Evidence of meeting #10 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was c-3.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Dianne Corbiere  Representative, Indigenous Bar Association
Ellen Gabriel  President, Quebec Native Women Inc.
Chief Lucien Wabanonik  Grand Chief, Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador
Daniel Nolett  Director General, Abenakis Band Council of Odanak, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation
Michèle Taina Audette  Representative, Marche Amun, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation
David Nahwegahbow  Representative, Indigenous Bar Association
Paul Dionne  Lawyer, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation
Angus Toulouse  Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario
Guy Lonechild  Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
Chief Stewart Phillip  President, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
David Walkem  Chief, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
William K. Montour  Chief, Six Nations of the Grand River
Richard Powless  Advisor, Six Nations of the Grand River
R. Donald Maracle  Chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians
Sharon Venne  Treaty Researcher, As an Individual
Pamela Palmater  Chair, Ryerson University's Centre for the Study of Indigenous Governance, As an Individual

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're going to begin. We are waiting for a couple of other members, but I think we have enough for quorum, so we'll proceed.

We recognize we've got a fairly busy afternoon here, so the more time we have, the better.

Welcome witnesses, members, and guests to our 10th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. We are resuming our consideration of Bill C-3. This is pursuant to the reference given on March 29.

I'm going to dispense with the more lengthy introductions. We're under some tight timelines. You know we're going until about 4:30. We have essentially four groups with us. I think we'll try to team you up together and try to do our best with the four of you. We'll try to say a five-minute presentation each. We'll go through each of the presentations. The more you can summarize your key recommendations in those five minutes, the better. That will then give us a bit more time for questions from members.

I'm going to suggest to members that if you accept this, we could keep our questions to five minutes, and I hope we'll be able to get a few more questions in. Does everyone agree?

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member


3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Okay. There's no agreement for that, so we'll proceed in the normal course.

Monsieur Lemay, vous avez un commentaire.

3:30 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Chair, I'll soon be making a proposal—I'll wait for my Liberal colleagues first—that the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill be postponed to next Tuesday. I'll explain why later. I realize there are many people with us now and that is something I regret. I respect the witnesses, and they have only five minutes to make a statement concerning a bill that is key to their future, not ours, theirs.

With all due respect, Mr. Chair, this process is beginning to weigh on me. I would like the witnesses to have the time they need to explain their positions. If ever we do not have time to ask them questions, we could continue Thursday during the first hour. The witnesses are here and I know that some of them have worked very hard to prepare for today. This is probably one of the most important bills we have debated, along with Bill C-8, An Act respecting Family Homes situated on First Nation Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, and Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act. So I think we can take another day or two. I'm ready to listen to the people here today; we have until 6:30 p.m. If we're not finished, then we can continue Thursday afternoon. Five minutes is not enough to discuss section 6 of this bill, C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs).

Mr. Chair, I am not questioning your good faith. I know you want to do the right thing. I have the utmost respect for that, but there are essential aspects. The members of the committee have questions and so do the witnesses. It is their future that is at stake here, and I say this with all due respect.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Merci, monsieur Lemay. Je comprends votre commentaire, and you understand that we did circulate this in advance so that members would understand. We had not heard back from anybody. But let's proceed and see how we do. We'll go through. The committee has the ability to set its own timetable and we'll do the best we can to make sure.... I would agree, and I'm sure all members understand the importance of hearing from all the witnesses who have expressed an interest in giving their perspective on this important bill that's in front of us. It was because of that that we wanted to accommodate all the requests that came to us and those that were recommended by members of the committee to be heard on this particular bill.

So let's proceed. Your comments are noted, Mr. Lemay.

We will begin with the Indigenous Bar Association, and we'd like to welcome Dianne Corbiere as well as David Nahwegahbow here from my riding of Simcoe—North. It's always a delight to have somebody from home here in front of us, not that that should in any way be different for our wonderful witnesses who are here today.

Let's proceed. Ms. Corbiere, go ahead.

3:30 p.m.

Dianne Corbiere Representative, Indigenous Bar Association

Thank you.

I am to send greetings on behalf of our president. She couldn't be here with us today, and she asked my colleague David and I to provide the presentation for the Indigenous Bar Association.

I apologize that we couldn't translate and provide this in advance, but I'm told by the chair that it can be distributed here later.

