions and three different deadlines to get this passed. I note the court has indicated it has no interest in giving the Liberal government another extension. The clock has run out, and it is unfortunate to see that this was not properly planned to encompass consultations ahead of the passing of the legislation.

In a failed attempt to meet the original court-imposed deadline of February 3, the government engaged in very little consultation prior to tabling. In November 2016, members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs heard from numerous witnesses that consultation was inadequate, and that indigenous organizations had little time or opportunity to submit their reflections. Additionally, the plaintiffs were not even consulted or contacted in any way by the department or the minister's office. The litigant said that the first time he knew about the bill was when he was called to committee to testify.

Mr. Stéphane Descheneaux 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.”

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin said:

[They] 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.

This is problematic, and while I agree with the spirit of the bill and its attempts to correct its wrongs, Lord knows that across political stripes and different governments we have tried to correct wrongs. It is clear that the Liberal government needs to own up to the fact that its consultations with first nations on this legislation have been poorly planned. Furthermore, the Indigenous Bar Association testified that the bill was riddled with technical flaws and in no way would do what the title suggested to “eliminate all sex-based inequities in registration.”

After a great deal of pressure from opposition, senators, and indigenous organizations across the country, including the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the Liberals withdrew the legislation from consideration by the Senate aboriginal peoples committee, went back to the court to ask for an extension, and returned the bill to the drawing board. The bill we are debating today is the end result of this process. As I have noted with past examples, there is a real human cost to getting this wrong. That said, the legacy of getting this wrong would have future costs as well.

Lalana Paul, a consultant with the Native Council of Prince Edward Island, says that in the Indian Act, “You see so much sexual discrimination, it's appalling that it's still in there.”

Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the native Council of Prince Edward Island, said, “I have the right to live a traditional and cultural life that I should be able to pass on to my kids.”

Lynn Gehl, a 55-year-old writer whose grandmother belonged to a first nation, fought a 22-year-long legal battle and was finally able to win partial status. However, thanks to the Indian Act, she remained unable to pass her status down to her children. This meant that she was deprived of the chance to vote for her indigenous government and live on land reserves, as well as access to tax breaks and expanded health coverage that she would have otherwise been entitled to receive. She said, “I should be able to pass on my status but I can’t because of gender discrimination.”

Sharon McIvor said that because of the Indian Act, “Aboriginal women and their descendants have been separated from their families and communities, treated as less worthy, less human, less Indian, and not full members of their cultures and communities.”

These stories tell of the deep human impact on first nations of the choices that Canada's legislators make. Given the history of ongoing discrimination, it is imperative that we get this one right.

I know the government has made a commitment to restore relationships with first nations. I could read the list of accomplishments our previous government attempted to do in this regard. However, we need to do better. I have not spoken to this topic very often in the House of Commons, but it is the quiet meetings that I have in my office with chiefs, leaders, and members of first nations communities that really impart to me that all of us in this place need to have a different look at how we approach these relationships. When I look at the process on how the bill has gone back and forth and the consultation process going forward, it is concerning.

Again, I know my colleagues in my party have made it clear that we support the spirit of the bill, and I want to commend the work of my colleague who is the opposition critic in this area. It does build upon previous attempts to clarify and remedy some of the wrongs in this regard. However, I would implore the government members to be clear on what this consultation process means. They need to be transparent with affected members of first nations communities so we can get this relationship thing right.

I want to acknowledge the comments of my colleague from Winnipeg. We are going somewhere. I would like to be going in the right direction. I encourage all members of the House that perhaps we can do a bit better than this.

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November 30th, 2017 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, recognizing that Bill S-3 before us does nothing to remedy gender equality rights for the indigenous women, Sharon McIvor, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, and Lynn Gehl, collectively, have been fighting this in court for 40 years, as has Chief O'Bomsawin, elected to represent the members of the Descheneaux case. They all oppose this.

Next week Sharon McIvor is going to Washington to address the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to testify that the time delay in the government's version of Bill S-3, the time delay for the elimination of discrimination against indigenous women, returns us to what we debated on June 21.

This is a flawed bill. I would like to hear my colleague's views on that.

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November 30th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, here we are again, at the 11th hour, attempting to send Bill S-3 back to the Senate for royal assent prior the December 22, 2017, deadline. I guess we would call this “flying by the seat of our pants” legislation. There is a court-imposed deadline, so the government is going to get it done regardless. We have talked about that in the House most of the day.

Bill S-3 was tabled in response to a Superior Court of Quebec decision, Descheneaux v. Canada, in 2015, and other clearly identified issues. The court found that several aspects of Indian registration under the Indian Act violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because there were differences between how status was passed down from first nation women compared to first nation men. These provisions were struck down, and Parliament was given a limited time to pass an alternative. The new deadline to pass legislative changes, after two extensions, is next month, on December 22. The court has indicated that it has no interest at all, which we have talked about, in giving the Liberal government a third extension.

When Bill S-3 was first brought to the Senate about a year ago, in fact exactly a year ago this month, the government sought to remedy the situation by bringing it back to 1951. However, several independent senators proposed adding what is known as the “6(1)(a) all the way” approach. This amendment would have all Indians registered as 6(1)(a), with equal rights and entitlements regardless of matrilineal or patrilineal descendants, back to 1869. The government, though, rejected those proposals.

After rejecting them on June 21 this year, the Liberal government undertook behind-the-scenes consultations with senators over the summer months to seek consensus around an alternate proposal. The resulting proposed changes were tabled in the Senate earlier this month, on November 7, and would come into force in two stages. The first one we have talked about. The aspects of the bill passed by the House of Commons in June would come into effect by the court-imposed deadline of December 22. Second, newly added clauses, which would extend the proposed remedies for sex-based inequities in the Indian Act back to 1869, would not be enforced until after a consultation process with indigenous peoples on how to proceed. That is the million-dollar question. No date has been given as to when the process would begin or even conclude.

We have talked a lot about this bill, but let us talk about what the previous Conservative government did. It had a long history of supporting gender equity for first nation women. The Conservative government introduced the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act in 2013, which offers a balanced and effective solution to a long-standing injustice and legislative gap that affects people living on reserve, particularly women and children. As a result, many of the legal rights and remedies relating to matrimonial interests in the family home that are available off reserve, in the context of a relationship breakdown, death of a spouse or common-law partner, or family violence, are now available to individuals living on reserve.

The former Conservative government also reintroduced legislation to guarantee to people living on reserve the same protections that other Canadians enjoy under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which came into law on June 18, 2008. It also passed Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, in 2010, in response to McIvor v. Canada in 2009. Bill C-3 allowed for the eligible grandchildren, or women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men, to be entitled to registration if they or their siblings were born on or after September 4, 1951.

It should be noted that the Liberals, including the current Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, actually voted against the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act from 2013, which was introduced and passed by the former Conservative government. It should also be noted that the legislation that made the Canadian Human Rights Act apply on reserves was tabled by the Conservatives, and then all parties worked together to pass the legislation.

