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


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


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.


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.


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)

June 15th, 2017 / 10 a.m.
See context

Executive Director, Indian Registration and Integrated Program Management, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Nathalie Nepton

Yes, the 54 individuals are specifically for the purpose of applications that will be received under Bill S-3.

June 15th, 2017 / 10 a.m.
See context


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

I have difficulty understanding, then, why so many applications take years. There are some applications that do not receive an acknowledgement of receipt for about seven or eight months.

How do you explain that? How can you reassure this committee that with those 54 people in place—is that specifically for Bill S-3?

June 15th, 2017 / 10 a.m.
See context

Executive Director, Indian Registration and Integrated Program Management, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Nathalie Nepton

In regard to the processing of new applications that would be coming in under Bill S-3, there has been money set aside to establish a unit, and we're currently staffing it. The unit will be composed of 54 individuals to do intake and to assess applications, so if the bill receives royal assent, we will be starting to process applications that are already in the queue.

Generally speaking, service standards, depending on if it is a complete application, can range based on complexity. These would obviously be a few months, so the average service standard is from six months to eight months, depending on the situation.

June 15th, 2017 / 9:35 a.m.
See context


Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Saganash, every time I come to this committee, one of the things I look forward to is the comments from my good friend. I appreciate what you said, and I agree with it. I think human rights are not something you defer.

The difficulty we have here as legislators is we have a system of government where we have checks and balances, so to your first point with respect to the Senate: we have an executive, a legislative body, and the courts. We're at a point where the courts have said the legislation under the Indian Act needs to be changed. As a result, our executive branch came up with legislation that was subsequently amended by the Senate, and it is before us as the elected part of this bicameral system.

I think it's up to us to ensure that we respond to the court decision and ultimately it'll go back to the Senate for final approval if this is deemed to be adopted. The challenge we have is we've seldom been in this position in Canada whereby the elected body sets out a piece of legislation and sends it off with the possibility of an impasse. I think the learned people in the Senate will understand that they are charged with being the body of sober second thought, but ultimately as elected members of Parliament, the House of Commons has a greater role in ensuring the will of the people is expressed through the legislation we pass.

I am mindful of where the Senate stands on this. At the same time, given the broader context, I feel that senators on the whole will understand that once the House of Commons decides, they have their opinions and their amendments have been given due consideration, it's been debated in the House, and discussed at committee, ultimately if it's the will of our House to pass Bill S-3 as amended, then the Senate will need to give it due consideration.

With respect to the issue of are we addressing all sex-based inequities, I believe the Descheneaux decision requires the government to canvas the available or known areas of sex discrimination currently under the Indian Act. I am advised that the amendment being deleted will address that. What we are trying to deal with, with regard to deleting the Senate amendment “6(1)(a) all the way”, is not to broaden the scope of discrimination in other areas, which is something we shouldn't do, but we need to do in order to (a) consult and (b) ensure that we have a workable framework that doesn't put enormous strain on many of the communities.

I know we heard from a couple of witnesses who indicated that the membership—and they're absolutely right—has a right to define their membership, who is and who is not a member of their community, and it ought to be their absolute right. For us to find that balance between the Indian Act definition and the definition within the communities, I think we need to consult.

Therefore, this is really a deferral. This is delaying what I believe is inevitable, what we all believe should happen, but it should happen with a great deal of consultation, with the framework. It is quite unusual for any piece of legislation to have quite a stringent timeline for the government to consult and be able to come back and report within one year.

I think, as legislators, it is our responsibility to make sure that consultation is deep and gives us the road map to ensure that proposed paragraph “6(1)(a) all the way”, comes to fruition in the near future.

June 15th, 2017 / 9:30 a.m.
See context


Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

I totally respect where the member is coming from when it comes to human rights. I don't think anyone in this committee would disagree with his position in that respect.

The difficulty we have is this timeline. I know everyone says we can get an extension, but we did that once, and we're right back where we were at the end of the first extension. If we get another five-month extension, we're going to be in exactly the same place we're in today. There's not enough time to properly deal with some of the issues that the Indigenous Bar Association and Senator Sinclair....