For those who don't know us, the Indigenous Bar Association is a non-profit organization representing indigenous peoples involved in the legal profession across Canada. We include judges, lawyers, academics, students at law, and law graduates from the indigenous community in Canada.

The IBA has been active since its creation in 1988, but also with its predecessor organization, the Canadian Indian Lawyers' Association. That was before my time, but my colleague David Nahwegahbow was around then. The IBA focuses on the following.... Well, one of the key objectives of the IBA is to promote recognition and respect for indigenous laws, customs, and traditions in the work we do. So in the spirit of summarizing our recommendations, I'm going to try to keep within the five or so minutes allotted.

Due to the fact that Bill C-3 is merely a reactive response to an antiquated, severely flawed piece of legislation--I'm sure you've heard a lot of that--the bill cannot and does not promote a broader solution. It is a narrow bill that only creates room for those who fall under the same fact pattern as Ms. Sharon McIvor, meaning it only addresses the issue of status loss due to marriage. Questions pertaining to citizenship, indigenous jurisdiction, and the long-term viability of the status system as a whole remain unanswered.

By not taking this opportunity to address these broader issues, first nations communities--and also, I think, Canadians--will continue to suffer harm due to the continued loss of access to their citizens.

It is a widely held view that first nations across Canada have vehemently asserted that membership or citizenship is a core area of self-government. These assertions have also received significant support in major studies such as the Penner report on Indian self-government in 1983 and the royal commission report on aboriginal peoples in 1995. As you know, these were initiatives that were supported by the different parliamentary groups at the time.

In the Haida case, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that indigenous nations have pre-existing sovereignty, which undoubtedly includes the right to determine their own membership or citizenship.

Put simply, first nations in Canada traditionally exercise the right to determine their own citizenship. This is now a constitutional right recognized by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In the view of the Indigenous Bar Association, the existing status system under the Indian Act is an unjustifiable intrusion into the inherent right of indigenous nations to determine their own citizenship.

The failure of the crown and federal government to recognize indigenous rights to determine their own citizenship, in addition to the imposition of the status system on indigenous populations, also violates article 33.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions.

To flip ahead in my presentation, Bill C-3 is just a minor modification of the status quo. It continues to perpetuate the inequality within the first nations community. It's not just a gender issue.

By not addressing it, it hurts the community as a whole.

Families may have members who are registered as subsection 6(1) or subsection 6(2) or non-status. If you think about it, what other community in Canada has this type of legislative determination? Personally, I'm a subsection 6(1). I'm the mother of a subsection 6(2). I'm a Robinson-Huron Treaty annuity.... I'm Canadian. There are all kinds of characterizations to describe me.

The IBA's main recommendation is that the federal Government of Canada move away from defining Indians to supporting an approach that recognizes first nations jurisdiction in determining citizenship. Again, we consider continuing to perpetuate this through Bill C-3 and other acts as a violation of our mutual constitutional obligations under section 35, 1982.

Moreover, the federal government's continued insistence on interference with first nations jurisdiction to determine its citizenship is inconsistent with international norms. The fact that these legislative sections still exist are inconsistent with current international conventions, most notably article 33.1. But there are other articles you should draw your minds to: articles 4, 9, 18, and 19.

The second recommendation of the Indigenous Bar Association is that Canada establish another special parliamentary committee to act as a parliamentary task force on the broader issue of self-government, membership, and citizenship in conjunction with sections 6 to 14 of the Indian Act.

Previously, the Canadian Indian Lawyers' Association provided recommendations to the then Penner committee on Indian self-government. One recommendation, which was adopted by the Penner committee, was that constitutional change to address the issues we're recommending was not required. The federal government has always had the ability to resolve this legislatively.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Ms. Corbiere, do you have another recommendation you want to get on the record? Then we'll have to move on.

3:40 p.m.

Representative, Indigenous Bar Association

Dianne Corbiere

Our third recommendation is with respect to the bill itself. The IBA agrees with the Canadian Bar Association, our colleagues, that clause 9 needs to be removed from Bill C-3.

For now, those are my submissions.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to Ms. Gabriel. Ellen Gabriel is the president of Femmes Autochtones du Québec.

Welcome, Madame Gabriel. You can proceed.

3:40 p.m.

Ellen Gabriel President, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Thank you. Greetings, Chair and all members of the House of Commons standing committee.