Essentially, prior to Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act of 2010, and the proposed changes in Bill S-3, Indian status was passed down to the next generation from the father but not through the mother. Therefore, if a first nation male had children with a non-first-nation female, his status would be passed down, but not vice versa. That is what we are talking about here today in the House.

I had a call this week from a friend in Saskatchewan. He is from the Cree first nation. He is unequivocally in favour of Bill S-3. He has a status Indian niece who is married to man from Honduras. Not long ago, they celebrated the birth of their first child. My friend said that he is the cutest little Honduran Indian anyone has ever seen. Perhaps with the passage of Bill S-3, that description should change and he would be the cutest little Indian Honduran anyone has ever seen. Would that not be nice? I think that is what we are headed for after December 22.

My friend also had a very good idea that he passed along to me earlier this week. It is regarding the “ 6(1)(a) all the way” approach back to 1869. He suggested giving non-status indigenous people up to 10 years to get their geneology sorted out. That seems like a long time. However, it could be a gradual process. Some people will have their family trees available now, while others will have to dig around and find the right roots and the proof. I think this is a pretty excellent idea he came up with. It would also give the department an opportunity to work through these changes and prepare for the financial implications they would entail.

At this point, it is unknown exactly how many Canadians would become eligible, or would even apply to register, and what the financial implications would be for the Canadian taxpayer. We have no idea whatsoever. It could be 200,000. It could be 400,000. It depends how far back people go in the tree. We need some time to figure this out. I do not know if it would have any implications for roughly one-half of my province's indigenous population.

We, the official opposition, as we have stated all day in the House, support Bill S-3 at second and third readings, because it contains several necessary changes to the Indian Act toward greater gender equality and is the next step beyond the amendments made by the former Conservative government with Bill C-3, back in 2010.

What I do not agree with is this “flying by the seat of their pants” method of legislating by the government. It has had more than enough time to table a good, clean piece of legislation that everyone could get on board with and get passed. Instead, it chose a path it knew would encounter resistance and delays, especially in the Senate.

I do not believe we can please all of the people all of the time, but we as legislators have an obligation to please as many Canadians as possible all of the time. That is our duty, and it really should not be muddied. However, we are going to support Bill S-3. I want to say, on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan, they are excited about the bill and are hoping it passes, and then we can move forward as of December 22.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, yes, we have debated this in the House now for a little more than a day. It is good to get this legislation moving. We have talked about it here in the House. We sent it to the Senate. It had to deal with it, and many of the independents did not like the first look at it. Now we are bringing it back here.

We have to move forward. Time is of the essence. We are talking about 1951 onward. Many family trees do not exist before 1951. We know that. There is documentation needed on reserves in the provinces and territories in this country. However, it is a good start that we are moving forward on Bill S-3 now.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
See context

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.”.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 21st, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

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.
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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.

Motions in AmendmentIndian ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill S-3 because it is a very important bill and one that, with these amendments and changes, will foster tremendous progress for many indigenous people in Canada. It is an act to amend the Indian Act, and it focuses on the elimination of sex-based inequities in registration. This is something that has been ongoing for many years. Both the current Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the current Minister of Justice have fought very hard over the years to ensure that sex-based inequities in registration would be eliminated. Today, we are bringing forward amendments that would allow that to happen. They have also both said they remain committed to ensuring we correct all discrimination contained within the Indian Act. That will be done in a stage-two process.

Members are asking today that several amendments be added. We need to understand that the bill today is about removing the discriminatory aspects that are related to sex-based discrimination and that the amendments that are currently being proposed by the members are outside the scope of the intended bill. It is important to note that, as a government, we recognize that changes within the Indian Act need to go much further than where this legislation is bringing us today. We have said that time and again. The government and the minister have committed very clearly, both in the House of Commons and in committee, that they would have a stage-two process to deal with those discriminatory pieces that have to be removed from the act.

They also said that charter compliance will be the floor of that stage-two process, and not the ceiling. In other words, the government has been clear that consensus will not be a prerequisite for action, but in the absence of consensus, it is more important that decisions are based on the foundation of meaningful consultation and credible evidence about the potential impacts of reform.

We are here today with Bill S-3 because of the Descheneaux decision. It was a case filed by the Descheneaux family, in which the court put upon the government several conditions for change that had to occur within the Indian Act. The former government was appealing those decisions. Our government said we would not appeal those decisions of the court because we need to correct those discriminatory clauses within the bill. We were the first government in the seven-year process that has been going on that has stepped up and said we are going to remove it. We are prepared to act on it. We will meet the conditions of the Descheneaux ruling. That is what we are doing today with Bill S-3.

Members opposite asked why the government does not go to the judge and ask for an extension. We did go and ask for an extension, and we were granted an extension, one that allowed us to look at other aspects of the bill, consult with a number of people, and further define within the scope of the ruling some of the changes that needed to be made. We were happy to do that. We know the other groups went to the judge and asked for a further extension, and today, although there was a caveat in the decision, I understand the judge denied that extension.

We are in the House today debating Bill S-3. It is a bill that would help us progress a step further in ending sex-based discrimination against indigenous women who are registering with the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and registering for benefits. This bill alone would allow 35,000 more indigenous people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

For the last two years, they have been waiting to access the benefits and the services they are entitled to as indigenous people in Canada, but have not been able to because we have not defined those changes in law.

Today, we are making those changes in law. We are allowing the entitlements and benefits for these thousands of indigenous people who have been neglected for a very long time. Many of them have been waiting for years. As we know, the Descheneaux decision went on in the courts for many years and was fought by the Harper government. It would not accept any changes within the Indian Act as it was relative to discrimination.

When this bill went to the Senate, some amendments were proposed. Those amendments were struck down at the committee stage of the House of Commons. Despite supporting a number of the amendments proposed by the Senate, the government made it clear that it could not support one amendment that was put forward by Senator McPhedran and accepted by the committee. The intent of Senator McPhedran's amendment to clause one of Bill S-3 was to implement the approach commonly referred to as “6(1)(a) all the way”.

While there is no question that this amendment was put forward with the best of intentions, and I know it was, the way this clause is drafted creates ambiguity as to whether it will do what it apparently intends to do.

When the bar association testified before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and I was at committee that day, its representative cautioned against simply inserting that proposed amendment in its current form into the legislation. In fact, the members of the Indigenous Bar Association who testified went on to say, “You run into technical problems with the language by simply inserting that into a bill because you run the risk of inconsistencies or some unintended consequences with that.”

If the clause is interpreted in a way to implement the “6(1)(a) all the way” approach, then it could potentially extend status to a broad range of individuals impacted by a wide range of alleged inequities, well beyond those that are sex-based. That approach seeks to address non-sex based issues, of which we realize some need to be addressed, but it is well outside of the scope of what Bill S-3 is intended to do.

The approach was explicitly rejected by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the McIvor decision, where it was clear that under the current state of law, this remedy was not required to make the Indian Act registration provisions charter compliant. That is very important to note in this debate.

