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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 4 p.m.
See context

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

November 30th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

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]

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

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.