Quebec Native Women appreciates this opportunity to address you all, to present our perspective on the historical discrimination faced by aboriginal women and their descendants under the Indian Act, an injustice that was not corrected with the passing of Bill C-31 in 1985. Quebec Native Women rejects the restrictive vision proposed by the federal government as it will not put an end to gender discrimination entirely.

I would like to note to you the shortcomings of this process, which failed to adequately provide aboriginal peoples with any effective and meaningful consultation on the serious matter affecting their rights. The five minutes accorded will not provide a sufficient amount of time to address all our issues concerning Bill C-3, so I will highlight a few.

One is the lack of real and effective consultation with indigenous peoples consistent with the constitutional obligations of the federal government.

Two, the exclusion of the historical and the institutionalized nature of the discrimination against aboriginal women that was permitted under the Indian Act since its imposition in 1876 and whose definition of an Indian was first that an Indian is a male.

Three, the lack of a financial plan to remedy the existing housing shortage on reserves. Insufficient land base and resources on reserves, especially since the amendment, will result in an increase of 6% in the status population.

Four, the non-inclusion of a provision to provide immediate band membership to a new registrant, and that it ignores their inherent rights and their treaty rights.

In more detail we choose to present two of our main concerns.

Bill C-3 is dependent upon the B.C. Court of Appeal, whose decision is limited and flawed, being premised on the continuance of discrimination. Indeed, the proposed cut-off, based on a post-September 4, 1951, birthdate for a new registrant, assumes that this is strictly an issue of sexual discrimination and should be addressed within the registration regime. It is retroactive only to 1951, in which the introduction of the double mother rule was recognized and implemented. So Bill C-3 is not only erroneous, but it will continue to promote inequalities based on date of birth.

Sexual discrimination faced by aboriginal women effectively goes back to 1876 of the Indian Act and not 1951, whereby an Indian woman's status was dependent upon the status of her husband. Grandchildren who trace their aboriginal ancestry through the maternal line will continue to be denied status if they were born prior to September 4, 1951, unless they have at least one sibling born after that date. But this is not the case for descendants of aboriginal men. Moreover, other governmental administrative policies such as unstated paternity and on-reserve matrimonial real property continue to discriminate against aboriginal women as progenitors.

Thus, amongst the many recommendations we have, and given the constraints and duress we are under, we make the following recommendations:

First, that the element of categorization of Indian status, such as subsection 6(1) and subsection 6(2), and the cut-off date based upon a post-September 4, 1951, birthdate be removed from Bill C-3.

Second, that the administrative policy regarding unstated paternity of a child born to an unmarried woman be immediately changed to a requirement that the mother of the child sign an affidavit or statutory declaration as to the status of the father of the child.

Bill C-3 does not recognize the rights of aboriginal peoples to self-determination. It does not take into account the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples as nations and as supported in international human rights law to define who can be a citizen of their nation, to define their own nationality and identity, and what obligations and rights are entailed within their definition. Self-determining rights for indigenous peoples are supported in international law as well as in the Canadian Constitution. International instruments include the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Indigenous peoples have the right to govern themselves, to reinforce their own forms of government and citizenship, not as a grant from the Government of Canada but as an inherent right as peoples. We also recommend that the Government of Canada recognize the inherent rights of aboriginal peoples to define who can be a citizen of their nation and what obligations and rights are entailed within their definition. However, this must be done in accordance with international human rights law, consequently allowing indigenous peoples to move positively towards self-determination with sufficient resources to make self-determination a success.

In conclusion, on Bill C-3 and the idea of a separate joint process to tackle broader issues, while Quebec Native Women recognizes the need to amend the archaic nature of the Indian Act, Quebec Native Women, as stated earlier, deplores the restrictive vision of the federal government based solely on a patchwork remedy to the specific problem of discrimination brought to light in the McIvor case, as analyzed by the Court of Appeal for B.C. on limited grounds. This is a missed opportunity for the Government of Canada to put an end to the patriarchal regime of indigenous guardianship that the Indian Act constitutes, by implementing a decolonization process whereby indigenous people's values, self-determination, culture, language institutions, and nationhood will be respected and reinforced.

In spite of the federal government's acknowledgement that there are a number of broader issues relating to registration and membership that go beyond the specifics of the McIvor decision, the proposed changes to the Indian Act will not extend to these broader issues. Instead, the Canadian government is relying on a separate, parallel process whereby the Minister of INAC will work in partnership with national aboriginal organizations to establish an exploratory process with the participation of first nations and other aboriginal groups and organizations. Such an exclusive process, restricted to national aboriginal organizations, is cause for concern, as it evacuates the notion of democracy within these discussions and ignores Canada's constitutional obligation to conduct proper consultations on matters affecting the rights of aboriginal peoples.