The Supreme Court of Canada refused leave to appeal, but this does not mean the government will not consider this as a potential approach in the context of a policy decision to address the broader registration and membership reform. When the minister testified before the Senate committee, she said:

I think it could be 6(1)(a) all the way. But we don’t have enough information to make that decision, the scholarly approach that it would take to look at the impacts and make sure that it didn’t impact others accidentally in a different way.

Our government is taking a responsible approach. We have agreed to go through a stage two approach. We do not currently have all the demographic information to understand the practical implications of such a decision at this time, but it is our job to ensure we do. We know what we are doing today is going to have profound and positive impacts on indigenous communities across Canada and many people. We also know our commitment to stage two will also have very profound and positive impacts for indigenous people.

The amendments proposed today are outside the scope of the government's agenda and its intention. We ask all members to support the bill as it is and support the direction of the government to bring justice to indigenous people.

Motions in AmendmentIndian ActGovernment Orders

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

Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Madam Speaker, I have been a member of the House since 2014. In that time as MP, I have seen two different governments and served on three different committees. In all that time, I have never seen a bill studied and pre-studied as many times as Bill S-3. I am not sure how the government will handle phase two, considering how Bill S-3 is turning out.

Many Canadians believe the Indian Act is a good document, meant to help the indigenous people of our country. What they do not realize is how destructive, toxic, and racist this document truly is.

The Indian Act is present in the everyday lives of most indigenous Canadians, often governing their education, health care, and every service that really matters to average Canadians. With this power, the government could do a lot of good across our nation for most vulnerable people in our society. Despite the potential and outstanding recommendations of indigenous communities across the country, I have rarely heard anything good about Bill S-3 without the amendments.

When I joined the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, I was joined by many new members of Parliament. Many of these members came from backgrounds and regions where indigenous knowledge was not as common. To fill the gap, the committee heard from experts across the country.

The Indian Act controls all aspects of aboriginal lives, with limitations on social, traditional, and economic activities. I can say with confidence that the majority of indigenous people across the country want either major revisions to the Indian Act or want it scrapped entirely so we can build a new solution from the ground up, with thorough consultations along the way.

When I joined the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, it was my hope that I would have the ability to right some of the wrongs the Indian Act created. Bill S-3 seemed like an opportunity to do that when our committee began studying the issues almost a year ago

. When the committee began studying Bill S-3, it was clear that the government was in a rush. It had to meet a looming February 3 deadline, imposed by the Superior Court of Quebec after the government lost the Descheneaux v. Canada case. The case revolved around Indian Act discrimination against women.

What many people do not know is that the Indian Act does not categorize all aboriginals the same way. The government registry differentiates between status Indians, by categorizing them as either 6(1) or 6(2). Before 1985, people could lose their status when they married, depending on gender. Even with the changes, there were outstanding issues. This creates a situation where some cousins would have status while others did not, even though each person had one status parent and one non-status parent.

Descheneaux v. Canada arose because even with the changes in 1985, the Indian Act still robbed people of status due to sex discrimination before 1985. In the Stéphane Descheneaux case, his grandmother had lost her status by marrying a non-indigenous man in 1935 and because his mother was not status, he was not a status Indian either. If we replaced his grandmother with a grandfather, Mr. Descheneaux would be a status Indian today.

Descheneaux v. Canada also brought up the case of Susan and Tammy Yantha, which the Calgary law blog outlined as an issue created by “The version of the Indian Act in force in 1954 held that illegitimate daughters of Status Indian men and non-Status Indian women would not have Status, while illegitimate sons would have 6(1) Status.”

It was clear to the Superior Court of Quebec that changing the sex of someone in both these stories to male would mean they would have a very different relationship with Indigenous and Northern Affairs because they would be status Indian and fully entitled to the benefits that had been withheld from them.

Therefore, this was a violation of section 15 of the charter, which states:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The Indian Act is still enforcing discrimination based on sex, which is unconstitutional. Imagine if this rule were applied to being a Canadian citizen. I can assure that this would be resolved quickly. We would not need pre-study after pre-study. We would get it done immediately.

When the committee met first with Indigenous and Northern Affairs officials, the officials described the case and what the bill addressed: differential treatment of first cousins whose grandmother lost status due to marriage to a non-Indian when the marriage occurred before April 17, 1985; differential treatment of women who were born out of wedlock of Indian fathers between September 4, 1951, and April 17,1985; and differential treatment of minor children compared to their adult or married siblings who were born of Indian parents or of an Indian mother but lost entitlement to Indian status because their mother married a non-Indian after their birth between September 4, 1951, and April 17, 1985.

The assistant deputy minister of the resolution and individual affairs sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said that this was just one part of a two-phase process that would take up to 18 months to complete. She also said that the court deadline did “not allow for sufficient time to conduct meaningful consultations”. Even though the department had not entered into meaningful consultations, the deputy minister, when asked if the bill actually did what it claimed to do—eliminate sex-based inequities in registration—said that she was confident.

The next witness was Stéphane Descheneaux, the plaintiff in the case. Right off the bat, he made it clear that he had first heard of the bill only two weeks before appearing at committee. In that short amount of time, he and others had already identified apparent flaws in the legislation.

I have heard the government lecture about consulting for hours. The Prime Minister has shaken many hands and signed a variety of documents with indigenous people across the country. He often followed up these events by repeating that he is focused on a nation-to-nation relationship and consulting. Bill S-3, to me, is an example of a bill that indigenous people should have been part of during its drafting. If the government had spent—

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2017 / 6:30 p.m.
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Conservative

David Yurdiga Conservative Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be as thorough as possible in my remaining three minutes.

To me, Bill S-3 is the best example of a bill indigenous people should have been part of when drafting. If the government had spent some time consulting Stéphane Descheneaux and others, while spending less time repeating talking points, it could have fixed this mess months and months ago. Instead, the government waited until it received an extension to its court mandate deadline to get to work.

The department did much better this time around. It spent less time talking about what it was going to do and more time listening. Many indigenous groups were happy to show all the problems with Bill S-3 and how it can be fixed.

While Bill S-3 can no longer claim to fix all gender-based discrimination when amended, it is a good starting point for phase two.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2017 / 6:45 p.m.
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NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the Liberal government was in opposition, it proposed the very same amendment to the Conservative government that, now that it is the government, it rejects. This has been on the Liberal party's agenda and radar for a very long time. When they formed government, they would have been briefed on this. They have had 18 months to ask indigenous women whether the new legislation proposed in S-3 was adequate. Twice, the Senate told the government it was, because the Senate actually talked to indigenous women when the government failed to.