We're bringing about significant legislative change, and we have a duty to consult all indigenous peoples on the changes that are going to have such a huge impact on many of their communities. We just finished discussing an amendment on DNA. We, around this table, can think that we have all the answers to solve it, but we also know that there are certain complexities that need to be dealt with, and those complexities are derived within what the Mohawks had to say. They said they don't care what Bill S-3 says, and that they're the ones who are going to decide who's a member of their community, not the government.

I know in an ideal world we'd like to blow up the Indian Act and let all indigenous peoples make that determination, and I think it's the goal of all of us here to see that happen sooner than later. Until then, we have a duty to consult with all indigenous communities, and that's going to take time. Another five-month extension—or three months, or whatever it is they would give us—is not enough time to resolve this. In the meantime, if we do find ourselves back here in five months in the same situation, those 35,000 people who could have already been starting the registration process are still going to be stuck waiting to start that registration process.

As MP Anandasangaree had communicated, I do truly believe that our ministers, Minister Wilson-Raybould and Minister Carolyn Bennett, do want to see this resolved once and for all, and to get it done right, not just rush into it and get it done under what Senator McPhedran has proposed here in “6(1)(a) all the way”. There are flaws in that amendment, so there's no sense in my mind of passing something we know has flaws when we should be taking the opportunity to get it done right.

I totally respect where you're coming from, but I just think the two-phase process will enable us to get this done right once and for all. Do we wish that Bill C-3 could have done it back in 2010? Sure, but it didn't. So now we're stuck here again at this table, trying to make this determination. Let's get this done right, take the time necessary to do it, and put this behind us once and for all.

Thank you.

June 15th, 2017 / 9:25 a.m.
See context


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

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to start off by saying that this is perhaps the most disappointing proposal of all, in this clause-by-clause exercise that we're doing today. I think my learned friend will appreciate the fact that, for me, being asked to delay the entitlement of human rights in this country called Canada will always be unacceptable, always. I cannot bear the thought that I will be voting for something that delays the application of human rights in Canada. Let me start off by saying that.

Second, I think we need to be mindful that there may be consequences to doing what my friend is proposing. We're going back to the House. We'll eventually vote on this bill, without the amendment that was proposed by Senator McPhedran. What will be the reaction of the Senate?

That is a point of concern for me, especially when we talk about the people who are affected by all of this. I don't want to be eventually facing a standoff between the Senate and the Parliament of Canada, because the Senate approved these amendments and they sent us a bill in its entirety, as we have it before us, in its present form.

They may, at some point, consider our changes and say “No. We need 6(1)(a) all the way in the legislation, to do justice, not just to the people who are directly affected by the Descheneaux case, but also to all of the other people who have suffered discrimination because of the Indian Act.” This is what we are also facing as legislators who have a duty to uphold the rule of law. That includes human rights, and I'm sure my learned friend can relate to that. He's a human rights expert. I think that's one aspect that we need to be mindful of.

I want to ask a question to him about one of the other aspects. In Bill S-3, with the deletions that you're proposing, does it fix all of the human rights violations and discriminations in the Indian Act? I don't think so.

A lot of the witnesses who appeared before this committee don't think so. I hear you when you say that the Indigenous Bar Association was one of the only organizations that expressed concern with that clause, but the rest of the witnesses, the majority of the witnesses accepted that amendment from the Senate, and part of our duty as well is to consider what's being proposed to us as a committee.

I very much enjoy the company in this committee on both sides. I think we've been doing incredible work since we started, and we need to continue on that path.

It's not the fault of the people who have suffered discrimination in this country because of the Indian Act. It's not those people's fault if we are at this point today, but there's a sense of urgency.

I'm considering this in a larger perspective than that. I understand your sense of urgency with the July 3 deadline that's coming up, but the parties are also before Judge Masse on June 19, including the Descheneaux family, asking for an extension. I think it's because they also feel we need to do this right.

It's not just what was asked for by the court in the Descheneaux case, but also to address the other discrimination based on sex. That's part of our duty as parliamentarians. It's important that we consider all those aspects before approving this amendment as you propose it.