The intended parallel discussions also exclude aboriginal people's right to self-determination from the ongoing legislative process by dictating once again who has the right to determine Indian status, an important link to aboriginal identity, membership, and citizenship. Therefore, it begs the question: does this mean that only court orders will motivate the Government of Canada to address the thorny question of legitimacy of the Indian Act and that the federal response is bound to be circumscribed? With Bill C-3 the deplorable answer seems to be yes. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that new cases will be brought before the courts to denounce the continuing gender and racial discrimination within the Indian Act.

I guess I will end there today.

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Do you have more to add?

3:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Native Women Inc.

Ellen Gabriel

I think what has happened with defining status is that Canada decided who is going to be a beneficiary of treaties. Canada is not including the fact that treaties are made between nations, and that as nations we have a right to decide who our citizens will be.

We have other recommendations that include: a two-day constitutional conference to be conducted with aboriginal peoples and their representatives to address the federal, provincial, and territorial understandings and agreements as to the respective jurisdictional implications and obligations; that Bill C-3 eradicate all forms of discrimination; remove the categorization in Bill C-3; that the Government of Canada recognize the historical and institutional nature...and by this we mean that we never gave up our sovereignty; we never gave up our rights. Indigenous women are the ones who hold the culture, the language, and the heritage of our children.

This bill is only one movement towards making some changes to the archaic nature of the Indian Act, but it is not the be-all and end-all. We are hoping that discussions on renewing our relationship will finally begin amongst ourselves, nation to nation, between the Government of Canada and indigenous peoples, not just NAOs, but indigenous peoples as nations. That's what RCAP was about. RCAP was about how to define the new and evolving relationship. What the Indian Act has done is take away our rights as self-governing and self-determining nations.

I appreciate the time. I know other people are going to present, so I'll stop there.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you very much, Ms. Gabriel.

Looking at our schedule, members, we can actually make this work. We'll give another three minutes to Ms. Corbiere. The rest of you will have 10 minutes for your presentation, and we can actually work in one round of seven minutes for everybody. It'll take us about an extra nine or ten minutes to get through it, but we don't have votes at 5:30, so we're going to continue in the usual format until we're done. So it's a 10-minute presentation, as is normally the case. It means we're going to extend each of the one-hour sessions slightly, but we can complete this today.

Now, let's welcome Grand Chief Lucien Wabanonik. It's great to have you here, Grand Chief. Chief Wabanonik is with the Assemblée des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador.

Chef Wabanonik.

3:50 p.m.

Grand Chief Lucien Wabanonik Grand Chief, Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for giving us a bit more time. I'm sure you understand that this is an extremely sensitive issue for our people and our nations. We appreciate your flexibility with regard to the time allotted to us.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, on November 24, 2009, in the wake of the short engagement process set up as part of the initiative seeking to modify the registration program with the Indian Registrar, Chief Ghislain Picard of the AFNQ wrote to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to suggest that he extend the suspension period of the declaration of invalidity handed down by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia on April 6, 2009.

The chiefs of the first nations of Quebec and Labrador were summoned to a brief meeting on November 4, 2009, with government officials who clearly did not have a proper grasp of the issue. In Chief Picard's opinion, this meeting did not fulfil the Government of Canada's duty to consult with the first nations, because consultation is really what we are talking about here.

The federal government was supposed to consult us on this important issue. However it would appear that the period granted to Parliament for such an important matter is somewhat artificial. It would seem to be in the government's interest to use certain bogus constraints to shirk its responsibility for eliminating all discriminatory distinctions contained in the registration rules for Indians and for formulating, in collaboration with the first nations, a plan designed to implement these modifications.

In any case, the new deadline of June 5, 2010 should not be used as an excuse to only partially eliminate one single discriminatory distinction among those that still exist in the Indian Act or to refuse to prepare for, in conjunction with the first nations, the many effects that the changes to the registration rules will have. But at the same time, we believe that the eight remaining weeks between now and when the House rises should be sufficient to allow Parliament to improve Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs), as concerns the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We believe that these eight weeks should be sufficient to allow the government to reach an agreement with us concerning an implementation plan designed to manage the influx of new arrivals in our communities. Furthermore, if, despite the good faith and efforts of all the parties involved, eight weeks turns out to be insufficient, the government should take advantage, in a timely fashion, of the openness shown by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in its April 1 ruling, and request another extension of the suspension period of the declaration of invalidity.

