Evidence of meeting #8 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 status.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sharon McIvor  As an Individual
Gwen Brodsky  As an Individual
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell  President, Native Women's Association of Canada
Karen Green  Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada
Betty Ann Lavallée  National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Conrad Saulis  Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

April 13th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.

Conrad Saulis Policy Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am first going to begin my presentation by offering my executive director Peter Dinsdale's regrets for not being able to be here. Unfortunately, he was called out of town.

I want to also acknowledge and recognize the territory of the Algonquin Nation that we're on, and respectfully say it's an honour to be here to present before the committee.

I am a proud Maliseet First Nation person from New Brunswick, from the Tobique Reserve. It's also the home of my first cousin Sandra Lovelace.

I want to start the presentation by saying that the National Association of Friendship Centres is a non-profit aboriginal organization that represents the views and concerns of 120 friendship centres and seven provincial and territorial associations across Canada. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for aboriginal peoples in an urban environment by supporting self-determined activities that encourage equal access to and participation in Canadian society, and which respect and strengthen the increasing emphasis on aboriginal cultural distinctiveness.

The National Association of Friendship Centres partners with the Department of Canadian Heritage in delivering priority federal programs to Canada's urban population. Through the 120 friendship centres across the country we administer over $100 million in programs and services, in partnership with federal, territorial, provincial, and municipal governments. In 2008 friendship centres provided over 1.3 million services to aboriginal Canadians across the country, with a total cost of approximately $93 million.

In October of last year we were able to bring together representatives from our provincial and territorial associations. We met here in Ottawa to discuss and examine what was going on with the McIvor case at the time. Through the discussions and dialogue of that day, our representatives were able to discuss the broader citizenship issues, and these need to be examined. The friendship centre movement sees the need to support first nations in developing criteria for citizenship and membership.

Recommendations flowed from that meeting and we presented these to the federal government. The first one is that the federal government and first nations should engage in a thorough process that will ameliorate gender discrimination in the Indian Act and seek solutions to redress historic exclusion and alienation of eligible aboriginal people from obtaining their first nations status, citizenship, and membership. The second recommendation was that any changes to definitions, criteria, and eligibility standards for first nations status, citizenship, and membership be compliant with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Third was that any changes to federal legislation and other instruments pertaining to first nations status, citizenship, and membership account for international covenants and declarations pertaining to indigenous peoples and to human rights. And the fourth was that friendship centres be compensated for work they will be required to provide pertaining to the new amendments so that these organizations are not adversely affected by the required legislative changes.

Regarding the implementation issues of the McIvor case, with Bill C-31 we saw an onslaught of new registrants and challenges. While it's projected that there are 45,000 potential new registrants, we know there will be many more times that number who will approach friendship centres for information on how to apply. Friendship centres will be heavily engaged by clients at all local levels. INAC staff need to work with these agencies and train local people for the questions to come.

On the issues that we've identified as being related to this, they include nationhood, citizenship, membership, and acknowledgment of urban identity, which imply increased demand for services and the need to facilitate first nation access.

That's my presentation.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you very much, Mr. Saulis.

Now we'll go to questions from members.

We'll begin with Mr. Bagnell.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You're doing a good job, as always.

Thank you all for coming.

Good to see you again, Ms. Lavallée.

Conrad, good to see you. As the former president of a friendship centre, you know I carry your case here in Ottawa a lot. It's amazing that you continue to do what you do, considering your budgets have been frozen for, I don't know, 17 years or something. It will be great to get you some more money.

I'm assuming that we have a continued agreement this afternoon, basically, with the premise that Bill C-3 would enfranchise maybe 45,000 more people. But there are really a couple of hundred thousand who are gender-discriminated because of the gender of one of their parents or grandparents--a relative. If possible, you would like us to amend to include everyone so there's no gender discrimination. It's a fairly simple right.

In fact, Ms. Lavallée, you gave some of the steps that need to be added to do that. My question for you is if there were a couple of hundred more status Indians in Canada created because of this amended bill, what effect would that have on your organization, if any?

5:55 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

The effect that it's going to have on our organization—and we're starting to see it now—is we're consistently getting calls on how to apply. We're still dealing with the effects of Bill C-31 on some of our members who haven't yet made it through the system—

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Sorry, I just wanted to add one more thing to my question. This is given the fact that a majority of these people are predicted to be living off reserve and in urban areas.

Okay, continue.

5:55 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

Well, not just urban--isolated, rural, remote.

It's going to put a demand on our provincial territory organizations to be able to deliver programs and services throughout the provincial areas and to be able to provide the basic needs in some cases.