June 15th, 2017 / 9:25 a.m.
See context


Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Without getting into the history of the Descheneaux decision, I'll just put it on the record that the new government was formed in October 2015. At the time, our government reviewed the Descheneaux decision. After considerable thought, it was decided that the right thing to do would be not to appeal the Quebec decision, and to set up a framework where we could address the concerns in the decision. It was in the spirit of ensuring that we expand and give justice to those 35,000 individuals who have been disenfranchised under the current legislation.

Late last year, we brought forward Bill S-3 through the Senate. It came to us, and we discussed it and sent it back to the Senate. Now, close to the deadline, we are here.

I agree with my friend that this is not optimal. This is not the way we should be legislating, but given that this is in the spirit of doing the right thing, and with a very serious commitment to following through, I think it is important that, as legislators, we deal with this in order to ensure that those people who are disenfranchised, close to two years after an actual court decision, be addressed swiftly.

June 15th, 2017 / 9:15 a.m.
See context


Gary Anandasangaree Liberal Scarborough—Rouge Park, ON

Madam Chair, thank you.

As tabled at this committee, I am moving to delete proposed subparagraphs (a.1) and (a.2) from Bill S-3, essentially lines 5 to 16 on page 2.

I cannot describe to you how troubling this piece of legislation is overall, and to me personally. Bill S-3 sets out to amend a deeply racist act, the Indian Act, a foundational document that essentially legalizes oppression of our first nations people.

Amending a deeply flawed piece of legislation, one that is centred on racism, is highly problematic. We are, however, at this juncture because of a court decision and the timeline set by the court for the government to respond to amendments to the Indian Act in order to address the issue of sex-based discrimination. We must therefore act as a government to address this issue.

At the outset I want to acknowledge the work of so many people who have fought on this issue for decades. I want to thank them for the many calls and emails and the conversations I've had in the last two weeks. I particularly want to thank the Senate for the considerable work they have undertaken in making changes to Bill S-3. I especially want to thank Senator McPhedran for her work on this issue as well as her lifetime of work in advancing rights.

I was in the House two nights ago where my friend and colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, spoke quite passionately about this issue and in support of the Senate amendments we're now deleting.

I think we all have received the correspondence from Senator Sinclair that outlines some of his concerns.

Based on all of this I think there is broad consensus on two points. First, the federal government should not be defining who is and who is not an “Indian”. Second, in the interim the federal government needs to ensure that the definition is void of discrimination. That's the consensus that I see among all the parties.

The long-term goal of Canadians, and I think for this government, ought to be to develop a nation-to-nation relationship ensuring that each nation has the absolute right to define its own peoples and to eliminate the Indian Act altogether.

In the interim, we need to ensure that we eliminate discrimination of all forms under the Indian Act.

The issue at hand was triggered by the court decision in Descheneaux. As Senator Sinclair has pointed out, we have a court-imposed deadline of July 3. While the parties seek to extend the timeline, we as legislators have a responsibility to ensure that we make our best efforts to meet the deadline, especially since we have been given an extension of five months.

Consequently, the framework, with the proposed deletion in this bill, will ensure that we can move forward in the near term, meet the set court deadlines, and enfranchise up to 35,000 people.

Madam Chair, I want to be absolutely clear. We are committed to addressing the broader issue raised by proposed paragraph “6(1)(a) all the way”. Unfortunately, the current language in the Senate amendment seeks to address a wide range of registration issues beyond sex-based inequities. These issues are beyond the scope of this bill, and there is insufficient information on how the lack of meaningful consultation would impact first nations' communities or individuals.

We are committed to co-designing a process with first nations to achieve comprehensive reform rather than a piecemeal approach, which has failed time and time again. We will launch a process on broader reform within six months of passing the bill, and we will report to Parliament within 12 months of that launch. These timelines are now in the bill itself.

Experts like the Indigenous Bar Association, whom we have heard from, have made it clear that the wording of proposed paragraph 6(1)(a) is ambiguous, contradicts other sections of the act, and could have wide-ranging, unintended consequences.

We need to address broad-based reform of the registration provisions in the Indian Act, but we need to do so with the benefit of meaningful consultations with those who are impacted, both the communities and individuals, and with the understanding of what the intended and potentially unintended consequences could be.