If Canada is truly the champion of justice and fairness for all, then Parliament must make the necessary changes to Bill C-3 to ensure that the brothers and sisters rule is eliminated from the registration rules, along with the distinction that was ruled illegal in the McIvor decision.

During the brief encounter between the chiefs of Quebec and Labrador and the department officials as part of the engagement process, it was impossible to obtain any kind of information on what the government, thanks to its recent experience with Bill C-31, intends to do to mitigate the problems caused by the application of the proposed changes to the registration rules. We concluded that the minister had not yet addressed the question when drafting of Bill C-3 began last fall.

The implementation of Bill C-3 will create many problems, including problems accessing information for people targeted by the bill; problems arising from changes made to the registration rules and benefits accompanying Indian status; problems linked to the registration process and deadline; social and political problems integrating new entrants into first nations communities, on or off reserve; potential problems due to a limited job market, cultural differences or simply natural hostility in the face of an imposed decision; and finally, problems linked to the financial and other capacities required to integrate new entrants into the reserves and provide them with the programs and services to which they are entitled.

It is thus essential that the Department of Indian Affairs agrees with the first nations on a road map for implementing the amendments to registration rules before Bill C-3 is adopted. This committee can ensure that the government does so. It is equally essential that a provision requiring the ministers to regularly report to Parliament on the issue of the implementation of the amendments to the registration rules is added to Bill C-3, with the specific issues this report must cover outlined there.

The first nations of Quebec and Labrador hope over time that not only are all discriminatory distinctions eliminated from the Indian registration rules, but that these rules are no longer needed. The first nations hope to recover the complete authority in matters of membership they enjoyed before the middle of the 19th century. This presupposes the political and economic autonomy of first nations favoured by the recognition of our traditional rights and by the treaty process. It is only once these objectives are attained that article 33 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be fully fulfilled. Indigenous people have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.

For the time being, the first nations of Quebec and Labrador ask the committee to take the first two following measures and to encourage the government to take the third: one, improve Bill C-3 to eliminate all Indian registration rules that create discriminatory distinction; two, introduce a provision into Bill C-3 obliging the government to report to Parliament on the implementation and the amendments of the registration rules; three, create with first nations a plan to implement the amendments to the Indian registration rules introduced with Bill C-3.

That finalizes my presentation, Mr. Chair. Thank you for listening.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you very much, Grand Chief.

I think I did mention to Ms. Corbiere that we're going to come back to you. You have an extra three minutes, so if you want to figure out what you want to put back into your presentation, that would be great. You're all set to go. Okay, good.

We have here with us today,

M. Daniel Nolett, director general, Abenakis Band Council of Odanak and Michèle Taina Audette, representative, Marche Amun.

Thank you very much.

Also joining us here today is Paul Dionne.

We don't have the expected representative from the Band Council of Odanak, but I understand, Mr. Dionne, you are from the council and are joining with Monsieur Nolett and Madame Audette. That's correct? So we have one presentation, then, pour les deux?

3:55 p.m.

Daniel Nolett Director General, Abenakis Band Council of Odanak, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation

In fact, there will be two presentations, Mr. Chair. Mr. Dionne is here with us. He is the counsel working on the Abenakis' case. He will respond to any questions the members of the committee may have.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Okay, let's go ahead, then. You have 10 minutes.

4 p.m.

Director General, Abenakis Band Council of Odanak, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation

Daniel Nolett

Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. First, Chief Rick O'Bomsawin, who was to make the presentation, sends his regrets. He was unable to be here due to last-minute obligations. I will be making the presentation on behalf of the band council. I would ask Ms. Michèle Audette to begin the presentation.

4 p.m.

Michèle Taina Audette Representative, Marche Amun, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation

Thank you very much. I would personally like to sincerely thank the Abenaki Nation for having thought about a great project, the Marche Amun. I would like to greet everyone here this afternoon.

In my opinion, Bill C-3, which merely complies with the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in McIver versus Canada, only goes a small way toward eliminating the discriminatory aspects of the Indian registration rules. Moreover, I think that the department is using this bill to do as little as possible about the problem. The department is moving too quickly, and there may be serious problems as a result in the short, medium and long terms.