The message we are getting loud and clear from every native women's organization is that they want the Senate version of the bill passed. It is the perfect undertaking. That is what we are urging this government to do now. If the Liberals really are so surprised about the same amendment they proposed in 2010, and that the Minister of Justice advanced when she was an elected chief at the highest levels in British Columbia, imploring this Parliament to take the very same action she now opposes, which is stunning to me, then the government should ask for an extension, because it did not. In fact, the court ruling this morning said that the judge was unwilling to get in a battle between the Senate and Parliament unless the government itself was going to invite it in and leave the door open. The government has failed to ask for that extension. It has no credibility.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

June 20th, 2017 / 10:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith already knows, today we debated Bill S-3 in the House, which would make changes to the Indian Act with respect to sex-based discrimination. We are encouraging members to support those amendments, and we are hopeful that they will, as Bill S-3 goes through the House.

As well, the government, under the direction of the minister, has said it will enter into a phase-two process to review other gender imbalances and discriminatory clauses that exist within the Indian Act and to make those changes.

I also want to ensure the member this evening that the Government of Canada continues to support the commission on missing and murdered indigenous women to the extent possible within the law. We are committed to bringing an end to the cycle of violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada. We are not waiting for the recommendations of the inquiry to act; we are already—

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 7:30 p.m.
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Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

moved that Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, acknowledging that we come together on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, I stand here to speak to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration).

On August 3, 2015, the Superior Court of Quebec, in its decision in the Descheneaux case, ruled that key registration provisions of the Indian Act unjustifiably violate equality rights under section 15 of the charter, and declared them of no force and effect.

The court suspended its decision for a period of 18 months until February 3, 2017, to allow Parliament time to make the necessary legislative changes. That decision was appealed before the court before the current government took office, but that appeal was withdrawn by this government in February of 2016.

Bill S-3 is the first stage of the government's two-staged response to the Descheneaux decision, and needed broader reform of registration and membership provisions within the Indian Act.

I will take this opportunity to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for its thorough and invaluable work under tight court mandated deadlines. I also want to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for their understanding regarding the urgency surrounding this bill and for their work during pre-study of Bill S-3.

In keeping with the recommendations of the standing Senate committee, on January 20, 2017, the government sought and was granted a five-month extension of the court's ruling to permit more time to consider Bill S-3. Through the additional time provided by this extension, and the diligent work of the Senate committee, there have been numerous improvements made to the original version of Bill S-3, which have been welcomed and supported by the government.

The bill now proactively addresses further groups impacted by sex-based inequities which were identified by the Indigenous Bar Association. The recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the Gehl case has also allowed the government to address the issue of unstated paternity by enshrining additional procedural protections in law through this bill.

In addition, I acknowledge the understandable skepticism of first nations and parliamentarians about whether the second stage of registration and membership reform would actually lead to meaningful change. That is why the government proposed a series of amendments to report back to Parliament on a number of occasions and in a number of ways to update members and all Canadians on the progress toward broader reform. Three separate reports to Parliament are now in this legislation to hold the government to account regarding the second stage process, focused on broader reform of registration and membership provisions in the Indian Act.

The bill now would require the government to launch the collaborative stage II consultation process on issues within six months of the royal assent of Bill S-3. The bill would also require that as part of that process, the government consider the impact of the charter and, if applicable, the Canadian Human Rights Act. The requirements for the government to report to Parliament on the design of the collaborative consultation process within five months of the royal assent of Bill S-3, and to report to Parliament on the progress of that process within 12 months of the launch of those consultations are also included in the legislation.

The second report must also include details regarding the 1951 cut-off, the second generation cut-off, the categories for Indian registration, enfranchisement, adoption, and unstated/unknown parentage.

The bill also includes a three-year review clause regarding the amendments to section 6 of the act enacted by Bill S-3. The objective of this review is to determine whether all sex-based inequities have been eliminated. The bill also includes a declaration by the government regarding recommended amendments to the Indian Act.

I am committing, on behalf of the government and personally, to co-designing a process with first nations including communities, impacted individuals, organizations, and experts to deliver substantive registration reforms, including potential future legislative changes.

I have spent decades working on the issue of meaningful consultation, and finding ways to ensure that consultation incorporates voices beyond the usual suspects and provides participants with sufficient resources to engage. I can assure members and all Canadians of the government's absolute commitment that this will be a process where the voices of the full range of impacted people will be represented at the table, and which will incorporate a human rights lens.

In stage II, charter compliance will be the floor, not the ceiling, and there may very well be areas of needed reform where no consensus is achieved. The government has made it clear that consensus will not be a prerequisite for action.

However, if the government is to act in the absence of consensus, it only increases the necessity for decisions to be based on a foundation of meaningful consultation, and credible evidence about the potential impacts of reform. We must develop reforms which can be implemented in a way that ensures we have integrity in the system. Balancing the needed time to engage impacted people, through the parliamentary process, has allowed for only two truncated three-month engagement periods, even with the extension granted by the court.

There was not enough time to hold significant consultations on reforming Indian registration and band membership under the Indian Act.

Because of the tight court mandated deadline, the opportunity for consultations was limited, and I think it is important to talk about the intended scope of Bill S-3.

The goal of Bill S-3 is to remedy known sex-based inequities relating to registration in the Indian Act, which fall short of charter compliance based on the current state of the law. This is not restricted to situations where a court has already ruled, but extends to situations where the courts have yet to rule, and where we believe a sex-based charter breach would be found.

However, the government has been clear that in circumstances where the courts have ruled policies to be charter compliant, or where situations are more complex than purely alleged sex-based inequities, government action must be based upon meaningful consultation.

These issues have to be addressed during the second phase of the reform of registration and band membership under the Indian Act. It is important to note that this second phase will be a collaborative process.

The government must develop and initiate consultations on the broader reform within six months after the passage of Bill S-3, as stated in the bill.

Despite supporting numerous amendments proposed and adopted by the standing committee, the government has made it clear that it cannot support one amendment put forward by Senator McPhedran and accepted by the Senate. The intention of Senator McPhedran's amendment is to provide entitlement for Indian registration to all direct descendants born prior to April 17, 1985, of individuals entitled to status under previous Indian acts, including those who lost that status for whatever reason. In simple terms, this clause seeks to implement the approach commonly referred to as “6(1)(a) all the way”.

Although the simplicity of this approach may seem appealing, I would ask all members to consider this position cautiously. While I believe the amendment was put forward with the best of intentions, the way the clause is drafted creates ambiguity as to whether or not it would do what it is apparently intended to do. This ambiguity was highlighted by Senator Sinclair during clause-by-clause at the Senate committee, and by the Indigenous Bar Association at the House committee.

In fact, Drew Lafond of the IBA testified about the wording of the clause, noting, “We cautioned against simply inserting that in its current form...You run into technical problems with the language by simply inserting that into a bill because you run the risk of there being inconsistencies or some unintended consequences with that.

If this clause is interpreted in a way to implement the “6(1)(a) all the way” approach, then it could potentially extend status to a broad range of individuals impacted by a wide range of alleged inequities. This clause would go well beyond the intended scope of Bill S-3, dealing with significant non sex-based registration issues, including enfranchisement, adoption, date of birth, and others. In fact, the amendment seeks to implement the precise remedy explicitly rejected by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the McIvor decision, where it was clear that this remedy is not required to make the provisions charter compliant.

