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)

Indian ActGovernment Orders

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 8:55 p.m.
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Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 8:55 p.m.
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Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

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

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

There is no reason to consult on whether to abide by the law of gender equality. The laws of our traditional Nations, Canada and the international community are clear on gender equality. There is no optioning out of equality, nor can it be negotiated away.

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 8:50 p.m.
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Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

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

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

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

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 8:25 p.m.
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Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Christmas went on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 13th, 2017 / 7:55 p.m.
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Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She goes on to say:

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

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

She continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 13th, 2017 / 7:55 p.m.
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Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, first, I congratulate the minister for her leadership on many files in indigenous affairs, but specifically, for withdrawing the appeal by the previous federal government against the Quebec Court of Appeal so that we can find solutions to this.

There are impassioned arguments for a much broader reform for registration and membership under the Indian Act. Many argue that Bill S-3 would not go far enough. I know this is only the first stage of our response, the government's response, to the Descheneaux decision. Would the minister explain what is anticipated in stage II of the plan?

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


Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we do not have legislation passed that addresses the Descheneaux decision before July 3, the section struck down by the court will be inoperative in Quebec. The practical implication would be that these provisions will then become inoperative within Canada as the registrar would not be in a position to register people under provisions found to be non-charter compliant.

Ninety per cent of status Indians are registered under the provisions struck down by the Descheneaux decision. These applicants would then be unable to access benefits that come with registration and membership. In addition to up to 35,000 individuals waiting for their rights to be granted through Bill S-3, we cannot lose sight of the thousands of individuals who would not be able to register if the court deadline passes and the provisions noted above become inoperable.

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

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

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

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

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

June 9th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador


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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague knows very well that we are committed to ending sexual discrimination against indigenous women. He also knows that it is necessary to pass Bill S-3 in the House of Commons in order to ensure that thousands of people who are currently being denied their rights in Canada gain rights.

When members opposite were in government, they fought indigenous women on sexual discrimination for years in the courts. Our government is acting on it. We have withdrawn the appeal submitted by the former government and we are going to do the right thing.

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

June 9th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador


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

Mr. Speaker, fighting discrimination is a priority for our government and ending sexual discrimination against indigenous women is a priority as well. We are tackling this on two fronts.

The first stage is Bill S-3. That bill will take an approach to reform registration, membership, and citizenship in partnership with indigenous people. The second step that we have adopted will be to immediately engage in formal consultations with indigenous groups and those impacted by discriminatory—