In the meantime, this bill will recognize the rights of up to 35,000 people we know are being discriminated against—and incidentally, it's been almost two years since the initial ruling—and provide legislated procedural protection for situations of unknown or unstated paternity.

We need to pass this bill to provide justice to tens of thousands of people now, and move forward with broader registration reform to address other historical registration issues the right way, and once and for all.

Finally, I know that those who have fought for this for a very long time are rightfully skeptical of the government. The government says, “Trust us. We will do the right thing.” They have heard this time and again. Notwithstanding the past, I am convinced our government will do the right thing, Madam Chair.

In fact, Minister Bennett and Minister Wilson-Raybould have advocated for “(6)(1)(a) all the way” in the past. They are personally committed to ensuring that, in the near term, the government consults in a way that comes up with a proper framework for everyone involved. Together, we will ensure that our government moves swiftly toward addressing these issues.

I look forward to the conversation here, keeping in mind that we are all in a very difficult situation in trying to define the rights of people who have an inherent right and whose membership and identity are something neither I nor anyone in this committee, nor in the House, can actually in any way restrict or enfranchise.

June 15th, 2017 / 8:50 a.m.
See context


The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

Welcome, everybody.

We are here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. We are convening to go clause by clause through Bill S-3.

I'd like to start the business of the meeting by indicating that, pursuant to order of reference of Tuesday, June 13, 2017, the committee begins its consideration of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration). We are here today to proceed with consideration of the bill.

We have with us department officials who are here to speak to any technical questions we have or potential impacts the amendments may have. They will not have an opening statement.

I'd like to provide members of the committee with a few comments on how committees proceed with clause-by-clause consideration of a bill. As the name indicates, this is an examination of all the clauses in the order in which they appear in the bill. I will call each clause successively, and each clause is subject to debate and a vote.

If there are amendments to the clause in question, I will recognize the member proposing it, who may explain it. The amendment will then be open for debate. When no further members wish to intervene, the amendment will be voted on. Amendments will be considered in the order in which they appear in the package each member has received from the clerk. If there are amendments that are consequential to each other, they will be voted on together.

In addition to having to be properly drafted in a legal sense, amendments must also be procedurally admissible. The chair may be called upon to rule amendments inadmissible if they go against the principle of the bill or beyond the scope of the bill, both of which were adopted by the House when it agreed to the bill at second reading, or if they offend the financial prerogative of the crown.

If you wish to eliminate a clause of the bill altogether, the proper course is to vote against the clause when it comes time to look at that clause, not to propose an amendment to delete it.

Since this is the first exercise for many new members, the chair will go slowly to allow all members to follow the proceedings properly.

If, during the process, the committee decides not to vote on a clause, that clause can be put aside by the committee so that we revisit it later in the process.

As indicated earlier, the committee will go through the package of amendments in the order in which they appear and vote on them one at a time unless some are consequential and dealt with together.

Amendments have been given a number in the top right corner to indicate which party submitted them. There is no need for a seconder to move an amendment. Once moved, you will need unanimous consent to withdraw it.

During debate on an amendment, members are permitted to move subamendments. I would prefer that you didn't. These subamendments do not require the approval of the mover of the amendment. Only one subamendment may be considered at a time, and that subamendment cannot be amended. When a subamendment is moved to an amendment, it is voted on first. Then another subamendment may be moved, or the committee may consider the main amendment and vote on it.

Once every clause has been voted on, the committee will vote on the title and the bill itself, and an order to reprint the bill will be required, so that the House has a proper copy for use at report stage.

Finally, the committee will have to order the chair to report the bill to the House. That report contains only the text of any adopted amendments, as well as any indication of any deleted clauses.

Thank you for your attention, everyone.

This is a committee that has worked on other very difficult issues, and I'm fairly certain will get through this in an efficient and co-operative manner.

Shall we begin?

(On clause 1)

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

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

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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


Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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


Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Member spoke in Cree]


Indian ActGovernment Orders

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


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 9:20 p.m.
See context

Spadina—Fort York Ontario


Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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