The Supreme Court of Canada then refused leave to appeal that decision. This does not mean the government will not consider this as a potential approach in the context of a policy decision to address broader registration and membership reform. The government is open to considering this approach through stage II, and may be where it ends up, but we have not adequately consulted with those who could be impacted, and we do not currently have the demographic information to understand the practical implications of implementing such an approach.

While arguing in the Senate committee for the need for further engagement on this clause, Senator Sinclair made that point noting: “The question becomes what impact will that have upon First Nation government. That is not a question we have the answer to...”

While the government is initiating that work now, preliminary estimates are not based on reliable data, and contain huge ranges of potentially newly entitled individuals, from 80,000 to two million. Highlighting these numbers is not to suggest either end of the spectrum is what the likely impact would be, but to note the huge range of current estimates and the need for better data.

In addition to the current lack of understanding of the practical implications of such an approach, it seems obvious that the necessary consultations were not held.

Many communities expressed concerns that this approach could have serious repercussions for them.

Communities could find themselves with huge numbers of new members with little or no connection to their community and without meaningful prior consultation. I want to understand the perspectives and concerns of vast numbers of potentially impacted people who have not yet been asked their opinion on the “6(1)(a) all the way” clause.

I want to be clear that I stand in solidarity with the indigenous women who have been fighting on all of these issues for decades. I hear their pain, the hurt of receiving a letter in which they were told that their marriage made them a white woman.

Whether courts have determined these remaining issues as charter issues or not, I want to be part of fixing these ongoing problems. I want to know from the people who have been advocating and studying these issues for a very long time whether this approach is the one we should take and if so, whether this clause is the best way to implement that approach.

We must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past where, even sometimes with admirable intentions, policies are implemented absent proper consultation or evidence and result in dire, unintended consequences. I want to work with communities, impacted individuals, and experts to ensure that we finally get this right. The concerns expressed by many about the drafting of this specific clause show how easy it is to get this wrong if it is rushed.

As many members already know, the deadline for passing this bill is July 3rd.

If we do not have legislation passed that addresses the Descheneaux decision before July 3, the section struck down by the court will be inoperative in Quebec. The practical implication would be that these provisions will 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 under the provisions struck down by the Descheneaux decision. These applicants would then be unable to access benefits that come with registration and membership. In addition to up to 35,000 individuals waiting for their rights to be granted through Bill S-3, we cannot lose sight of the thousands of individuals who would not be able to register if the court deadline passes and the provisions noted above become inoperable.

I urge all members to act responsibly and to take into account the urgency with which we must act to pass this bill.

I ask all members to send the bill to committee swiftly so that it can be amended and sent back to the Senate in a form that delivers on the rights of 35,000 people now, and allows the government to begin the broader reform in a way that respects our duty to consult, international documents such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the need to get this right through the stage II process.

If this clause is interpreted in a way that implements the “6(1)(a) all the way” approach, then it could potentially extend status to a broad range of individuals impacted by a wide range of alleged inequities. This clause would go well beyond the intended scope of Bill S-3, dealing with significant non-sex based registration issues, including enfranchisement, adoption, date of birth, and others. In fact, the amendment seeks to implement the precise remedy explicitly rejected by the B.C. Court of Appeal in the McIvor decision where it was clear that this remedy was not charter compliant.

I ask again that the House send the bill to committee now so that we can amend it. Then we can begin this very important work of stage II where we can get rid of all the inequities in the Indian Act, once and for all, and finally get this right.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 7:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-3, an act to amend the Indian Act, elimination of sex-based inequities in registration. Right off, I should acknowledge that perhaps the title is in error. I am not totally convinced that everything in the bill performs that function.

I want to make a special note. The court decision was a long time ago. We have a deadline of July 3, and this is the first hour of debate in the House. We know this sitting is coming to an end, we have a court deadline, and, to be frank, the opportunity to give this very important matter the due diligence it deserves is lacking. We have less than a month to ensure the bill responds to the Descheneaux decision.

I will put a personal face to this. I want to share my story with Canadians. Many Canadians may not understand the very complicated issue of registration and membership. I beg the indulgence of the House to go back into my history.

I grew up in an urban community, graduated as a registered nurse, and was asked to go to a semi-remote first nations community to be its nurse. That was in 1983. It was quite a large community, an interior Salish community, and I had an opportunity to work in it.

One day a community a health representative told me that everyone wanted me to visit one of the elders. I was not supposed to visit her because she did not have status anymore because the government had said so. I will call her Margaret as I do not want to share her real name.

Margaret was 80-plus years old. When she was young, she had fallen in love with someone who lived in a nearby community, married him, and her husband was tragically killed. Not only did she lose her status as an Indian, but she lost her husband and was left in complete limbo. In this case, the community welcomed her home, but that was not always the case. The people brought her back to their community and provided her with housing. This elder spoke the language beautifully, she wove beautiful baskets, and was an incredible person and support. She was very respected and looked up to, but she always had the issue of not being part of the community because of her decision to marry someone from another community.

It was not just her feeling of not being part of the community. I was told that although I should not visit her because she was not officially part of the community, they really wanted me to she her. In their hearts, everyone knew she was part of them and their community. Her benefits, her ability to get medication, to travel were affected by her status. She had health issues and at times would have to go to a larger centre. She was excluded from those simple measures. At the time, it seemed terribly unfair that this well-respected elder was stripped of her status.

For people to understand, it takes a bit of a history lesson.

I am going quote a Canadian lawyer, Alison Gray, who talked about the changes over time. She said, “Throughout the history of the Indian Act, the provisions governing entitlement to and transmission of Indian status have favoured men and discriminated against indigenous women.” That goes back to 1869.

She goes on to say:

Beginning in 1869, indigenous women who married non-indigenous men lost their status and entitlement to all benefits of status, including the ability to pass status on to their children. However, if an indigenous man married a non-indigenous woman, he not only preserved his status but he was able to confer that status on his spouse and children.

Some changes came along in 1951 called the “Double Mother rule”. I will not get into the details of that because this becomes a technical and complicated issue as we made the changes and made things more and more complex.

She continues:

In 1985, Parliament amended the registration provisions in the act to ensure compliance with s. 15 of the Charter. The intent was to remove restrictions relating to marriage and remove any sex-based discrimination. However, the result was to create a two-tiered system of status that continued to unfairly discriminate against indigenous women and their descendants.

This continued discrimination was first successfully challenged in McIvor, which resulted in amendments to the act in 2010. However, the 2010 amendments did not eliminate all the sex-based discrimination in registration, which led to the successful challenge in Descheneaux.

Both McIvor and Descheneaux involved challenges to the two-tiered status set out in s. 6. Despite being enacted for the express purpose of eliminating sex-based discrimination, s. 6 continued to discriminate against indigenous women and their descendants by limiting their ability to pass on Indian status, as compared to indigenous men and their descendants.

