Thank you. Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and honourable members.
I'm pleased to appear before the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
I'll give my presentation in English, but I would be happy to answer questions in French.
The CBA aboriginal law section is pleased to contribute to the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs' pre-study of Bill S-3's subject matter.
I would begin by recalling the words of Madam Justice Ross of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in her reasons at trial in McIvor v. the Registrar, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada:
...it is one of our most basic expectations that we will acquire the cultural identity of our parents; and that as parents we will transmit our cultural identity to our children.
It is therefore not surprising that one of the most frequent criticisms of the registration scheme is that it denies Indian women the ability to pass Indian status to their children.
One of our main points concerns the manner in which this bill was brought forward and is being considered by Parliament.
When Bill S-3 was introduced at first reading in the Senate, consultations with regard to the first phase of the government's response to the Descheneaux decision were far from over. While we understand that the Indigenous Affairs consultations regarding Bill S-3 were to conclude last Friday, December 2, it remains the case that moving forward in the legislative process while there were still consultations under way undermines the fulfilment of the federal government's duty to consult indigenous peoples regarding legislative changes that affect them, as required by the honour of the crown and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While the committee stages in the Senate and in the House are designed for the amendment of bills based on public feedback, the honour of the crown and the United Nations declaration require more than indigenous peoples being left to watch the legislative train leave the station.
We are also concerned by clause 8 of Bill S-3, which precludes those impacted by Bill S-3 from seeking compensation for their past exclusion from Indian status. Parliament and the federal crown have been on notice since at least the 2009 decision in McIvor by the British Columbia Court of Appeal that the amendments to the Indian Act in 1985 did not entirely resolve the discriminatory aspects of the Indian status system and, in fact, created new discriminatory elements.
On this point, Madam Justice Masse held in Descheneaux:
The year is now 2015. The 1985 Act from which the discrimination arises has been in force for a little more than 30 years.
The general finding of discrimination in the 2009 judgment of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia in McIvor could have enabled Parliament to make more sweeping corrections than what was accomplished in the measures in the 2010 act. The discrimination suffered by the plaintiffs arises from the same source as the one identified in the case.
Canada was aware that work remained to be done following McIvor and Bill C-3. Leaving clause 8 in Bill S-3 immunizes Canada from the consequences of its conduct and provides little incentive to ensure that the eradication of discrimination in the context of Indian status proceeds without delay.
By continuing to withhold eligibility for Indian status from certain women and their descendants, government realizes a cost saving: controlling costs by having fewer members. The result of discrimination should not be an economic benefit to the government.
Removing clause 8 from Bill S-3 would change the financial incentive going forward and would send a clear message from Parliament that the government will not be given a licence to discriminate through absolution for the past consequences of its actions where government was clearly on notice through prior court decisions that its broader legislative scheme was not on sound constitutional footing.
As a practical matter, sufficient resources should be provided to bands that will see an influx of new members as a result of Bill S-3, and sufficient resources should be provided to the relevant operational sectors at Indigenous Affairs in order to ensure that the registration of individuals who have been unconstitutionally excluded for more than three decades proceeds with all due dispatch.
The subject matter of Bill S-3 should also be referred to a parliamentary committee within 18 months of its coming into force. We understand that the government is committed to proposing further revisions to the Indian status system as part of its two-stage response to the Descheneaux decision. This is to be commended and is in keeping with Justice Masse's calls for a broader review of this question.
Indeed, in the second-last paragraph of her reasons for judgment, Madam Justice Masse held:
Parliament should not interpret this judgment as strictly as it did the [Court of Appeal for British Columbia's] judgment in McIvor. If it wishes to fully play its role instead of giving free reign to legal disputes, it must act differently this time, while also quickly making sufficiently significant corrections to remedy the discrimination identified in this case. One approach does not exclude the other.
Given the long history of discrimination involved in the Indian status system, the phase two process will benefit from timely parliamentary scrutiny long enough before the next election to ensure that parliamentarians' expertise and the views of community members do not get lost in the legislative crunch that accompanies the end of a parliamentary session.
In closing, it is important to note that the McIvor and Descheneaux decisions deal with aspects of the Indian status system that are discriminatory and contrary to section 15 of the charter. As such, they set the constitutional floor, the level of fairness below which the Indian status system may not fall. Certainly, the legislative process, both here and in the phase to come, should set its sights higher in an attempt to rectify the inequities that have long been identified in the Indian status system.
Those are our submissions.