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

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

I think it takes a very long time. But I also think--and Sharon characterized this really well--that it's very cumbersome, and the onus is on the individual to come up with all of those proofs. Some of those records are very difficult to come upon. So it's very individual-based, and it's very time-consuming. It can be very costly.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

I would like to share a story with you. Just two weeks ago... And it just goes to show that even under Bill C-31, the application of that is still not taking place. This friend of mine--and she was on the National Committee on Indian Rights for Indian Women--is still not accepted back into her own community, even following 1985 and Bill C-31. Much like Mary Two-Axe, all she would like is to go back to her community, be with her sisters, and have the right to be buried with her own people on her own homeland. And that's still there.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Russell and Mr. Bagnell.

Now we're going to go to Monsieur Lemay.

We'll just make sure that you have your translation working. Can you hear me okay?

4:55 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Mr. Lévesque.

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

I have only one question. I will then turn it over to my colleague.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Fine. Please proceed.

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yvon Lévesque Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Ms. Corbiere Lavell, I believe I heard Ms. McIvor say that, in her opinion, it goes beyond the Supreme Court decision, in that the idea is to allow for complete equality between men and women, right from the very beginning. Your comments seemed to suggest that you are very proud of what Ms. McIvor has done. We are as well.

However, would you go so far as to say that we should vote against this bill if it is impossible to secure complete equality, which does go beyond the Supreme Court decision, I believe.

4:55 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

In my opinion, if we can achieve equality and ensure the rights of the people now, and go back and rectify their rights for as many as we can, we should be able to do that. As well, for our future, there should not be any inequality or injustice. And if this means that Sharon will have to keep challenging, we would support her in that initiative. After all, fighting for the right cause is not meaningless; it will mean something. That is all we're asking for.

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Perhaps I could continue. I'm sorry to say this, but your position is not clear to me. This is extremely important to me. Is the Native Women's Association of Canada for or against this bill, as currently drafted? That is a clear question.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Women's Association of Canada

Karen Green

We're certainly not against having the response to the court decision, which is what that legislation is.

Do we think it goes far enough? No.

Are we opposed to the Government of Canada complying with the court decision? We're for it.

But does it go far enough? In our opinion, no.

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Fine; that's clear. Do you agree that we should amend the bill along the lines described by Ms. McIvor? The only way to make aboriginal women equal is to remove the criteria under subsection 6(1). Do you agree with that?

4:55 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

At this time, I would agree. That would be the only way to remove any discrimination. And in my opinion, I don't think it would be that difficult.

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

You heard me commenting earlier, when Ms. McIvor was here. That is the issue, for both the government and the Liberal Party. Supporting an amendment that would remove the designation under subsection 6(1) would probably, or could, be deemed to be out of order. We will have to see. However, it would have a major impact, as there would be several hundred thousand new members in aboriginal communities. Do you agree with our going as far as that?

5 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

If these members have the right to be recognized—and that is their basic right as members within our communities, their right to their culture, their identity, that's who they are—then we should do that. That is the bottom line, I would think.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I will be honest with you. Before another bill comes forward that deals with section 6, we will have to wait 20 years, because that is how long it took Ms. McIvor. There is no doubt that we would be better off doing this right away. It would be better to pass an amendment immediately to put an end to that discrimination. Is that what you are suggesting?

5 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

If that is the only way to address the ongoing discrimination, the inequity, the inequality of application in treatment, then maybe that is what we have to do. And I would hope that we could all agree on that.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

It is the only solution.

5 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

There may be some parts to be ironed out, but I'm sure that with an open mind and if we can talk on this, we can resolve it for the good of our people as well as for the Government of Canada.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

As I say, that is the only solution. And the reason it is the only solution is that any exploratory discussions will not remove the discrimination you have been subject to since 1876. I can tell you that I have done an analysis and it is impossible, if the requirements under section 6 are not removed.