Almost concurrently with Descheneaux was a case the Gehl challenge. She says:

In Gehl, the challenge involves the registration provision and the government’s Proof of Paternity Policy, which sets out the evidentiary requirements for proving a child’s paternity. The claim is that the act and the policy impose a burden on registered indigenous women only, and also prevent many from passing on their Indian status to their children and grandchildren.

Of importance to this case is the two-tiered status...is available to those with two parents entitled to be registered and allows Indian status to be passed on to their children regardless of the status of the other parent. Where only one parent is entitled to be registered, a lesser form of status is granted...

I bet that most members and anyone listening to this debate are confused. We get into sections 6(1), 6(2). We have created a complexity that is a real challenge.

We have one earlier court case and the Descheneaux case. After Bill S-3 was introduced, we finally had a response to that case. I do not think anyone would argue it was a paternal system that predated 1985. An attempt was made by the government to create a system that was fairer, but it was maintained as discriminatory legislation.

Bill S-3 is the government's response. I am going to talk about the process of the response. I have some real concerns and I will take it back to my own riding where I have a number of communities.

July 29, 2016, the chief in Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc received a letter from the minister in which she said she would start an engagement process with first nations and other indigenous groups across the country. It would take place in the late summer, early fall. It would consist of information-sharing and looking at a path forward.

This is critical to communities across the country. When they get a letter from the minister, knowing they have a court decision and something that is as significant as looking at the registration process, they are very interested and want to be involved. This was supposed to happen late summer.

In August, we wrote the minister's office, stating that a local band wanted to participate in the engagement process, asking where and when the meetings would take place. We did not get a response.

In September, we followed up. The Kamloops Indian Band had reached out to us again regarding the letter it received back in July. It was eager to be part of the minister's proposed meetings, but it was very worried that it had missed them. It thought that it was too late and that it had missed something critical.

Finally, on September 20, the minister's office emailed us to say that INAC had reached out to the band, but there were no details. Less than a month later, members of the band could travel to a meeting in Vancouver to tell the government what they thought. It might have been an hour or so long. Then the actual legislation was tabled October 25.

That is one community. If we look at the hundreds of bands across the country and if they feel the same frustration on such an important matter that impacts registration and members, imagine how concerned they would be.

The legislation was tabled in the Senate. In the House, we were encouragement to do a pre-study so we could move forward and meet the court deadline. During our pre-study, department officials were specifically asked if the bill would eliminate all known sex-based inequities. I asked the officials if they were confident the bill would do that. The official said, “In terms of your specific question for sex-based discrimination, yes, this bill is addressing everything that is wrong.” This was back in December.

We were told by the officials that the bill would take care of the issues, as the title states. Clearly, what happened was the Senate continued its study and things started to go astray.

Department officials appeared first. Then we heard from the litigants who told us they had not been contacted by the department on Bill S-3. Again, despite lofty promises about the need to improve the relationship with indigenous people, there was clearly an inadequate consultation with those most directly impacted.

We were absolutely stunned when Mr. Descheneaux indicated that he had not had any contact, and it was his case that had been brought forward.

Essentially, flaws were noted. With respect to consultation, it became apparent that the bill did not eliminate all known sex-based inequities. It was taken back to the drawing board, and it was put in abeyance at committee. Then it was brought back to the Senate.

In the meantime, we now have a new deadline, and that is July 3. A number of amendments were put forward.

What would the bill do? It is complicated and technical. We have had diagram after diagram to try to understand it.

Apparently, we are dealing with inequities with a cousin issue, a sibling issue, omitted or removed minors issue, children born out of wedlock, the great-grandchildren pre-1985, the great-grandchildren pre-1985 affected by sibling loss, the issue of great-grandchildren born pre-1985 whose great-grandmother parented out of wedlock phase two. We can clearly see there are a number of things done. We fixed a bunch of the problems. There were some fixed in the original bill. Clearly, it did not fix everything. There were some more fixes made in the reintroduction, and we now have the issue the minister referred to as 6(1)(a) all the way.

There is not time to even understand paragraph 6(1)(a). It was something the Liberals proposed way back with the McIvor case when they were in opposition. Clearly, at one point they thought 6(1)(a) all the way was a very adequate solution, but now they believe it is an inadequate solution. From everything we are understanding, this was perhaps a hastily developed amendment that an opposition put forward. Then the senator put it forward. They put some language around it, but from what we can see, it is almost identical.

We now have concerns by the minister about 6(1)(a) all in. We have the Indigenous Bar Association with concerns. Senator Sinclair originally had concerns, but then he voted for it when it went to report stage and third reading. We have groups advocating for this being the final solution and a committee that does not have any more time to really understand what 6(1)(a) all in would do and what it means, because it has been left so late. Is it going to solve the problems?

To be frank, we are hearing very conflicting testimony, and because the Liberals have left it for so long, we do not have the ability to actually do due diligence, which is what a committee should really do. There are no more sessions planned for the committee to look at this legislation to understand the impact of the 6(1)(a) all in.

In summary, what we have before us with Bill S-3 is certainly a fix for many of the problems. We have an incredibly botched process from start to now, and we have a problem with a Superior Court deadline that may or may not have any flexibility. Therefore, on this side of the House we are mostly incredibly disappointed that we did not have adequate time to do important due diligence to an incredibly important piece of legislation.

I go back to my original comment, my personal story that these decisions impact real people. They impact Margaret and who she was in her community. She was a lovely woman, a beautiful, articulate, talented elder who gave so much to her community; and we, the Government of Canada, made her lesser for that, and we need to make sure we get this fixed.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 8:25 p.m.
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NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I was going to say that I am honoured to rise to speak to the Indian Act, but that is not the case. Usually, when I rise in the House, I do it with honour and I consider it a privilege, but that is not the case today.

Earlier, I explained just how deeply opposed I am to this legislation, which has been in place for a very long time and, I would point out, was imposed unilaterally on indigenous peoples across this country. It is a shame that in 2017 we must still rise in the House to talk about something so racist, colonial, and discriminatory as the Indian Act.

We are supposedly one of the most progressive and generous countries on the planet, but the first peoples of this country are subjected to legislation such as the Indian Act. It is really unfortunate. Given the country’s international reputation, this legislation should be done away with as quickly as possible, especially given the promises that this new government made on a number of things, including the new relationship that it wants to establish with indigenous peoples.

The adoption and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should now be the basis for any discussion in the House. I would like to point out that this was one of the most significant promises made by several parties, including my own, but also by this government.

Regarding this declaration, let us not forget that two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s main calls to action are calls to action nos. 43 and 44. Call to action no. 44 calls on the government and its indigenous partners to develop a national action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Call to action no. 43 is also important for us in the House. It calls on the 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.

That is important. We cannot say that we support all of the Commission’s calls to action except for call no. 43, because it calls on us to fully adopt and implement the declaration.

It is therefore important to remember the context in which we come to this debate on the Indian Act and the status of indigenous people in this country.

