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)

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

December 5th, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for bringing forward his private member's bill, Bill C-262. I note his important contribution to the discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would also like to share my profound respect for my colleague and acknowledge the important work he has done over many years that has significantly impacted indigenous policy in this country.

Before addressing the private member's bill, I would like to make a general observation. Section 35 of our Constitution and Canada's existing laws has in the past, and will in the future, ensure that indigenous rights are protected in Canada. We only need to reflect on a number of historical court decisions to understand how section 35 is shaping these rights. From the 1999 Marshall decision that confirmed the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet treaty right to catch and sell fish, to the 2014 Tsilhqot'in decision that granted aboriginal title to more than 1,700 sq kilometres of territory, a first in Canadian law, it is clear that our understanding of indigenous rights is constantly evolving. Just last week, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision regarding the Peel watershed, which upheld aboriginal land use rights protected in treaties.

It might be suggested that the gap or problem in Canada is not our legal framework, but our frequent failure to live up to the obligations and the honour of the crown.

The bill before us today seeks to implement the 46 articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as stated in the document, “a standard...to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”. All parties in the House acknowledge the need for reconciliation, a better shared future, and the importance of the declaration. The 46 articles are essential guiding principles for that journey.

I do have some unanswered questions regarding how this international document will transpose into a domestic framework. In my opinion, we need some clear answers before we can move forward on Bill C-262. Let me share some general and specific concerns that need to be addressed.

In the past, the Liberals have argued vehemently that any small changes to the Indian Act and the Labour Code must only be introduced as government legislation, where there is an opportunity for comprehensive reflection and not just a couple of hours of debate. I would suggest that the bill before us today has more far-reaching implications than the right to a secret ballot for union certification. For the Liberals to support an NDP private member's bill to implement UNDRIP and not put it forward as government-initiated legislation is unfathomable. The debate will not be afforded the due diligence that it requires and deserves. Even today, members might have noticed that we did not hear from the minister. We did not have an opportunity under private members' business to even question the minister. In my mind, that is a problem.

To get into more specifics, first and foremost was the statement by the Minister of Justice in 2016, and I quote, “Simplistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.”

The justice minister, unlike many of us who will be speaking to the bill, has access to all sorts of comprehensive briefings and advice. The minister would not have made that comment lightly, so it is critical for her to explain why she made the comment at that time, and how she now reconciles that with her recent commitment to support the bill. I would note that because it is private member's bill, we are very unlikely to get a chance to ask her that question.

On Thursday of last week, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations was at committee. At that time, we had the opportunity to ask a number of questions, and I want to provide a brief summary of that testimony.

Article 19 suggests that the government ensure free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative measures that may affect them. When the minister was asked if that would apply to laws of general application or only laws that exclusively impact indigenous people, she clearly indicated that there would be a broader application. That brings us to a question of what future laws of broader application in this country would require free, prior, and informed consent, and how will that be determined in a country as diverse as Canada. How will that consent be given?

The national organizations acknowledge they are not rights holders, they are not the authorized decision-makers, and their mandate is advocacy. The indigenous community has indicated that it has to do a lot of work in terms of nation rebuilding. Therefore, what government structure or consultation framework would be put in place to actually engage in these consultations? To what degree would this commitment around the laws of general application fetter the government's ability to move forward? I will give some recent examples.

We certainly know that with Bill S-3, the government is committed to engaging in a consultation process. Clearly, that is not a general application law, but the government is going to have consultations with bands across the country. I have no idea how the government members are going to determine when they have concurrence and how long they are going to have to spend in a process where there will be human rights competing in terms of consent, and at the very dichotomy of the many consultations they will have to have. In that case it is first nations, but we also have the Métis and the Inuit.

The marijuana law is another example of broader application that is clearly going to have an impact in indigenous communities. Under our current framework, the government only engaged in a general consultation process. Would that bill be subject to article 19, and if so what would it do to the government's timelines and how are the Liberals going to move forward? The answer to that question is unknown, but it is important.

Today, we have been debating in the House Bill C-58, which is the privacy law. Again, we have a number of indigenous communities whose representatives have said that they have grave concerns. They have referenced the UN declaration in terms of their right to have input, and free, prior, and informed consent, but we have no system or process in terms of how we are going to move that forward. That is important work that needs to be done.

Where a lot of people have focused, the laws of general application are something we need to pay particular attention to, but there is also the issue of free, prior, and informed consent as it relates to the development of the natural resources. The minister has suggested it was not a veto and the position was supported by National Chief Bellegarde. However, he noted on three occasions that free, prior, and informed consent means the right to say yes and the right to say no. A number of lawyers have said the whole discussion is really a bit of semantics and whether it is veto or consent it has the same effect. Again, it leads to a question in law. What is the difference between “free, prior, and informed consent” and “consult and accommodate”, which is what we have in law right now? Certainly there is no question that the declaration proposes that change in our law and we need to simply know what that is going to mean because it is important. From what I have seen, the legal opinions out there are as varied as they possibly could be. As members might imagine, it leaves confusion in the minds of not only the indigenous communities but Canadians in general. We have some work to do in terms of developing a common understanding before we commit to an implementation into our legal framework.

Article 29 talks about the right to territories, lands, and resources. In British Columbia alone, that is 100% of the province. What are going to be the practical implications for perhaps the tourism operators in the Chilcotin or the ranchers who have depended on crown land, as these decisions get made? We have not talked about impacted third parties and how, as we correct the injustices of the past, we should not create a new injustice.

In conclusion, as members can see from my 10 minutes of speaking, there are a lot of important unanswered questions. My first concern is the fact that the government has committed to implementing this as a private member's bill where we are going to be limited in the debate and our opportunity to create a shared understanding. The shared understanding of all these concepts is going to be critical in terms of moving forward into success in the future for all.

Indigenous AffairsStatements By Members

December 5th, 2017 / 2:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Pam Goldsmith-Jones Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Senate bill, Bill S-3amends the Indian Act to eliminate sex-based inequities in registration. Private member's billC-262 is an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Truth and reconciliation is under way. Parliament is working in service of our aspirations for a revitalized Senate, the contributions of individual members of Parliament, and listening and acting with the indigenous voices of Canada.

In my riding we too are acting in this spirit. On the Sunshine Coast, John and Nancy Denham led 30 shíshálh Nation and non-indigenous peoples in a dialogue circle. Our time together was respectful and intense. The West Vancouver Memorial Library hosted “Honouring Reconciliation: Hearing the Truth” to a full house, led by the Squamish Nation.

These are important experiences for Canadians and shíshálh and Squamish nations, as truth and reconciliation enables us to reach our full potential.

The House resumed from November 30 consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), and of the amendment.

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

December 1st, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals' Bill S-3 proposal does not end discrimination in the Indian Act, does not help all women, and should not be subject to consultation.

Indigenous women have been loud and clear. Discrimination should end for all indigenous women. Although Bill S-3 meets some of the court's order, it fails to bring justice for all indigenous women. Liberals promised that they would be better. They promised a real nation-to-nation relationship.

Does the minister concede that this bill fails to end gender discrimination for all indigenous women?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I move:

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

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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 / 4:30 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 / 4:30 p.m.
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Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying the tremendous passion that the member has for promoting indigenous rights and people in Canada. He certainly comes from a long line of advocates of these principles.

The member knows that together we have all worked hard to do what is right in building on reconciliation with indigenous people in Canada. What are his thoughts on the amendments in Bill S-3, and again, most importantly, what is one of the most important pieces we have to continue to work toward to have full reconciliation with indigenous people?

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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 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.