The members around this table have an incredible opportunity, and you should use it to entirely eliminate all the discriminatory aspects of the Indian Act. It is particularly fortunate that the BC Court of Appeal ruling in a way prevents you from correcting those flaws. I urge you to help me, to help us, those taking part in the Marche Amun, to write a new page in the history of the First Nations and the aboriginal peoples of Canada. Let us put an end, once and for all, to the discrimination that has existed for too long a time already.

In history, gender-based discrimination was brought in, without our asking for it, in 1868. Legislative provisions passed at that time provided that Indian status could be passed down only through the male line. You know how it works: when an aboriginal man married a non-aboriginal woman, she became an Indian and so did her children. But when a woman, such as my mother and our grandmothers, married a non-aboriginal man or an aboriginal man without status, she lost her aboriginal and treaty rights. So did her children. In the language of the Indian Act, she would lose her status and also be evicted from her community and her territory.

It is sad to see that women are still paying the price in 2010, as we speak. Aboriginal women continue to be victims of discrimination based on gender—this is the case of Kim Arseneault, whom my colleague will introduce to you in a few minutes—and that discrimination exists in a number of areas.

Such discrimination violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as Ms. Gabriel mentioned. I would add to that certain conventions that Canada has signed and is not adhering to: the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Men, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and, in particular, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Yes, Mr. Lemay, there are many people working hard to come to speak with you today.

On May 4, a symbolic event will begin. A group of women will be walking 500 kilometres from Wendake to Ottawa, to Parliament Hill, to deliver a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Mr. Strahl.

Each day, we will be repeating the same message to everyone in Quebec, to all Quebeckers, and also to Canadians. We want to say that Canada is bringing in legislation to reinforce—and I mean reinforce—gender inequality, and we are demanding that Canada eliminate that kind of discrimination.

As to the obligation to reveal the name of the father of our children when they are born, it is not something that is imposed on any Canadian women. If she brings her child to the emergency department of the hospital, no one will ever ask her to prove the identity of the father before looking after her child. That is what has been happening to us in our communities since 1985. Then there is the right of women and their children to obtain Indian status. Those categories must be eliminated.

I would also remind you that there is ongoing discrimination with respect to band membership for these women and their children. Suppose that certain communities have restrictive membership rules. If Bill C-3 is passed, women and children in that situation will not be able to go back to those communities. In addition, the government has refused to allocate more money for the increase in the registration for Indian status. Women are once again paying the price. They are still suffering from the harm done in 1985. Bill C-3 will create or recreate the same reprisals that have taken place since then.

What breaks my heart, as the mother of five children—including one that is more Indian than I am, one that has no status, and that really illustrates the situation—is that Ottawa always has the exclusive right to determine who is an Indian and who is not. I am 38, even though the act considers me to be 17. I think that there are people in the communities who can make this determination.

In closing, I want to say that if Bill C-3 is passed as it stands, the discrimination will continue. It will continue and I do not want to be a party to that. And I would ask that the respected members of this committee refuse as well to be a party to this injustice.

On behalf of myself and my children, I want to say that you have an opportunity to make a difference. Please do the right thing.

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you very much.

We will now go to you, Mr. Nolett.

4:05 p.m.

Director General, Abenakis Band Council of Odanak, Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation

Daniel Nolett

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would first like to point out that the Abenaki nation has been active in trying to have the legislation amended. We brought a case before the Superior Court in March 2009. Representatives of the Abenaki nation also intervened in the McIvor case to fight discrimination under the Indian Act.

I agree with those who have already spoken that Bill C-3, in its current form, maintains certain discriminatory aspects that have not been changed. This afternoon, I would like to bring two specific cases to your attention. You have received documents and tables that illustrate these cases of discrimination.

First, there is the rule concerning brothers and sisters, which is represented by the case of Susan and Tammy Yantha. This is in the document. Bill C-3 does not resolve this kind of problem. In 1951, when the registry was created, only the sons were granted Indian status in cases where an Indian man fathered children outside marriage with a non-Indian woman.