Something that has always fascinated me is that the first peoples of this country are the only people in Canada subject to a law in this way. It is mind-boggling how discriminatory this law is, come to think of it. Indigenous peoples and all other peoples on the planet are equal. Like all other peoples, indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination under international law. Article 9 of the declaration recognizes that indigenous peoples have a right to determine who should be members of their communities and nations.

However, this is not the case, and it is unfortunate that in 2017 we still have this racist, discriminatory, and also sexist legislation.

Whenever I talk about the Indian Act, I am almost tempted at times, very seriously, to rise in the House and propose a Caucasian act. Please excuse my use of a typological understanding of human biology when I limit people to racial terms, especially since the term Caucasian describes people from the geographic regions of Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and most members in the chamber are from western Europe. Self-identity is not what is important here.

My proposition would be nothing new, as a matter of fact. Five hundred years ago when Caucasian ships began arriving on the shores of this continent, indigenous peoples began devising all sorts of appropriate responses to the invasion. Maybe, at least in the north, invasion is too strong of a word to describe the first contact, but when farmers, entrepreneurs, and business people began to be displaced by foreign investment, when doctors spoke out in alarm of undocumented immigrants bringing high levels of infectious disease onto this continent, and when community leaders began noticing the erosion of the indigenous social fabric, our warriors became our homeland security, and our knowledge keepers became our policy-makers on this continent.

For a while, official policy was to send all Caucasians back to where they came from. I will not lie, that argument still pops up from time to time in discussions with my people, but then mixed marriages, economic interdependence, and the sheer numbers became a reality, and we realized that a more nuanced solution was needed for the Caucasian problem. If I were proposing that act today, I would paraphrase John A. Macdonald and say that the great aim of this legislation is to do away with the European system, and assimilate the Caucasian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of this land as speedily as they are fit to change. I am of course paraphrasing John A. Macdonald.

I can almost hear some of the other members objecting, but will this proposal not deny my fundamental rights contained within the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and violate universal human rights standards? However, I can assure everyone that rights are not important when we consider the creation of a Caucasian act. Power is the most important factor when we consider pieces of legislation designed to control and assimilate one demographic group to the exclusion of all others. Who holds power over the lives of others?

Today, the government has brought to the House Bill S-3, a Senate bill that purports to remove gender discrimination from the Indian Act. The only piece of legislation in this country, I will repeat, that exclusively governs the lives of one demographic group, namely, the indigenous people of this country. When considering this bill, it must be recognized that the colonial system is always about gaining control over another people for the sake of what the colonial power has determined to be the common good.

That is the system that is prescribed by colonial values, priorities, and objectives. Senators, MPs and expert witnesses have repeatedly told the Liberal government that Bill S-3 must go beyond the limited understanding of what legislative review of the Indian Act means, an understanding limited by colonial prescriptions.

In fact, the minister has already told the Senate that her government will reject one of the senators' amendments to the bill, and members heard, as I did, and as all of us did in this House this evening, that is what she repeated tonight.

As the Indian Act is currently written, indigenous men who married non-indigenous women before April 17, 1985, when the act was re-written to comply with the charter of rights, will always pass their Indian status to at least their grandchildren and, in many cases, to their great-grandchildren. This is the case, even if their children and grandchildren parent with non-Indians. However, indigenous women who married non-status men before 1985 only pass on status up to their grandchildren, unless those grandchildren parent with other status Indians.

Senator McPhedran's amendment to Bill S-3 is intended to eliminate any remaining distinctions between the descendants of men and women who married non-Indians before the charter. It would go back to the creation of the Indian Act in the 1800s, while the government wants to stop at those born after the Indian register was created in 1951.

We are left with the question, why is the government refusing to recognize the indigenous identity of potentially hundreds of thousands of people? Remember, self-identity is not seen as important, human rights are not seen as important. What is important is gaining and maintaining power over a subjugated group of people, meaning the indigenous people of this country.

As Dr. Lynn Gehl has explained, “They don't want to end this discrimination. The ultimate goal is to get rid of status Indians and get rid of treaty rights—so much so, that they'll target women and babies.”

I want to quote what Deborah Serafinchon said to our committee when she appeared not too long ago. She said:

I'm not a lawyer, I'm not into any of this, all I know is that I don't understand the different status of 6(1)(a), 6(1), 6(2), whatever it is. Simply, as far as I'm concerned, an Indian is an Indian. I don't understand why there's different levels of status...I'm Indian enough to be discriminated against, but I'm not Indian enough to get status.

Whenever I hear testimony like that, it bothers me a lot, because this legislation has been around for so long. I remember the day after this Prime Minister got elected, and he reiterated a lot of the promises he made to indigenous peoples. I remember the day, across the river, in December 2015 when he spoke before the chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations. One of the promises he made that day in December 2015, before the chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations, was to review and rescind any legislation that was unilaterally imposed on indigenous peoples by previous governments. He used the word governments, not the previous government, but previous governments. It would have been very logical if he started with the Indian Act 20 months ago. Now we are caught with this, and bound by a deadline set by the Quebec Superior Court.

It is also worthwhile to read into the record what Senator Daniel Christmas said with respect to the Indian Act:

The point I'm making is a very stark one: Life under the Indian Act is a horrible and unproductive existence whose ultimate destiny is insolvency and ruin, both economically and emotionally.

A lot of first nations are in the same boat now that Membertou was in the mid-1990s.

Senator Christmas went on:

I recall the awful feeling of seeing people in my community walking with their heads down. Their community was poor and without any prospects, any hope for improvement, for us or for our children.

That is what he said in the Senate. It is important to remind ourselves that those are important considerations that we need to take into account in any revision that we make to the Indian Act, whether it be to status or to any of the other elements that are contained in the earlier Indian Act.

I also want to remind members that the new government has committed to adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the minister has repeated that commitment and promise on a couple of occasions since the election.

Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reads as follows:

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.

I made an earlier point about the UN declaration. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended that we fully adopt and implement the UN declaration as the framework for reconciliation in this country.

There is a bill before this House, Bill C-262, that would implement the TRC's calls to action 43 and 44. I am hopeful that once that bill is adopted, it will be the framework for any proposed legislation in this country, in this chamber, as we move forward, because although a declaration is not the same as a convention or an international treaty, a declaration does have a legal effect in this country. The Supreme Court has confirmed on a couple of occasions now that declarations do have legal effects. Declarations are “relevant and persuasive sources” to interpret domestic human rights law in this country.

My suggestion here is that the UN declaration already has application in Canadian law. That should be the basis of any legislation that stems from this House from now on, or any policy review that we do as a government in this country. It does have application, and that is what Bill C-262 would confirm as well.

I was going to go into a whole list of the effects of the Indian Act, and it is quite a long list. However, I do want to remind this House that one of the things that is still in the Indian Act—and not too many Canadians know this—is the fact that the minister still has the authority to accept or refuse my will when I pass away. It is still in the Indian Act. That is pretty outrageous. It is only for indigenous peoples.