5 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

Well, not being a lawyer or having a legal mind, right now I don't know if what you're saying is actually what would happen. However, if this act can be revised or redone so that it is just and right across the definitions, then perhaps that is what we need to do. And with our nations, if we recognize that our people should have a say in this, I'm sure we can work it out.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Thank you, Mr. Lemay.

I just would like to take a moment here, because this topic has come up on a couple of occasions. I would direct members to page 766 of O'Brien and Bosc, on the issue of the principle and scope of amendments to the bill that we have in front of us. After second reading, of course, we are limited in those types of amendments. They cannot, either by their words or by negating a part of the act, broaden the scope of the bill. I know there's been considerable discussion on that. I would just perhaps ask if you might want to go and have a look at that section, and we'll be guided by it. I'm sure we'll be seeking a more poignant clarification of those rules when it comes time for clause-by-clause consideration.

Okay, let's go now to Madam Crowder for seven minutes.

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank Ms. Lavell and Ms. Green for appearing before the committee. You are welcome witnesses once again.

I have a couple of comments. One is that in fact there is another solution. The government could withdraw this current bill and reintroduce a bill that much more broadly addresses the issues around discrimination. Opposition party members don't have the ability to introduce a government bill, but the government could certainly reintroduce a bill that would address it.

I wanted to touch on a couple of these discriminatory practices. When you talked about the fact that in the 1970s the fight was taken up to deal with discriminatory practices, the reality is that before that it was very difficult for first nations to do that, because in fact the first nations were disenfranchised. They lost their ability to be status first nations. In addition, in many cases they weren't permitted to hire lawyers to take on their cases. So it was very difficult before the 1970s for first nations to actually bring up the issues around discrimination.

In the late 1800s first nations actually determined citizenship and status, and it was only when the government, in 1876, started tightening up that first nations lost control over their members, lost control over who was considered either status or citizenship. In many cases, people blur the lines between status and citizenship when it's convenient, because status and citizenship hold very different legal roles and definitions. It's sometimes convenient for people to muddy those waters.

What we're talking about here is status. In this McIvor decision, we're talking about status: who gets to be considered a status first nation.

Ms. McIvor and you yourselves have both alluded to situations where this legislation won't deal with discrimination. We know unstated paternity is one, where a woman, many times for reasons of safety, will not state who the father is. That's a discriminatory practice, because it's automatically assumed that the father is non-status and therefore the children will be section 6(2). There is also an issue around—and Ms. McIvor referenced this—illegitimate daughters: illegitimate sons gained status; illegitimate daughters did not.

There are also the cases of group enfranchisement. In 1958 the whole Michel Band from Alberta lost its status. In 1931 they were reinstated as individuals, but the band has never been re-recognized. The question becomes, in 1958, did women actually participate in that vote? Likely not.

So I wonder if you are aware of other occasions when women have been discriminated against under status in the Indian Act.

5:05 p.m.

President, Native Women's Association of Canada

Jeannette Corbiere Lavell

I would like to go to back to prior to 1876, when our people, our chiefs, and the leadership at the time had the right to determine who their people were and who their citizens were. We could recognize that. They signed treaties as sovereign nations, with all the applicable rights that go along with being a nation, including the right to determine their citizens and the right to their language, history, and culture. You know, that should be there and recognized. It was changed without our participation.

You said that it wasn't until 1970, but even in 1970 we did it, because we had become aware of Canadian human rights legislation and the Canadian Bill of Rights. We found out about these things as we went into the education system, and we realized that something, perhaps, could be done. We didn't all necessarily become lawyers, but I think we stepped into our traditional role of taking that step to protect our communities. You put yourself in a position so that if it's your path, your direction from the creator, this is what you have to do.

I think that is happening again. Our women are determined to ensure that our people continue to exist. The way Bill C-31 is right now--and I think Bill C-3 will just slow that process down--will still result in the same mistake, which is no more status Indian members on some of our reserves. I don't think we want to go through that whole process again, so maybe now is the opportunity to do something about it.