Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It's a pleasure to appear before you again. This is twice in one month. I don't want to wear out my welcome, but it is good to be back to speak in support of Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act.
The officials with me are Roy Gray, director of strategic initiatives and operational policy; Brenda Kustra, director general, governance branch; and Martin Reiher, senior counsel.
I'd be pleased to respond to questions following my formal remarks. I know there are a lot of technical questions on this, which you can put to the officials as well.
Bill C-3 proposes to amend the Indian Act and to eliminate a case of gender discrimination. To appreciate the logic behind the proposed legislation, however, we must first understand the problem Bill C-3 aims to fix.
Last year, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia issued a decision in McIvor v. Canada. The ruling required the Government of Canada to amend certain registration provisions of the Indian Act that the court identified as unconstitutional, as they were inconsistent with the equality provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The court suspended the effect of its declaration until April 6 of this year. In other words, if no solution is in place at that time, paragraphs 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) of the Indian Act, dealing with an individual's entitlement to registration for Indian status will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist in the province of British Columbia. This would create uncertainty, and most importantly, this legislative cap would prevent the registration of individuals associated with British Columbia bands.
Even though we've sought an extension on the implementation of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia's decision in McIvor v. Canada, we must continue to work toward resolving this issue as quickly as possible. We've asked for this extension. They could rule on that as early as today, or later on today, but it shouldn't be perceived as an opportunity to delay the process of Bill C-3, as this bill will rectify a long-standing case of gender discrimination. The longer it's left hanging out there, the more embarrassing and more discriminatory it becomes.
I want to emphasize that Bill C-3 offers a solution to the specific issues identified by the court, by amending the Indian Act to eliminate the language that gives rise to the gender discrimination identified in section 6. At the same time, issues that we raised during the engagement process last fall surrounding things like registration, membership, and citizenship are very complex and there's no consensus on them. We know that broader reform of these matters cannot be developed overnight. It certainly can't be developed in isolation, and it certainly can't be developed without the input of aboriginal people themselves.
Mr. Chair, as committee members are aware, I've announced that over the next few months we will be setting up a separate exploratory process to gain further insight into these issues, as was requested by many first nations during the consultative and engagement process. These matters will be explored through a joint process, to be developed in conjunction with various national aboriginal organizations and with the participation of first nations and other aboriginal groups and individuals across the country.
Mr. Chair, the impact of this bill will be important. We expect some 45,000 people to be newly entitled to register as status Indians. In anticipation of this influx of requests, the Indian registration program has developed an implementation strategy to efficiently deal with the new applications for registration under the Indian Act, in accordance with their proposed amendments.
The Government of Canada is also carefully examining the program and financial impacts associated with the implementation of the bill. An internal financial impact working group has been established to examine all the costs associated with the implementation of the proposed legislation.
The legislation now before us proposes to change the provision used to confer Indian status on the children of women such as Ms. McIvor. Instead of subsection 6(2), these children would acquire status through subsection 6(1). This would eliminate the gender-based discrimination identified by the court.
Mr. Chair, as I mentioned earlier, it's also important to recognize that Bill C-3 offers a solution to the specific issues identified by the court, and does so in a tightly focused fashion in order to respect the deadline established by the court. We can all appreciate the need to act quickly, I think, to respond to the court's ruling and to provide new entitlement to registration in a timely way.
The separate exploratory process will allow for an exploration of broader concerns brought forward during the engagement process last fall. As I mentioned earlier, these issues are complex. There's a diversity of views among first nations on them. For this reason, we'll be undertaking a collaborative process with the national aboriginal organizations to plan, organize, and implement forums and activities that will focus on gathering information and identifying broader issues for discussion. The exploratory process itself will be inclusive and will encourage the participation of aboriginal organizations, groups, individuals, and other interested parties at the national, regional, and community levels.
It's important to note that I don't have any intention to predetermine the range of activities that will be carried out in partnership with the national organizations. What we hope to do over the next few weeks is meet with these organizations.
We've already started those meetings to discuss and plan those activities that will take place over the coming years and that we hope will involve the participation of a wide range of aboriginal groups and individuals. I'm confident that the exploratory process will provide the opportunity for a comprehensive discussion and assessment of those broader issues. Again, that work needs to be done separately, I believe, from the legislation itself. This allows us to focus our attention on the legislation now before us and the solution it offers to the specific concerns identified by the Court of Appeal in British Columbia.
I'm convinced that's the best way forward. As parliamentarians, we know the importance being placed on us by the Court of Appeal of British Columbia to provide a legislative solution to a recognized case of gender discrimination. It's a compact piece of legislation, and it's my hope that Bill C-3 can make swift progress through Parliament and deal with that discrimination as quickly as possible.
The proposed legislation has much to recommend it: it proposes a timely and direct response to the ruling of the Court of Appeal of British Columbia. In addition, it eliminates a cause of gender discrimination.
In essence, Bill C-3 represents a progressive step by a country committed to the ideals of justice and equality.
Merci. Thank you.