That is why I say the Indian Act needs to go away. There are enough people in this House to make suggestions as to what to replace it with. I think it is grand time that we do it. It is 2017 in this country called Canada.

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June 13th, 2017 / 8:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too appreciated the comments of my colleague, whom I work with on committee. I appreciate his sentiments around the Indian Act, which he states regularly and consistently.

We have before us this bill, Bill S-3. We have looked at it twice. We looked at in a pre-study in November and we looked at it again recently in another pre-study, in a version very different from the first. Both times, as he is aware, when we asked the officials if this legislation deals with all known sex-based inequities, we were told that it did in November, but there were a number of mistakes. The bar association and Descheneaux's lawyer pointed out the Gehl case. It very quickly became apparent that the bill was lacking. We asked again just this week if the bill now takes care of all known sex-based inequities, and the officials again said it does.

I would like to ask my colleague if he has confidence that the officials are right, or can he perhaps identify any issues that are still there in this piece of legislation?

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June 13th, 2017 / 8:55 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou from the bottom of my heart for setting so clearly before us what we should be talking about instead of Bill S-3, which are the big picture items that we and first nations and indigenous peoples in this country are still living under, and that is a racist, discriminatory, colonial bill. We are now approaching it from the point of view of one aspect of it because of the deadline of a court case, when we should be discussing how to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I am enormously pleased that when the New Democrats and the Greens of British Columbia agreed on how they would govern, they agreed that the Government of British Columbia would operate under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as law. Since we do have Bill S-3 before us, the member quoted Senator Dan Christmas. I want to ask a question with respect to another member of the sovereign Mi'kmaq territory, Professor Pam Palmater, who said clearly to the committee:

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.

She also cited as an authority the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am loath to comment on the Indian Act, Bill S-3, or anything else, since I am not under a Caucasian act, though I did like the member's suggestion that it would make it very clear to people exactly how racist and discriminatory the bill is.

As I understand it, I could vote for Bill S-3 with Senator McPhedran's amendments, but without them I cannot vote for it. Have I grasped this technical, small, yet hugely significant part of a racist and colonial scheme?

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June 13th, 2017 / 8:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill S-3. It is an interesting case. I sit on the committee. We started the pre-study on it, then we stopped the study, and then we got started again. I have not been here very long, but that was a unique situation, I understand, that does not happen often. It is under those circumstances that I begin my debate here today.

We now have studied the bill. We studied it even before it got to this place. That is also interesting. We had to bend the rules of the committee to make that happen as well. It has been an interesting method of using parliamentary procedure.

I come from an automotive mechanic background, and then I came to this place. I thought one thing I had better figure out was how parliamentary procedure works. I did not realize there was a big green book we had to read. However, I did go to the library, and I got Robert's Rules of Order. All parliamentary procedure stems basically from Robert's Rules, so I read it. I had a significant grasp of Robert's Rules, and when I got here, I began to play with the green book and discovered how our parliamentary procedure works. It is much more in-depth than Robert's Rules, but there are some basic principles that apply. We had to massage all those principles to get where we are today discussing Bill S-3. There is also a limited timeline as we go forward.

Bill S-3 talks about membership in a race, essentially. That is what it is. It is tied up with what the act of Canada calls an Indian. Nowadays that term is bound up with a whole bunch of emotion, so we do not use that term nearly as often, but it is the term that is used in the Indian Act. Bill S-3 is a bill that would help to define who is an Indian in the country of Canada. For me, from the get-go, that places me in what I am going to call an icky situation. Bureaucrats in Ottawa are deciding who is an Indian and who is not an Indian. That to me is the very definition of racism, I guess we could say. The government is placing a label on people and not placing a label on them.

On the flip side, however, I am Canadian. I was born and raised here, but I am also a descendent of Dutch people, so I consider myself to have Dutch heritage. I do not need to go to the government to get someone to sign a piece of paper saying that I have Dutch heritage. It is just the way it is.

With our current system, people get a card that says they are Indian. It could happen that a person's entire family has cards that say they are Indian, and all the first cousins have cards that say they are Indian, but that person does not have a card that says he or she is an Indian. To me, that is terrible, in a whole raft of senses, but particularly in this country, where we have seen that our indigenous communities are over-represented in the suicide statistics.

We have done a recent study on suicide in Canada among our indigenous communities. I want to read a quote from Ed Connors about why perhaps the suicide rate is so high among our indigenous peoples. He said that if people cannot answer these questions, their likelihood of suicide is higher: “Where do I come from? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?”

We have a system in this country in which all someone's first cousins may have a card that says who they are, they are Indians, and he or she cannot have a card and is not entitled to the same things as all his or her cousins. That in and of itself can lead to a sense of not belonging.

Here we are today, in Ottawa, trying to develop a law that will help to ensure that people who have first cousins who have cards are able to get cards as well. This is important, because that will give them some sense of belonging. If they have that card, it will not allow certain individuals to exclude them from certain activities.

We are debating Bill S-3. When I was first elected, this is not what I thought I was coming here to be debating. I think I share the sentiments of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou that the very essence of the Indian Act seems to me to be racist in that we are deciding, based on ethnicity, who gets some privileges and who does not. I agree with him that we need to be looking more broadly.

It is like having an old car that is fairly broken and has a number of things that should be fixed, but the one thing keeping it from working properly right now are the wheel bearings, so we are going to put new wheel bearings in a really old car. Perhaps we should think about buying a whole new car. That might be a better deal than buying new wheel bearings to stick in a really old car that has one hundred other problems.

This whole discussion on Bill S-3 seems very icky in terms of how, by definition, we are deciding who belongs to a race and who does not.

Moving from there, we ended up with graphs. We heard from a number of witnesses at committee, particularly Mr. Descheneaux, who brought us a series of graphs on 6(1), 6(1)(a), and 6(2). It was all extremely confusing. I go back to the beginning. I am a Canadian of Dutch heritage. I did not need the government to decide that I was a Canadian of Dutch heritage. I just knew instinctively that I belonged to that community.

What the bill is trying to address is a laudable action. If a grandmother married off the reserve, and her daughter married of the reserve, the children were not entitled to status, but if the grandfather married off the reserve, they were entitled to status, even though the parents might have been non-status. I agree with the member from James Bay that we have to move toward a system where we recognize being a member of a cultural group rather than a defined scenario.

In my riding, I have several first nation communities and Métis. I come from a large riding in northern Alberta. I like to call it the promised land. It is literally flowing with milk and honey. It also has a number of reserves that are still in the process of being made into reserves, so for that reason as well, I call it the promised land.

Deborah Serafinchon was a witness at committee, and she talked extensively about her experience. She had DNA proof that both of her parents were 6(1).

She went with that DNA proof and was told they needed affidavits from a number of people proving that her parents were in fact who she said they were.

That, to me, is very interesting. She has DNA proof of who her parents are but is unable to get status, even under the current situation. It is going to be interesting to see where this goes.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for the time this evening. I would like to thank all the members who spoke on this. I look forward to some questions.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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?

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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.

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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.