In 1985, because of the changes brought in with Bill C-31, the daughters from that kind of union were able to obtain status under subsection 6(2). As you can see in the table, the first generation, that is, the Indian man and the non-Indian wife, came under the 1951 legislation. In the second generation, Susan Yantha's father was an Indian, but her mother was not. So if Ms. Yantha had had a brother, he would have been granted status under subsection 6(1). In 1985, Ms. Yantha obtained her status under subsection 6(2). Her daughter, Tammy Yantha, who is the third generation, still does not have her status, whereas if Susan had had a brother, his children would have their status under subsection 6(1). The current legislation, Bill C-3, does not grant status to the children of Susan Yantha. The bill ignores those cases.

Let us come back to the other example, which is directly related to McIvor; it involves cousins. This case involves Kim Arseneault who is a member of the Wôlinak first nation and part of the third generation.

In 1985, her grandmother regained her status under Bill C-31. She had lost her status because she married and had children with a non-Indian. In 1985, she regained her status on the basis of subsection 6(1). One of her children was Kim's mother, who was born in the 1950s and gave birth to Kim before 1985.

A careful analysis of Bill C-3—I understand that this can be complicated, but the table we have provided will help you follow—shows that Kim will regain her status under subsection 6(2). But if Kim were descended from a man, she would have status under subsection 6(1), like all the third-generation children.

Because Kim is a third-generation descendant of a woman and was born before 1985, in accordance with the amendments, she would recover her Indian status under subsection 6(1). With Bill C-3, owing to gender discrimination, Kim will regain her status only under subsection 6(2).

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you. Unfortunately, your time has run out.

Let's return to Ms. Corbiere for three minutes.

Monsieur, please go ahead.

4:10 p.m.

David Nahwegahbow Representative, Indigenous Bar Association

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have a few additional comments to elaborate on one of the points that was made in the submission. Overall I think the problem with the bill is that it represents a band-aid solution. I think everybody's saying that. It won't solve the problems that have been created over a long period of time with regard to the Indian Act.

A number of studies, including RCAP and the 1985 Penner committee report, have consistently said not to tinker with the Indian Act--that it's really too broken and you can't fix it. The main issue is the need to recognize the right of first nations to determine their own citizenship.

One of the problems you face as a committee at this stage is your inability to deal with the bigger issue, the bigger problem of self-government. You have, at least according to my understanding of the rules, some limits to the scope of your investigation of the situation. You are really limited to the terms of the bill. The recommendation we made is that you really need a more broadly based initiative, one similar to that of the Penner committee that studied and reported on this same issue in 1985.

Actually, as my younger colleague has noted, I was around back then, and I remember exactly the same kind of dynamics. The charter had just come into force. Section 15 was about to come into force, because its implementation was delayed until 1985. You had a case in the UN at the time, the Lovelace case, and there was a lot of pressure to try to come up with some solutions.

We realize now that the solutions that were developed were inadequate. We see the inadequacies today. Nevertheless, at the time I thought the initiative of Parliament to study the issues of membership, citizenship, and self-government was quite an interesting opportunity. It was an opportunity for parliamentarians to become versed and to understand a little more broadly and a little better the broader issues, which is really what we've indicated.

I think our main recommendation is that you take the time to open up your mandate, if that's possible, and look at the issue of self-government, self-determination, and citizenship.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you all for your understanding and patience.

Now we're going to go to questions from members. We'll begin with seven minutes for Mr. Russell. Witnesses, the seven-minute period includes both questions and responses. We're going to hold very tightly to the seven minutes.

Go ahead, Mr. Russell.

4:15 p.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon to each of you, and thank you for your very considered presentations.

I appreciate, and I'm sure other members do, your comments around the broader initiatives, the broader aspects that you're dealing with, whether they be jurisdictional issues, self-government issues, band membership issues, the right of citizenship issues, or the determinance of citizenship issues. I understand those and I fundamentally agree.

I agree with the comments that the government has only been forced to deal with the gender inequity provisions in the Indian Act because of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision. I agree as well that this bill is very, very narrow and only tries to deal with the facts as laid out in the McIvor decision. I believe that around this table we all agree that gender inequality, sex discrimination, will continue to exist even after Bill C-3. I believe as well that we have an obligation to act.

I know some of your arguments around the archaic nature of the Indian Act, but if we could, once and for all, do one thing—that is, in regard to sex discrimination under the Indian Act—do you feel we must take that step as parliamentarians, understanding that the broader issues still remain? Do each of you have specific recommendations to end, once and for all, sex discrimination under the Indian Act?

If you have specific recommendations, I would gladly receive them so that we can analyze them as soon as possible and introduce them here in the committee. I would gladly do that. So I just lay that before each of you.