The reality is it doesn't matter what amendments you make to Bill C-3, it's not going to change the discriminatory provisions of Bill C-3. This is not an issue of labelling people. This is an issue of reconstituting nations. Bill C-3 is only going to be a temporary measure, because discrimination has occurred under the Indian Act, under the restoration provisions, since the Indian Act was conceived. You've got a hundred or more years of history to undo.

The fact of the matter is, again, we have people sitting in Ottawa and in courts making decisions without actually going out to grassroots people and asking them what they want. That goes against what the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently said. You have to consult and accommodate the peoples in the community.

We don't want another Indian Act. We want to see our nations--historical nations, our 73 nations--reconstituted, where you're a member of the nation.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

I just want to follow up with my colleague Larry.

I think we fundamentally agree with your premise about reconstituting nations, that it's an issue of citizenship. It's a principle that has been certainly affirmed under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which we hope will be affirmed by our country at some point.

I think there's also some understanding that the Indian Act itself is a discriminatory piece of legislation. We know that. Bill C-3 does not speak to scrapping the Indian Act. What Bill C-3 speaks to is facets of discrimination that exist within this discriminatory piece of legislation. CAP was an intervenor supporting Sharon McIvor and her arguments that were made, as I understand it.

So if we could end the gender discrimination under the Indian Act with amendments to Bill C-3, would that be something you could agree with? If we could end the gender discrimination under the Indian Act by amending Bill C-3, in that framework, is that something CAP could agree with?

6 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

First off, I think it's going to be fairly impossible to do so without proper consultation with the people at the grassroots. Again, you're putting the cart before the horse. People have not been consulted on this issue, but you're also on a timeframe.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

On the same premise, then, were people properly consulted on Bill C-3 when the government brought it in?

6 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

No, they weren't, not to the point that I'd like to have seen. But the reality is, we're up against a timeline set down by the court that this bill has to be implemented by, in order to address the situation in B.C.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Yes, and we're going to try our best and be as speedy as possible.

What I'm saying is, if we could make amendments that address broader issues, that extend equality rights to a larger group of women than was currently envisioned under Bill C-3, could you not agree with that?

6 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

Well, here's the funny thing about this whole situation. It's like this. I'm one of those section 6.(2) women who can't pass on to her son. This bill affects me. But, you know what, in reality I put my personal feelings aside by this whole situation to look at the bigger picture, and that's addressing the problem in B.C. at this point, and getting this legislation through the House in the quickest time possible. I'm willing to step aside and let this bill go through for the bigger purpose of addressing the real issue.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

I would only say that the bigger purpose, the bigger principle, would be to end all forms of gender discrimination under the Indian Act, and under any other piece of legislation that exists. That would be the bigger principle, the bigger issue, for me, and I think for most of us. I'm sure you share that.

6 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

I do share that. I do share that to the point that I want to see any and all forms of discrimination end once and for all, so that our children are not having this same discussion 25 or 35 years from now.

6 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Absolutely.

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Russell and Mr. Bagnell.

Just to be clear, Ms. Lavallée, you did outline some proposed amendments in your discussion and in your paper. I had the benefit of seeing your paper, as it wasn't broadly circulated, but you do stand behind those amendments for the purpose of correcting what you see as a problem with the current bill.

6:05 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

Yes, those were requirements under the contract we had with the federal government as deliverables.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

All right.

We move now to Mr. Lemay or Mr. Lévesque.

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I am going to jump in.

I would like to settle one issue right away. I don't think extensive consultations are needed on Bill C-3. And my reason for believing that is simple. The question is whether this bill is discriminatory or not and whether the Indian Act is discriminatory or not. And the answer is yes.

Even if I went all across Canada to meet with the 78 communities, they would all tell me, just as Ms. McIvor has, that this bill is discriminatory and will perpetuate discrimination. Once that has been established, we have a problem.

I did not understand your amendments. With all due respect, Ms. Lavallée, you were speaking quickly when you discussed the amendments you are recommending to Bill C-3.

Could you tell me which clause of the bill you would like to see amended?

6:05 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

This is on page 7 of our brief: “That Canada ensures that the band membership provisions of the Indian Act...include those persons added by amended section 6(1)(a)” and “That, as an interim measure, Canada amend section 6(1)(a) of the Indian Act, 1985, to include the following words...”

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

This is where it gets interesting. Please speak slowly.

6:05 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

Okay. “That, as an interim measure, Canada amend section 6(1)(a) of the Indian Act, 1985, to include the following words: or was born prior to April 17th, 1985, and was a direct descendant of such a person.”

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

And the amendment you are suggesting would at least lessen current discrimination, in your view?

6:05 p.m.

National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

Betty Ann Lavallée

It will lessen it, but it's not going to eliminate it.

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I come back to what I said initially, which is that paragraph 6(1)(a) would have to be deleted in order to remove the discrimination you have been subject to.